• Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022
  • Last Update : 10:24 am

OP-ED: Is Kishwar ours?

  • Published at 12:47 am August 2nd, 2021

If not, let's make her our own

Kishwar Chowdhury has become a household name in Bangladesh. The second runners-up in Masterchef Australia has won millions of hearts, having showcased recipes that either originated from or are popular enough to have become a part of our culture in Bangladesh.

Our fraction of pride

Kishwar Chowdhury’s composure, smartness, culinary creativity, and the way she presents herself, and of course her chef skills are all outstanding and unquestionable. Her portrayal of love for her beautiful family and her humble personality are a few of the many things that are beyond just commendable. However, let us try to clarify on which part of her achievement we are really taking pride in.

First and foremost, her display of recipes in the Masterchef Australia episodes were originally passed on to her from her guardians of Bangladeshi descent. They were recipes that represented Bangladeshi cuisine and brought it to light. On an international platform such as Masterchef, Bangali “aloo-bhorta” and “panta bhaat,” amongst other ethnic cuisines from within Bangladeshi borders, were absolutely delightful to watch.

The other part of our pride might have come from the fact that she is Bangali. Most of the population in Bangladesh belong to her ethic group, and given that food is an important part of Bangladeshi culture, the most popular dishes obviously came from Bangalis who have resided in this region since long before the birth of the country of Bangladesh. There is a popular saying: “Hajar bochor er Bangalir oitijjho,” meaning thousands of years of Bangali tradition. 

Lastly, the pride in Kishwar’s achievement is rightfully shared among women all over the world, especially Bangali women. Bangladesh as a part of her success

What anyone owns up to the most is subjective. Someone, for instance, might think that Islam is their greatest pride and would take pride in any achievement of another Muslim. Others might choose more to own up to ethnicity or skin colour, and for some it might actually be be Noakhali -- it is not uncommon to come across expressions such as “Noakhalir ohongkar, srestho shontan” (Noakhali’s pride is the greatest child of all). However, I am of the belief that most people draw this line along the borders of their national geographical jurisdictions. 

The reason might be the fact that belongingness to a certain country comes with documentation, unlike other forms of communal togetherness, such as religion, skin colour, or ethnicity, or maybe because of the popularization of various forms of competitions or sports tournaments broadcast worldwide, where representatives are from nations that are divided by man-made borders.

So, in this case, as Bangladeshi citizens, the only thing that we ought to be proud of is perhaps the fact that our recipes have reached an international platform. Thanks to Kishwar, gone are the days when we would have to pass off our food to foreign customers abroad as Indian cuisine.But anyone else from any other country or ethnic background showcasing Bangali recipes would give me the same amount of pride as Kishwar did. 

Being someone who was born and brought up in Australia, who studied there and then in London, is there enough reason to label her as Bangladeshi?  

There is nothing wrong with celebrating her success. Football fans in Bangladesh crazily celebrate Argentina’s win, or nearly kill themselves at their loss, whereas I doubt even half of Argentineans even know that Bangladesh exists.

But when nationality was important enough for us to have fought a nine-month long war, when political parties even 50 years since then fight about “chetona” (ideology) or “jatiyotabaad” (nationalism) and express their disagreements that relate to the struggle of independence, nationality is undeniably an important factor.

Like many others, my father, an army colonel who died in uniform in the line of duty at the Pilkhana tragedy, had taken an oath to serve the nation -- not religion, ethnicity, or anything else. A nation with such a glorious history of liberation cannot simply brush away the concept of nationality.

To me, Kishwar Chowdhury, who is indisputably a great chef, is an “Australian” chef. If we find certain African countries taking credit for Obama, Will Smith, or Morgan Freeman, or maybe Indians laying claim to Kamala Harris, would we not think that they’re stretching it a bit too far?

Let’s make her our own

Now, can we not request the government of Bangladesh to consider granting her an honorary citizenship, as it has done to people in the past? 

Not only would that make it easier for us to take pride in her feats, but as someone who has expressed so much compassion for Bangladesh, proudly mentioned her heritage, inherited our practices, and of course placed our food and name on such a huge international platform with her tremendous performances, I can think of no one else more than her right now, who might be deserving of such an honour.

In fact, from Bangladesh, this is the least we can do for her. After all, she is also the daughter of a proud freedom fighter.

Saquib Rahman is a senior lecturer of law and the faculty advisor of the North South University Ethics & Diversity Club.

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