When I first introduced my now-husband to my family, he was met with open arms by everyone – except my nine-year-old niece. “Why does Aunty have to marry that man?” she asked, before scathingly adding: “I bet he can’t even eat with his hands.”
In fact, my British Jewish fiance was adept at eating with his hands, but my niece’s assumption that he couldn’t maintain this most basic of Bangladeshi cultural practices was apparently reason enough for her to withhold approval. If he couldn’t even manage that, how was he going to be good enough to marry her beloved aunt? At our first family meal together, she eyed him curiously as he ignored the knife and fork laid out for him – the sole cutlery on the table – and studiously mixed the steaming rice and yellow dal with his fingers. My father put a piece of fried fish on his future son-in-law’s plate, a carefully selected piece taken from the belly – or pethi – and usually reserved for children because it contains fewer bones. My mother reassured him that he could use a fork if he preferred, but boldly he persisted.