Burn Brick Lane Burn

Last week, Ruby Films, the production company behind the film pulled out of filming on location in Brick Lane. The unfortunately named Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane group have mobilised their masses, convened their protesters who have vowed to continue irrespective of where the film gets made and bussed in their outraged stalwarts from as far away as Chester le Street.

But if all this wasn’t enough angst, Germaine Greer backed the anti-Monica Ali protesters and Salman Rushdie has laid into Greer and we have a full scale literary hair-pulling contest unfolding before our eyes. Meanwhile, back in E1, as more protests pile on the outrage generated by a book that very few of the puffed-up laddoo-merchants have read, the paan-stains on the pavements have curdled into blood red splotches.

Monica apa hocked in her ethnicity to get a book deal on a subject that she knew very little about. I know this because I’ve read the book and this is, unfortunately, a necessary point to stress in this fog of literary war. She certainly didn’t feel any need to even look like she knew what she was talking about on matters concerning Bangladesh. Now none of this might be very important on an artistic level - a novel does not have to be literal, based on fact or rooted in reality. But then its not Bangladeshis who have said that she has written “an epic saga about a Bangladeshi family living in the UK”, it is the arts establishment who have decided this. And if the characters in this “great Bangladeshi novel” buy and sell in rupees and not Takas or that the characters are as real as cardboard pastiches or that the plot is treacle-thick, then we should understand and accept that the book is not only non-representational of the British-Bangladeshi experience but, at worst, just guilty of poor research.

None of this is to exonerate the sanctimonious village idiots who have exported their rural politicing to Tower Hamlets. I was ambivalent about the Monica Ali book but I will now be giving it my full support. Not because it is a good book (it isn’t) but because books, paintings, films and blog posts have a right to be created irrespective of any offence they may or may not cause. Any book that takes on Bangladeshi patriarchism that can engender the kind of over-wrought reaction I witnessed of the Brick Lane protesters must have some good effects buried in there somewhere, I’m fairly sure of.

Moderate Bangladeshis are less prone to defend the sorry image of Bangladeshi patriarchialism and they would much rather tolerate a bad book or a bad TV natok (play) that deals with the subject. They also have the great virtue of being able to suffer fools gladly. The kind of fools who are protesting the Brick Lane movie and who are oblivious of the fact that all they’re doing is reinforcing the stereotype of the provincial Bangladeshi mattabor.

Ruby Films had no choice but to bow out of location filming because of the angry Bangladeshi morons who have taken to the streets in protest. In the absence of an equally loud and well-publicised voice to counterpoint the reactionary paan-frothing from the Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane group by moderate Bangladeshi voices, I don’t see what else they could have done.

What I dearly hope comes of this paan-stain on the brocade of BanglaBrit culture is that moderate voices can come forward to take on the reactionaries in this vibrant community. A community-wide debate has already started along the lines of “Is Brick Lane insulting to Bangladeshis or insulting to Bangladeshi patriarchialism?”. But who represents the moderates?

As usual, the best discussion on this is to be found on Pickled Politics.

1059 Responses to “Burn Brick Lane Burn”

  1. Thara Says:

    People are within their rights to protest when being misrepresented. As long as it is peaceful and within the law, they are merely living out their lives as British citizens.

  2. sonia Says:

    Oh sure they’re within their rights. did you see anyone say they didn’t have a right? the question rather is one of ‘representation’. ( one thing talking about political representation, and another re: ‘image’ or conception of a group.) So this brings us to the questoin of how any group can be represented - are we talking about a set of stereotypes? so the point in question would be to say we don’t like the stereotypes presented. fine. no one likes stereotypes - that’s the point - they’re not ‘real’ are they? individuals are individuals. when you say misrepresented it implies there would be a correct representation somewhere - and i can’t see how any generalization would be correct, or that a group or community can be generalized about. I can understand that people don’t like being generalized about at all - and that’s really my take on this whole thing. one can and should complain about generalizations and group representations. for me suggesting that the generalization is an incorrect one is validating the assumption that a group can be generalized about full stop.

  3. Thara Says:

    Letter in The Guardian:

    Monica Ali’s book Brick Lane continues to court controversy among the British Bangladeshi community due to its negative portrayal of Sylhetis. The majority of British Bangladeshis originate from the Sylhet division in Bangladesh. Monica Ali originates from Dhaka.

    There has always been rivalry between Bangladeshis from the mainly rural and peripheral Sylhet and those hailing from the major metropolitan areas like Dhaka and Chittagong. Sylhetis are usually stereotyped as being uneducated and cliquish: for instance preferring their children to marry within the Sylheti community. They are not considered “proper” Bangladeshis by many non-Sylheti Bangladeshis. Sylhetis are fiercely protective of their own language, family-orientated community culture and conservative practice of Islam.

    I strongly abhor threats of violence against any individual or group. Yet I find it ironic that Ali is being lauded in some quarters as an icon of liberal multicultural Britain when in fact she is fanning rivalries and stereotypes within the British Bangladeshi community.


    The PEN people like Rushdie and Hanif are non-Bangladeshis. The view within the Sylheti community is in my opinion pretty unanimous in feeling that the film should not shoot in our area.

  4. Sid H Arthur Says:

    […]I find it ironic that Ali is being lauded in some quarters as an icon of liberal multicultural Britain when in fact she is fanning rivalries and stereotypes within the British Bangladeshi community.

