Swiss Cheese and Baguettes

From Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November, my family and I enjoyed a splendid weekend break to Saint Louis in France (near the French-Swiss border) after only a week or so of planning. In my view, spontaneous trips are by far the best kind, and are often cheaper than all-inclusive trips during the school holidays, when airport queues are longer, the activities on offer are far too cliche, and having an adventure is simply not an option. 


I apologise for the delay in posting this article. Recently, I have been immensely preoccupied with exam revision, homework and coursework. Education is, no doubt, an intrinsically beautiful thing, however stress is an inevitable product of it.

I have decided to use a slightly different layout for this article; I shall share with you a handful of edited excerpts from my journal:

12/11/15: Tomorrow, at 4:00, we shall leave for Switzerland. I am experiencing some mixed feelings about this trip. On the one hand, I am very excited to learn more about another part of the world- about the landscape, customs and people of Switzerland. On the other hand, I am terrified. According to numerous online reports, Islamophobia is widely prevalent there.

13/11/15 7:18: We are all aboard the plane. Getting here has been a predictably unpleasant experience. Flying with Ryanair has, so far, been a worse one. Many of the staff members were alarmingly rude. For example, when my necklace triggered the metal detector, the woman at Security remarked, in a very impudent manner, “That’s a surprise”.

Additionally, when we told the lady at the departure gate that my aunt has severe learning disabilities, and so is unable to respond to her questions, she said, without a shred of consideration, “So what? You understand, don’t you?”.

Tutting is the language of Ryanair staff.

11:13: We have rented a car from Sixt, and are attempting to configure the Sat-Nav, whose display settings are currently set to French.

12:48: We are eating at a kebab shop- Kebab de l’Europe. Saint Louis is absolutely beautiful. Contrary to my own prejudices, the people here are so very amicable and jovial. I may be generalising here, but the people of Saint Louis are far more courteous than the people of East London!

19:22: The ‘Aparthotel’ is very homely and pleasant.

For lunch, I enjoyed an oversized Margherita pizza. Then, for dinner, I rebelliously had a banana, two biscuits and a few brioche slices with chocolate spread, all of which I purchased earlier during our explorative walk around the town.

21:26: We have just returned from an evening vehicular cruise. We crossed the French-Swiss border and drove around Basel, Switzerland. We were fortunate enough to have seen the River Rhein- the very river that divides Germany, Switzerland and France.

For dinner, the sequel, I had noodles, which dad purchased from a nearby Japanese restaurant. I ate outside, on the balcony.

The streets of Basel are very different to the streets of Saint Louis, though both are astoundingly beautiful. The streets of Basel are a lot busier, and resemble the frenetic streets of London a lot more.

Today, it is Friday the thirteenth, but (save from my Ryanair experience) I’ve had an ironically pleasant day. Dad has been experiencing some difficulty adapting to the different road rules here. He is finding avoiding collisions with trams the most difficult aspect of driving here to overcome.

14/11/15 9:40: We are at Basel zoo. For breakfast, I made myself some instant porridge. As I sat down to eat, I noticed that my mum was watching the news on TV with a worried facial expression: yet another terrorist attack has taken place in Paris. Government officials suspect that ‘Islamist’ militants were behind the attacks. I am terrified.

Mum is fearful of the potential backlash that Muslims in France and Britain will undoubtedly face.

11:26: Our trip to the zoo was very enjoyable, though the animals all looked severely malnourished in comparison to those in London zoo. Seeing the lethargic animals made me ponder on the notion of freedom.

We are now at a Turkish restaurant- Yasar Imbiss- in Basel. After lunch, while everyone else finished their meals, I played football outside with the owner’s son, Ali.

16:00: We are currently aboard a train, going halfway up the tallest mountain in Europe. I love train journeys, and I love mountains. My heart is content.

16:54: Earlier, Sweetie and I went hiking.  It is very cold, but we are warming ourselves up with some hot beverages at a mountain lodge. The atmosphere of this place is replete with rustic charm. The sun is setting, and I honestly cannot put into words how majestic this view is.

