Maria Chaudhuri’s memoir Beloved Strangers is a vivid description of her life in the past and present across many continents. The author takes you on an insightful journey into her early years in Bangladesh even as she explores her present life and relationships with various people including her husband, boyfriends and family. Giving a peek into life and culture in Bangladesh, the book is intense in parts, capturing the perplexities in life and also talks about what women have to face living in two different cultures.
Weaving an emotional account of her life from Dhaka to America, Chaudhuri writes with conviction and daring and goes on to describe her success and failures in relationships with an open mind.
Growing up in two different worlds and disparate cultures, she comes out with the bittersweet experiences of her childhood, as a daughter, as a student and as a friend. Growing up and imbibing the values of the new world, sheinfact finds it tough to adjust to the old world, having tasted and lived the new life.
Right from the prologue itself, she divides life into three stages of separation, kicking and screaming, learning to fly and letting go. This description is pretty vivid, “Maybe the child already knows that once she stopped sharing the same body with her mother, her world would shatter irreparably. That knowledge alone must have made her cling to the walls of her mother’s womb with all her infant strength .........I want to run away, I told my friend Nadia. Where to? Dallas, I said, remembering the Ewing family from a popular television show and a beautiful ranch in Texas............When I was eighteen years old, I left Dhaka and went to America to claim my new home. After that, Dhaka’s trees, shrubs, air and water decided that I was not fit to return to her.”
As we move from chapter to chapter, Maria Chaudhuri’s childhood days unfold like a flower that blooms once in 12 years, her growing up years in Dhaka and her innocent plans to run away with her friend Nadia. In fact, home was neither a happy nor an unhappy place, but in her family, joy was momentary. If her pretty mother ,who is a singer, yearns for the mountains and the solitariness and freedom to pursue her own dreams and career, then her father is a distant figure who is unable to communicate his thoughts and his emotions despite his attachment to his wife and children.
It is very difficult for her to reconcile with her family and faith which is restrictive for girls. Maria has studied the Holy Book and also said her daily prayers but is a dreamer at heart just like her mother. She hopes to unstitch the seams of her life.
She has a neighbour, Bablu who has not only excited but also repulsed Maria by showing her a worn out pornographic magazine. However, it is Mala, a wise girl with a wicked smile who comes to work in their house, who makes Maria dizzy with longing for physical relationships.
It is only when 18-year-old Maria moves to New England in America to attend college that she faces new opportunities and challenges including meeting Yameen, a man who lives in Jersey City and woos her but is not who he seems to be.
She goes on to marry him, regrets it, leaves him and returns to Dhaka, unable to forget the memories of her life in her native place.
Moving from Dhaka to New England, Beloved Strangers is in fact, a frank and emotional account of growing up and an insight into why people leave their homes and why they sometimes find it difficult to return. Straddling two cultures and two worlds, this book with Maria’s encounters with many people including relatives is simply beautiful with the author trying to etch a new chapter and beginning to her life. It makes for an interesting read.