    Monica Ali’s book is guilty of many things, but inciting violence and fanning rivalries between Sylheties and non-Sylheties aren’t two of them. And to accuse ‘Brick Lane’ of these charges is, at best, a misreading of the book. This accusation has been bandied about by the protesters but its just pure fabrication.

    Incidentally, this Sylhety-non Sylhety rift you speak about happens in the UK only. Sylheties and non-Sylheties mix freely, marry each other and become MPs of Bangladesh without any such divergences.

    The letter you referred to (Guardian, Iqbal Ahmed) is a little one-sided. Sylheties can be just as exclusivist as Bangladeshis from other districts. Furthermore, the Sylhety community like any other Bangladeshi sub-group is extremely class-riven. And, funnily enough, these upper-classe Sylheties voice the same views of the the general mass of Sylheties that Iqbal Ahmed accuses the non-Sylhety Bangladeshis of.

  5. Thara Ahmed Says:

    I am a Sylheti from a professional middleclass background and I feel offended that this author should write about things she now admits she didn’t even research properly. I’m sick and tired of people bitching about Sylhetis because of their own underlying insecurities of not having emigrated to the West as we have.

    As for Sylheti-non-Sylheti relationships in Bangladesh, most Sylhetis marry people from within their own districts. Even outside of Sylhet. It stands to reason since most Bangladeshis are too gorib to travel outside their own district/division much. Although this is slowly changing. Most Sylhetis prefer to marry someone who speaks their own language and from a similar background to themselves.

    I believe that it was Sylhetis and expats together who went to court to stop Taukir Ahmed’s ‘Londoni Konya’ natok which portrayed forced marriage as being only a Sylheti problem. In fact it happens all over Bangladesh.

  6. Sid H Arthur Says:

    Thara, it is unfortunate that you feel that you need to live your life by actively conforming to every stereotype there is of Sylheties.

    Even more unfortunate is that your views compel you to regard teh Brick Lane book as an attack aimed at Sylheties exclusively. Its about Bangladeshi patriarchialism as much as it is based on the immigration narrative, displacement *and* the Sylhety narrative.

  7. Shams Says:

    Thara, you should just stop before you make any further fool of yourself and the Sylhetis. If I replace Sylhetis with Arian race, it just sounds like Ku Klax Klan. Get a grip. Do a bit of reading before you make an ass of yourself, you rudeboy from York.

  8. ... Says:

    Patriarchialism isn’t only restricted to the Sylhetis, it is a problem throughout Bangladesh and South Asia. As is endemic educational underachievement and forced marriage. If the Sylhetis Bangladeshis in the UK are a majority ergo the immigrants experience are theirs. So why does the main family in Brick Lane come from Meymensingh in Bangladesh?

  9. Ms. Jane Says:

    Dear Mr. Golmal,
    good piece. I agree, don’t see why there is such a GOLMAL about a not-so-well-written book. 3 things come to my mind:
    1. Monica apa: Please do some research before going where nobody ever dared to go ;p
    2. Book burning club of Bricklane: Please don’t take yourself so seriously. Here, have a glass of lassi on me and cool down. You guys are really giving us Sylhetis a bad rep.
    3. (From one girl to another) To Nazneen (main character) You go girl!

    fun read: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/printable/1317/

  10. sonia Says:

    Sid’s got a good point about this supposed Sylheti non-sylheti divide - i’d never come across it till i got here the UK for university. and you know what? it’s a chip on the shoulder - like racism, after a while people assume everything is about race - and in this case - clearly everyone seems to assume there’s some anti-sylheit prejudice.

    i had so many people say to me oh you people from dhaka are arrogant. this was like on our first meeting - hello - who was exhibiting prejudice? i had a bit of a job explaining a) im not from dhaka and b) i hadn’t realized i was supposed to be looking down on sylhetis when i hadn’t realized they were sylheti in the first place. As it turned out, i’d made the effort and then they were perfectly happy to be my friends. Now we’re all matey mates.

    But this ‘us them’ lingo seems to be kept up - and what’s this ‘our’ area business? I mean people complain about Brits not letting them feel ‘British’ because they’re immigrants, sounds to me people are starting to sound just as exclusive about Brick Lane - i don’t think anyone owns it or has a copyright on it.

  11. sonia Says:

    excuse my typos up above.

  12. Thara Says:

    Clearly there is anti-Sylheti prejudice at work in Bangladesh and amongst the expat population. For example, on Saturday evening my brother attended the Kazi Nazrul Centre just off Brick Lane. The show by Moushomi was attended mostly by Dhakaiyas/immigrant freshies like Sonia (no offence). My bro says the show was presented in Dhakaiya as was the main event. A few Sylhetis amongst the croud started shouting so Moushomi pretended some of the songs were from Sylhet region (how desperate!). Yet the Nazrul Centre is financially aided by Tower Hamlets Council :angry: :angry: which is paid for by the majority Sylheti population!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ps. I saw the disgustingly one-sided article about the Brick Lane incident written in the Daily Star Bangladesh, no wonder it is known as the Dhakaiya paper! And ppl say there is no discrimination! lol

  13. Sid H Arthur Says:

    A few Sylhetis amongst the croud started shouting so Moushomi pretended some of the songs were from Sylhet region

    You mean some loud, anti-social yobs disrupted a cultural show because it’s singers didn’t sing in their vernacular? So they spoilt it for other members of the audience who had paid to see the show?

