Last Ramadan, I felt less Bangladeshi than ever.
It had been a year since I was orphaned. Not only did I lose my dad, but I felt as though I had lost the last link to my cultural identity.
As a child, I felt simultaneously English and Bangladeshi. I had a preference for indie music but liked going home to okra curry.
At school I excelled in geography and art, and at home I made my parents proud when I recited passages aloud from the Quran.
There were aspects of both cultures that I liked and loathed, but overwhelmingly it was the exoticism of Englishness that captivated me the most, things I couldn’t be part of.
While I was watching Top of the Pops on TV, my friends were in the audience, and as they rolled their school uniform kilts above their knees, mine practically touched my ankles. I couldn’t wait until I left home.
At university I immersed myself in a world of miniskirts and clubbing, changing back into a floral tunic and trousers when I went home at the weekends.
I closed my ears when my mum showed me yet again how to fold samosas and ignored her offers to show me how to make rice.
Then, just before my 21st birthday my mother fell ill and died shortly afterwards. I felt a deep sense of loss, but having my dad around still made me feel complete.
It wasn’t until I lost him, too, that I realised just how privileged I had been to have two cultures in my life. And now they are gone I feel neither English nor Bangladeshi. I’ve come to realise that my parents played a major role in shaping who I am, what I believe and the decisions I’ve made in my life.
Without their physical presence, I am less cultured. Ramadan used to be the time of year that I felt most grounded. The emphasis was on home cooking and preparing traditional cuisine.
Neighbours would deliver lentil pakoras and bowls of chickpeas, while my mum would roll out dough to make coconut patties.
Last Ramadan I didn’t have anyone to tell me when the month of fasting started and I no longer break it with a spread of fresh hot snacks.
My mum cooked every day and the flavours she captured can never be replicated again. Even when I taste other people’s Bangladeshi dishes, or when my sisters try to recreate her specialities, without my mum doing the home cooking, I feel less of a Bangladeshi.
My father, on the other hand, was the upholder of religion. In his absence I find it hard to take in any new teachings on Islam: it’s as though my own religious education has come to a standstill without him being there to tutor me.
Hearing acquaintances talk about religion has no impact on me. We can’t teach ourselves culture, no matter how desperately we try. It’s something that’s passed on from our parents and is far more powerful than anything we read or hear.
Later this year I am marrying an Englishman. Yet it hasn’t given me a stronger connection to the English culture I craved as a child.
We are trying to organise a multicultural celebration, but without my parents being present I’m finding it difficult to put my Bangladeshi side across. I feel like a fraud making up traditions as I go along.
Bereavement is difficult, but what no one ever talks about is the loss of identity that comes with it. When Eid comes again, I won’t be celebrating. Instead I’ll be reminiscing about the time I used to rise to the smell of my mother’s shemai while my dad got ready to go to the mosque.
I’ll text my sisters an “Eid Mubarak” greeting before I head off for an ordinary day’s work; after all I’ve no parents to buy presents for or pop in and visit, just me, an individual trying to figure out who I am and where I belong.