23:o1: At roughly 20:30, we returned to the hotel. After having an invigorating shower, I checked my Twitter newsfeed. In the wake of the the aforementioned terror attacks, some people are denigrating all Muslims! I firmly believe that, in order to eradicate such global cancers, we must all  (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) stand together. ISIS does not represent me, and it never will.

I am absolutely, categorically in love with Switzerland and its people. Wow.





Bengali Weddings

Yesterday, I attended the wedding of a proximate family friend. This was probably the hundredth Muslim-Bengali wedding I’d been to, and so I am very accustomed to the various rituals and unwritten rules. Some of these rituals, I find, are inherently misogynistic, and in my opinion, some drastic cultural reforms are necessary. That being said, most of the other aspects of traditional Muslim-Bengali weddings are intrinsically alluring, as they encourage celebration and unity.

Typically, Desi matrimonial observances span over a number of days. Muslim-Bengali weddings are usually arranged marriages; the notion of arranged marriage is one I firmly believe is fundamentally stupid. Celebrations begin after a match is made, either by the elders of the family, or by the potential partners themselves. Nowadays, religious matrimonial websites are often used to find a suitable husband or wife, without overstepping religious boundaries. After that, there is an engagement party (a ‘Sinifaan’), during which the bride’s family and the groom’s family meet eachother. Then, there is a Henna party for the bride- an entire night centred on the application of Henna to the bride’s arms- many Western Bengalis see this as an alternative to a hen party, though some choose to have a hen party too. Normally, approximately a week later, the official wedding ceremony takes place. Some couples choose to have a Nikaah celebration before the wedding; this is when the bride and bridegroom sign their official marriage documents, and a religious official prays for the success of their marriage. The final celebration is the Walima, or wedding banquet, the final and most extravagant celebration. So, first the Sinifaan, then the Henna party, then the Nikaah, and finally the Walima. As you can probably infer by now, a lot of money is spent on weddings in the Muslim-Bengali community.

The wedding I attended yesterday did not stray very far from the order of events that I am used to: first, we arrived at the hall, and were directed by a man in a high-vis jacket to the car park. In the reception area, there was an extensive table, atop which sat a large chocolate fountain and around a hundred wine glasses, containing fruit juices: though in most Western weddings, alcohol and music together form the celebratory basis of the party, in Muslim-Bengali weddings, it is all about food, family and elaborate dresses.

In religious Desi weddings, the male and female dining areas are usually segregated, and there are two stages in each section- one for the bride and one for her groom. They sit on thrones (hired, of course), sometimes uneasily, sometimes rather confidently, and are greeted by their guests. Pleasantries are exchanged, younger family members are taunted (“you’re next!”) and envelopes containing money are handed to the respective mothers of the bride and groom.

In my opinion, the food is the very best part of a Desi wedding: three courses of exquisite culinary delights. After two hours of restlessness and growling stomachs, the waiters arrive, looking fatigued, carrying silver dishes. The starter is served first- this almost always consists of chicken Tikka, kebabs, samosas and/or spring rolls, Tandoori chicken and the accompanying sauces, salads and pickles. For drinks, it has almost become a British-Bengali tradition to serve Evian water and Coke. Finally, dessert is usually rather light (semolina or ice-cream with Halwa) so that the guests have some room in their stomachs for the various fruits and sweets that surround the chocolate fountain. After all, what’s a Bengali wedding without a chocolate fountain?

After complaining that they have eaten far too much, the guests may wish to converse amongst themselves, or perhaps take some pictures with an ice sculpture or super car: some, more wealthy, Bengali families hire processions of Lamborghinis and Ferraris to escort the newly wedded couple to the groom’s residence: a rather culturally sexist fact is that the bride is expected to bid farewell to her family, and go and live with the groom’s family. Most Bengali brides weep uncontrollably during their weddings (so thank the Lord for waterproof make-up), due to the sexist nature of their marital expectations: to cook, clean and eventually raise children.

Thankfully, these patriarchal attitudes are gradually being averted, and it’s about time, too.