    What an ugly, provincial and common stereotype you uphold to the rest of us as good and exemplary.

    I’ve organised shows at the Brady. Show organisers have to pay for the use of the services. They are certainly not “paid for by the majority Sylheti population”.

  14. Thara Says:

    Sid: ‘What an ugly, provincial and common stereotype you uphold to the rest of us as good and exemplary’.

    Who said I approve?

    However, people have to know that 10% of the community shouldn’t attempt to dominate the 90%.

    The British Bangladeshi community is really the British Sylheti community and people shouldn’t forget this fact. Cultural shows run by Bangladeshis should do more to accommodate Sylhetis….at least make the banners and speeches in Sylheti! Too bloody arrogant by half to concentrate on Dhakaiyas only. No wonder only Dhakaiyas attend these shows. It’s discriminatory.

    Besides who is this ‘rest of us’ you talk so fondly about? You and Sonia? Hah! Don’t make me laugh. You are not from the background that most Bangladeshis in this country are from.

    Anyway, are you even Bangali, Sid? Pay? Did you ever hear of a Bengali or Asian who parted easily with their money? The whole shebang was free. And IT IS funded by Tower Hamlets Council because this is what the organisers told them. Our taxes are used to cater to a minority who actively exclude the wider society from shows that are supposed to be open to the public.

  15. Sid H Arthur Says:

    However, people have to know that 10% of the community shouldn’t attempt to dominate the 90%.

    Thara, don’t patronise me.

    I think you have an individual and unique voice. Why don’t you catalogue your grievances for the Sylhety community in a blog of your own. I think the world needs to know how the facts behind the oppression perpetrated by the 10%.

  16. Dinesh Patel Says:

    Anyone think this is a muslim issue. Muslims not wanting to come across in the film as non-islamic.

    i mean, many films and books have been made/written about Christianity. Straight after the Da Vinci code. Christians must be thinking they got done!

    It seems that when violence is threaten, people take note. It works.

  17. Shams Says:


    Go open your own blog to patronise yourself. Why doesn’t the 90% Syletis have their own show if they are so oppressed? Why do they have to come to the shows that the 10% organizes? Too busy complaining? What a moronic loser! Obviously you have nothing better to do. Do something constructive for a change for the community rather than pissing around at other people’s blogs.

  18. Thara Says:

    I’m sorry but I thought these blogs were there for the sharing of opinions. :D Else why allow comments? I’m sorry if I’ve shattered your worldview with a flash of reality. As for Sylheti shows….yes…once the Dhakaiyas are made to face reality we will have our own shows.

  19. Serious Golmal » Seven Seas: Brick Lane redux Says:

    […] What went on before is something that, the novel Brick Lane does not bother itself with overmuch, but thankfully Sukdhdev Sandhu does. The protesters against the Monica Ali film are regressive and reactionary, I thought so myself. They say they are protesting against an ignorant and uncomplimentary portrayal of themselves. Sandhu’s article contextualises the grievances of the men who have protested against the Monica Ali book/film. It comes as a surprise to realise that these were the same men who, twenty years ago, fought another set of regressive and reactionary attitudes in the streets of Tower Hamlets. They were the ones, together with their brothers and uncles, who took the full brunt of the assault from the 1970s to the 1990s; whose education suffered as a result of bullying classmates and unsympathetic teachers; who attended the vigils outside the Royal London Hospital waiting in vain for Quddus Ali to regain consciousness. Even the nail-bomb planted in Brick Lane by David Copeland in April 1999 didn’t check their will to reclaim the streets of Whitechapel. […]

  20. StreetScholar Says:

    Thara,I’m 22 year old male and come from a Sylheti background - thumi furi beshi mathoh! I enjoyed the book thoroughly for its entertainment value (more so than for its literary prowess), and I feel it gave a good depiction of the phallocentrism that exists within the Sylheti cultural sphere.

    But, ‘hey’, big deal! Chauvanism exists in all cultures, and I found SOME of the depictions in ‘Brick Lane’ ever so close to what I see in my own heavily populated South Asian locality.

    To be fair, I think a lot of the uncles and elders marching on the streets of Brick Lane - so peacefully from what I have seen, may I emphasise - have not read the book, and many of them are only angered because of what they have heard through various critiques.

    At the end of the day it’s only a ficticious book, based on some facts, but not an overall representation of Sylheti people on the whole. My daddy is charming, he extended my mother’s kitchen last year.

    As for the Sylhet versus Dhaka debate, I don’t see why it’s getting so heated. I’m from up North, and I can’t stand southern fairies the same way I can’t stand Dhakhaiya people, but it’s nothing racist, only a bit of banter.

    People need to chill out, especially you Thara. I don’t think we need an independent state of Sylhet right now furi.

  21. ash kotak Says:

    The real voices of Brick Lane are silent in this debate

    Ash Kotak
    Monday August 7, 2006
    The Guardian

    Germaine Greer misses the point by relating her own stories about those who knew her and chose to write about her (Reality can bite back, August 5). It is irrelevant. Monica Ali is writing fictional characters experiencing a clash of values, created from her own specific knowledge. As for the “Brick Lane community” response, Greer is assuming a community speaks with one voice; it is patronising and arrogant. Any community is made up of a group of individuals. However a community together tries to protect and uphold common values, not everyone will support them all the time. This Brick Lane media-generated controversy has reinforced the truth that a community which has little voice - and some of those within it who have no voice - will continue to remain invisible.

    Article continues



    The fact is most of the community don’t give a damn about the filming and are not even talking about it. At the same time, following the media attention, the Brick Lane wallas keep their heads down. For some people living within such communities, that place is their entire world. There is little reason to “escape”, especially when you consider the outside, alien world to be hostile - examples of which are keenly sought by the protectors/oppressors within. Even though the protesters, generally, have been marginalised, a few self-appointed community leaders have perpetuated the stereotypical belief of the limited and inward thinking by “them” in the minds of the British public. To publicise their views is the same as giving one of the self-appointed Sikh community leaders a platform on Bezhti, the play that prematurely closed in Birmingham, and representing it as the voice of the community.
    Greer is entirely wrong when she protests about “how disturbing it is to have gobbets of your life sampled, digested and dished back up to you in unrecognisable form”. Brick Lane is fiction. Since when has any play, novel or film set out to truly represent a whole community - and nor should it. You set out because you want to say something, express values, the success of which depends on how good the writing is. Greer speaks as a free, western feminist individual, not as a burkha-wearing, non-English-speaking community insider, whose only route to “freedom” is the escapism of Bollywood and aspirations for their kids. Human nature is such; the heart knows when it is being confined. It will hopefully be the next generation who will find a voice through literature, film, art and education. But this battle has only just begun and knowledge itself fuels further clashes.

    So let the British public feel self-satisfied: “I told you so, the Bangladeshis are all like that!”; let the Guardian feel it continues to uphold free speech; let those who feel disempowered remain in the ghetto to find solace in religion and community. A good job all round and we all remain safe in our own worlds.
    Ash Kotak

  22. ash kotak Says:

    I posted this letter that wa spublished in the Guardian as I think this debates needs to move on and the real, underlying issues need to be discussed

  23. IA Says:

    Hi everyone,

    Allah’r rohmothe thumra hokol bala asso.

    In response to the earlier query regarding the complaint sent to the Council mentioned by ‘Thara’, I am pasting the details of my complaint. I feel that Bangladeshi culture comprises more than a few bards who originate from Dhaka and enter Shilpi Academies through patronage. Cinemas, theatres and centres dealing with niche interests and events ought to try and tailor their events toward the majority rather than an interested minority. We all pay our council taxes (some of us more than others) and delivery of council performance in reaching out to the wider audience ought to be audited. My complaint transcends the traditional Sylheti-non-Sylheti rivalry and rests upon auditing how my taxes are being spent.

    I hope that we can continue the debate about the nature of British Bangladeshi cultural identity and whether it ought to be Sylheti by sheer weight of numbers.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Re: Sylhetis and equal access to the cultural space at the Kobi Nazrul Centre

    I would like to begin by congratulating Moushumi Bhowmik and everyone at the Centre involved in organising and planning the event of Saturday 5th August 2006. I attended your event and thoroughly enjoyed the evening, particularly appreciating the seamless fusion between Bengali and Western music.

    However, I was somewhat disappointed to note the following:

     The audience of approximately 70 people seemed to be composed mainly of non-Sylheti (‘Dhakaiya’) Bangladeshis. One could surmise this given that non-Sylhetis speak Shuddho (Standard) Bangla

     The show began at 6.30 in the evening on a Saturday. As anybody who is familiar with the East End will tell you, Friday and Saturday evenings are the busiest times for business at the local Sylheti-run restaurants, groceries and corner shops

     The lengthy preamble to the show was read out in Shuddho Bangla (not even in English!). As a second generation British Sylheti, I was unable to follow what was said

    In my opinion the Kobi Nazrul Centre seems to be catering to non-Sylheti cultural needs rather than acting as a platform to bring together all British Bangladeshis in appreciation of the varied facets of Bangladeshi culture. I find this happenstance quite baffling given that the overwhelming majority of British Bangladeshi’s are of Sylheti origin (from Sylhet Shodor, Habigonj, Moulvi Bazaar and Sunamgonj).

    I would hope that the Centre, which I believe is funded by Tower Hamlets Council, would celebrate a Bangladeshi culture with which the majority of Bangladeshis (Sylhetis) in this country can relate to and are comfortable with. There should be equal access to the Centre for all sections of the British Bangladeshi community. More should be done to reach out to the majority British Sylheti population.

    Sylheti is the Shudho Basha equivalent of the United Kingdom. Many Sylhetis do not understand Shudho Basha, preferring to speak in their native tongue. One would think that this fact would be accommodated in your event so that even if the main event was in Shuddho Bangla, Sylhetis would be made more welcome.

    As it was, my (first) experience at the Centre reinforces my view of the cultural elitism and chauvinism which seems to be prevalent amongst non-Sylheti –controlled cultural forums. Given recent tensions between Sylheti and non-Sylheti Bangladeshis in the East End, arising from Monica Ali’s Brick Lane novel, it would make sense if more were to be done to address the problem of Sylheti-non-Sylheti cultural disengagement through the medium of the Centre.

    I am sure that the Nazrul Centre strives to accurately represent the rich cultural heritage of Bangladesh. I realize that it is difficult to balance all the different facets of Bangladeshi culture for the various constituencies within the British Bangladeshi community. However, I strongly suggest that the organizing committee endeavour to include a more Sylheti flavour to forthcoming events in order to accommodate the audience.

    An accurate portrayal of British Bangladeshi community is in everyone’s interest. There must be some service targets set by the Council which lay the criteria for the way the Centre operates.

    I look forward to your timely reply and wish you all the best for next Saturday.

    Yours sincerely,

  24. Sid H Arthur Says:


    Just picking up on your long comment which contains, as a standalone soundbite, something I keep hearing again and again.

    The lengthy preamble to the show was read out in Shuddho Bangla (not even in English!). As a second generation British Sylheti, I was unable to follow what was said.

    Perhaps the reason why the ‘lenghty preamble’ was read out in Bangla was because it was delivered to a mostly-Bangladeshi audience. I agree, they probably should have read out an English version.

    But then why should they? I went to see a Parapar concert in which singer, Moushomi Bhowmik, spoke throughout the show in English but sang in Bangla. I don’t see the problem.

    But I agree that many do, especially with this Bangla and Sylhety business. Mostly by people who are 2nd and 3rd generation Bangladeshi-Brits of Sylhety origin, like yourself, who are obviously dismayed when they realise that Sylhety is actually one of many dialects of Bangla. I would go as far as to say that if you didn’t understand the Bangla, that’s your problem. I don’t understand Hindi but that doesn’t mean I have the right to complain if that’s the language used amongst Indians!

    I had to laugh out loud once when I saw a local government benefits form which contained boxes to tick for other languages spoken. There was a box for Bengali and one for Sylhety. That would be the same as a box for English and a separate one for Scouse.

    The term Dhakaiya (Dhaka-ites) is very illuminating. Some Sylhety folk use it to refer to other Bangladeshis whether they’re from Dhaka or not. Its also a loaded term, with connotations of sneaky, conniving, untrustworthy and other unpleasant feelings Sylheties have towards the OTHERS.

    “Dhakaiyas”, the people from the rest of Bangladesh, speak in a dozen or more other regional dialects of Bengali. Including the Chittagong dialect which makes Sylhety sound like an elegant upmarket accent. But Bangladeshi people read and write their language in standard Bangla.

    Fine young Sylheties have grown up in a linguistic vacuum in which Sylhety is the first ‘language’ and English a poor second. Given the status of Bangladeshi kids coming joint-last (with Pakistani kids)amongst other ethnic Southasians in the UK, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the poor performance of Sylhety Bangladeshi kids in inner city schools?

  25. jav Says:

    Just a note on Sylhet, pre-1947 it was part of Assam (we had very close links to Shillong) links to Dhaka and even to Calcutta was minimal. Sylheties are distinctive people in their own right as well as in terms of culture and language.

  26. Bengali Says:

    Sid Arthur

    Sounds to be you’ve given the subject of Sylhetis quite a lot of thought… The relative performance of British-Bangladeshis has been on the minds of lots of Bangladeshis (Sylheti origin) for two decades now, and the the value added league tables show Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets to have made the best progress starting from the low base line that comes with low-income, migration, etc. These days just about every other Bangladeshi Sylheti has an MA - except when it comes to low-income Bangladeshi families - which would be true of any low-income group, right, not just the Sylhetis.

    Plus - the Sylhetis haven’t grown up in a linguistic vacuume - they’ve grown up with a dialect! Your comments, unintentionally perhaps, reveal prejudice, perhaps you don’t know you have a chip, always the way with people who do, like er.. Austrailians settled in Australia because it was barren and cultivated it, er, Israelis did the same in Palestine because it was empty, a vacuume.. Er, NO. Sylhetis aren’t dismayed when they learn they speak one of many dialects from Bangladesh - why should they be? Why would you assume this? Surely not because you believe in a hierarchy of dialects versus the status of a national language. These debates also take place in the UK about the status of dialects here, and if you spoke to the Scots and the Welsh, you’ll get similar story about the slurs to their linguistic customs by a more dominant cultural group. Language is power, as some famous person once said.

  27. Sid H Arthur Says:


    Haha, I see you’re trying to offload some of that chip from other shoulders onto mine. Nice try.

    If I take the piss out of Sylheties it means I can take the piss out of Noakhaylas, Chatgaiyas (Chittagonians to you), Barisaylas, Dhakayas, Kishoregonjis etc. All other regions of Bangladesh, each with their own peculiarities. Sylhties are not the lowest in a dialectic hierarchy as you say - thats a ridiculous notion and your admission gives away more than you realise. Sylheties also take the piss out of, as does the rest of Bangladesh, the Noakhali accent. Its a national joke, right? So why don’t Noakhalians feel that they’re at the bottom of some hierarchy?

    Why does the word ‘hierarchy’ get mentioned if we discuss Sylhety matters with British Sylheties only? Where does this hyper-sensitivity come from? I think that the answers would go a long way to explain the Monica Ali fracas.

  28. Bengali Says:


    No sensitivities, i was refering to the hierarchy in dialects and national languages, (not between dialects per se) which exist in all countries, not just in Bangladesh, hence the attempt to broaden things out a little - so agree with you no, this ain’t just a Sylheti issue.

    And no, don’t understand the joke about Noakhalians - what is it?

  29. Ruzi Says:

    If most of the people in Britain are from Sylhet region then someone who writes in a negative ways about them is surely out to court some trouble/PR for their book?

    I would like to think Monica Ali was not biased about the people she wrote about but unlike White people Bengali people are self centred. She got £300,000 out of the book and that’s it done and dusted.

  30. Sharif Says:

    I wish I were more self-centred - I might make a mint.

  31. Rob Says:

    I just want to say that i am a sylheti myself and i think most sylhetis (esp the ones in east london) give us a bad name and deservedly so, most of them are no better than gutter rats.

  32. sharif Says:


    your point is?

  33. Dhakaiya Says:

    I just want to say that I am from Dhaka myself and I think most Dhakaiyas (esp the ones who have only arrived in the UK) give all Bengalis a bad name and why not, when they are little more than rats leaving a sinking ship (our glorious People’s Republic).

  34. Mamun Mia Says:

    I just want to say that I am a Hobigonji Sylhety myself and I think most Mulibazari Sylhetis (esp the ones in the UK) give us a bad name and deservedly so, most of them are no better than potato-peeling gutter rats with no respect for anything except avoiding VAT and defrauding the council housing system.

  35. Gazim Says:

    ‘Moderate Bangladeshis ….. would much rather tolerate a bad book or a bad TV natok (play) that deals with the subject’.

    What tosh!

    You are only being so high minded because your own ethnic & religious group was not attacked by this Monika Ali. Your own agenda is exposed by your repeated use of ‘provincial’ to describe people you disagree with.

    If you think you and your so-called ‘progressive’ secular Hindu friends can bring out a crowd to march in the UK to support a auther that called Sylhetis uncultured and attacks Islam then do it & show us. lol

    Don’t just be a console jockey bitching about other people.

    You are a Hindu aren’t you, ‘Sid’.?

  36. Sid H Arthur Says:

    This thread seems to be in danger of getting poisoned by trolls. First we had the anti-Bengoli Syloties and now the generic anti-Hindu troll. Whatever next?

    Please try and understand - my point is not to defend Monica Ali (girl don’t need it) but to defend secular, progessive attitudes within the Bangladeshi community from regressive attitudes as displayed by Gazim and his ghoulish friends.

    You are a Hindu aren’t you, ‘Sid’.?

    No I’m a Daoist. That is to say I like to give (‘dao’). And I’m here to give it to wankers like you.

  37. Rowshan Says:

    Leave Sid alone! Otherwise he’ll turn into a martyr!

  38. googler Says:

    Sid says, Sid says, Sid says:

    “Why does the word ‘hierarchy’ get mentioned if we discuss Sylhety matters with British Sylheties only? Where does this hyper-sensitivity come from?”

    And the answer is? Common Sid.. say it like irris.

  39. rowshan Says:


    there is hierarchy everywhere…and shouldn’t be..no reason why anyone’s regional identity should mark them out as gutter rats - gutter rats run riot in all groups/regions/universes

  40. Sid H Arthur Says:

    Social cleavages in Bangladeshi society, in the absence of casteism, are based on class and regionalism. So allegiances and schisms, political groupings, marriages, friendships, job recruitment and all that kind of stuff is completely based on which village of which thana of which mofushollah of which disrict you come from. But to suggest that there is some qualitative hierarchy, or a league table, of Districts and sub-regions is admitting to a complete lack of understanding of Bangladeshi society.

  41. Rowshan Says:


    Methinks money complicates things. Once upon a time things were simple - everyone in Bangladesh knew their place. Then some regional groups who are traditionally less economically active, educated, went abroad , settled in UK, gained access to a public education system and pumped back reminttance money back to ONE region in Bangladesh and hey - suddenly the new money has thrown a spanner in traditional social cleavages. I think that’s what traditonal Dhaka circles can’t stomach - the new economic power of their less developmed brothers and sisters. A bit like the old boys network in the City in the 80s which couldn’t stomach the influx of new boys from Essex - and now everyone is happy because both have re-adjusted to new economic reality. Maybe some day the same will happen to the regional brothers and sisters of bdesh.

  42. Sid H Arthur Says:


    You hit the nail on the head when you said that this occurs in Britain. This self-concious “new money” attitude that Sylheties have of themselves is completely localised to their experiences in Britain. Not Canada, not Australia and not the USA, where other newer Sylhety communities exist; only in Britain - where they form the oldest Asian commmunity in the UK. Sylheties in Bangladesh, or anywhere else, do not have this separatist anomalous self-regard. The British-based Sylheties are still attached to old social baggage mired in the 50s and 60s, from when they arrived here, and which they reinforce in a linguistic and cultural vacuum they have chosen to surround themselves in.

    This is why Sylehties newly arriving from Bangladesh have more in common with other non-Sylhety Bangladeshis than they have with their Sylhety cousins.

    And please don’t give me the victimhood crap that only Sylheties are on the receiving end of regional chauvinism. Sylheties are extremely adept at peddling poison of and against “Bengolis” (non-Sylheties) too.

    And finally, let me remind you that in spite of the financial success story of the Britsh-Sylhety community, Bangladeshi kids still form the lowest performing Southasian group in the UK. When stats like this come out, don’t forget that Bangladeshis are in it together and no effort is ever made to say that Sylhety kids form the large majority of the Bangladeshi schoolkids’ demographic, and it is their poor performance that brings the average down. And yet, you seem to be more than happy to suggest that when the Bangladeshi community does well, such as in the business community, that it is exclusivley a Sylhety achievement.

    Swords tend to cut both ways.

  43. Rowshan Says:

    Haven’t gone down the victimhood road - at least I hope i haven’t.

    I don’t know about Syheltis in Canada and US as my experience is limited to parachial Britain.

    I totally agree with you that Bangladeshis should be in it together particularly as the stats on socio-economic progress tell a bleak story for all bangladeshis.

    I just assumed all the remittance money was mstly from Sylhetis - as they are the largest group of Bangladeshis here. I could be wrong if you are saying there is more to the business community than this - as you say , the demographics of is Bangladeshi in Britain is vastly different from the past. This is a good thing, too. No regional group should have the monopoly of claiming to represent the interests of a country solely on the strengh of numbers.

    Plus - perhaps it is a Syheti thing to protest too much? I haven’t heard the Mir Puris complain so much about their Urdi speaking Pakistani neighbours. Maybe there is a different dynamic there.

    So er.. going back to the original point. Maybe the villain of the piece is class in Britain.

  44. Rowshan Says:

    what is cultural vaccume, though? I didn’t understand …

  45. Ferdy Says:

    The meeting of educated professional middleclass Sylhetis bought up in the UK with NonSylhetis from newly arrived from middleclass backgrounds in Bangladesh was always going to be interesting. Neither has fully reconciled themselves to the other, altho perhaps they should. Give it a few years.

    Re: ‘cultural vaccume’, there is no such thing. Sylhetis have their own quirks, values, allegiencies and failings as any other people. In fact I would go so far as to say Sylhetis are more conscious of their cultural heritage than people from other regions. It takes a lot of guts to consciously speak ones own minority dialect rather than to surrender to the dialect of the majority.

    It would be interesting to know how Sylhetis and NonSylhetis are getting on in Canada and America. I suspect they don’t have the same issues because the expat community over the pond are scattered over a huge landmass and are first generation immigrants struggling to make it rather than established figures speaking from a comfort zone.

  46. Sid H Arthur Says:

    It takes a lot of guts to consciously speak ones own minority dialect rather than to surrender to the dialect of the majority.

    So Sylheties, Chatgayyans, Noakhalyans, Barisalyans, Bograns etc, etc, etc, have more guts than Bangladeshis from other regions because they insist on speaking in their dialects? Would you say Scots, scousers and geordies have more guts than the English because they don’t speak in Received Pronounciation?

    Sylheties in USA and Canada are younger communmities than the Sylheties in the UK. So they haven’t allowed themselves to marinate in a exclusivist village mentality like Sylheties in the UK. They also marry outside of their communities which Sylheties in the UK almost never do.

  47. Ferdy Says:

    Sid Bhai, I think you have an entirely rosy picture of the US and Canadian Probashi Bangali communities. These groups are only just beginning to integrate into their host societies. They are in a similar position to our parents who arrived in the UK in the 60’s and 70’s. There is a concentration on personal survival and immigration status rather than consolidation of group identity.

    They still have to go through the phases of trying to consolidate group identity through cultural groups propped up by government grants, infighting based on personalities, alienation of the second/third generation from the mother country and culture, sideways drift into Islamic or other extremism and finally some form of assimilation.

    There is comparatively less statistical information available about these groups than the established UK community. However, in the US one can already see a schism forming between NonSylheti Bangladeshis in New York and Sylheti Bangladeshis from Detroit (ref: my own experience only).

    US Sylhetis I met in my travels throughout the region speak Sylheti like their brothers in the UK. I find it difficult to believe that they would so readily accept NonSylheti spouses. On the other hand the community over there isn’t as concentrated (no real equiv to Brick Lane or Green Street) so that marrying anyone Bengali probably takes precedence over regionalism. At the end of the day we are all Bangali so Sylhetis marrying out is ok in my mind, but so is Sylheti preference for marrying within the community. It’s an individuals choice.

  48. Sid H Arthur Says:

    hmmm not very encouraging is it?
    Luckily this phenomenon isn’t comprehensive. All my close Sylhety friends and rellies haven’t bound themselves into such narrow cultural delineations.

  49. Ferdy Says:

    Sid Bhai, I find it very hard to believe that you have Sylheti relatives. Sorry.

    Wouldn’t our ‘village mentality’ and ‘provincialism’ get in the way?


  50. Sid H Arthur Says:

    Well, ‘you can choose your friends…’ and all that. Besides, I’m very nimble.

  51. Ferdy Says:

    Sylheti educational successes:

    ‘In this respect the academic achievements of the current crop of young Sylhetis are very striking. Despite many handicaps, including the recentness of their arrival in Britain, their parents poverty and lack of education, and their concentration in often ill-resourced inner-city schools, Bengali children – the vast majority of whom are of Sylheti parentage – are not only proving to be remarkably successful at school, but the girls are beginning to significantly outperform the boys. To be sure the current performance of Bengali children may still only be marginally ahead of their Pakistani counterparts, and good deal less spectacular than those of the Indians. However the moment one factors in the length of time which as passed since family reunion took place, it becomes quite clear that the upward curve being followed by Sylheti children, and most especially by Sylheti girls, may well prove to be closely congruent with those followed by the Jullunduris. Quite apart from the patterns of upward mobility through the employment market which such educational success is likely to precipitate, it can also be expected to have a far reaching impact on marriage strategies.

    In the first place young people who are educational successful are well placed to argue that their marriage should be delayed until their education is complete – not least because they can very plausibly insist that they are much more likely to be able to catch a prestigious spouse when they are fully qualified as a doctor, a lawyer, and so forth. Moreover once they are professionally qualified, they are also much better placed to insist that they should make such choices themselves. But whom will they choose? Current developments suggest that whilst most well-qualified young Sylheti women would much prefer to marry husbands of a similar background to themselves, suitable matches are extremely hard to find, especially since the relatively small number of well qualified young Bengali men are not only more prepared than they to leave the matter in their parents hands, but also prefer – other things being equal – to marry spouses who are significantly less well qualified than they are themselves’.


  52. Sid H Arthur Says:

    Brilliant. Thank you for this link Ferdy.

  53. faithful Says:

    I studied Brick Lane as a student on my English literature course last year and found that it did not live up to the hype that british audiences and critics have led us to believe.If anything, I was bitterly dissapointed. Think about it, the story line is nothing amazing! A dissafected woman living on a hosuing estate who has an affair? Would the same hype have been made had the novel been about a white working class lady living on a council estate? This book lacks substance and depth, the very stuff good books are made of. It is selling by the bucket loads, only because it tries to touch on every taboo subject existent in minority cmmunities. Let me see now, there’s the issue of the helpless nambi-pambi asian wife who has succumbed to Patriarchal control of her pot bellied husband, the testing of cultural and religious boundaries, wherein the protagonist struggles to free herself from the shackles of a supposedly repressive faith and of course the idea of terrorism being the problem underpinning the waywardness of bearded muslim youth.

    Ali panders far too quickly to the stereotypes of her western readers, writing with a pesrpective, only simple readers can accept, is real. she tries to raise and discuss far too many issues in this one novel and this is why I think she has failed. Brick lane tries to be a novel about every hot topical issue on the literary agenda and that as we know, is simply not possible. What is deeply disturbing, however, is that many western critics percieve this as an accurate representation of the bangladeshi community, yet they don’t know any better because they don’t have anything to compare it to! Even the front cover is fascinated with an exotic identification of Bangladeshiness, favouring a ’saris and spices’ print design for the font!

    Credit to Ali, that this novel has put her on the literary map to say the least, but we need to seriously ask questions as to what or why this novel is selling so successfully? Is it Ali’s so-called ‘part stake’ in this rarely spoken about culture, her brown skin or her muslim name? Because it sure as frigg, can’t be her literary Style!

    I suppose what I am trying to suggest is that Ali is an effigy of the multi-cultural schism that publishers can only dream of happening across. A writer they believe who can recount tales of exotic loves between the east and west and bridge the gap between the two cultures. But in all essence Ali does none of this, she simply appears as a token of success to those who imagine that multi-culturalism can still be acheived in Britain.

    It is also a novel with anomalies. Why does Nazneen’s sister Hasina, speak in broken English, when she is writing to her sister? What exactly is this broken speech meant to mean? What was wrong in making her speak normally?

  54. Nurul Says:

    The book “Brick Lane” was a mish mash of generations… Monica Ali did not have a clue what she was writing about…! Its one thing to write from your experiances and another to write from research. I am happy that she got nominated for the booker prize, but I really can’t understand why she got nominated..! The book did not flow and at times just halted. The worrying thing about this book is that it gives a certain sterotype of Bangaldeshi’s which most “shaada’s” will take for face value.

  55. TAZ Says:

    Brick Lane was carried on the back of controversy. No literary merit above being able to write. Even the Guardian dropped her in the face of large demos from brown folk in T Hamlets, the people they normally draw on for readership.

  56. Sharif Says:

    Sid post 46 ‘ It takes a lot of guts to consciously speak ones own minority dialect rather than to surrender to the dialect of the majority’

    Agree with this totally. Yes, regional accents are still a big problem in the UK. That’s way posh people from the north don’t have regional accents - they’re trained to lose it and speak as ‘properly’ as someone from the South East of England.

    So I tend to agree that Sylhetis (sorry I can’t spell ) do have guts to speak in less than standard national dialects.

    It is interesting to meet non-Sylhetis in the UK, though, they have this paranoia about meeting British -Bangladeshis - can’t think why. Perhaps it’s because we don’t fit into the neat class/caste hangover from Bangladesh where everyone is identified neatly by education, accent, language.

    Unfortunately the only non-Sylhetis I come into contact with are people who make a living out of BRAC, ASK and GRAMEEN who tend to be the equivalent of champaign socialists here in the UK ( very posh people who campaign for ending poverty but come from incredibly aristocratic backgrounds themselves) so I don’t have a huge amount in common with them - let alone the dialect difference. The only difference i see between Sylhetis and non-Sylhetis most of the time is a question of class. As one of my friends from Dhaka pointed out to me, recently, S, the reason why I don’t have any Sylheti friends is that I don’t have anything in common with a person growing up on a council estate - I grew up in international circles, attended the best schools in Dhaka and mix with the elite in Bangladesh. So not a huge amount in common really.

    I think this friend was honest enough to admit this to me and there isn’t anything wrong about her views, either.

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