Omar has good reason to be pleased to live in Singapore, a prosperous, modern and clean city that looks like the other side of the coin of his native Dhaka, the overpopulated capital of Bangladesh, which he had dreamed of emigrating from when, as a child, he saw an uncle of his leave from whom they never heard from again.
Omar’s journey to this tiny country in southern Malaysia had not been easy, but if he compared it to his parents’, he could almost believe it was a rose garden.
His father had been a Bengali fisherman who, after the liberation and partition of India, had fled to what was then East Pakistan, when Hindu fanatics massacred almost all the inhabitants of the Muslim village where he lived by the Bay of Bengal.
In Dhaka she met the future mother of Omar, a Burmese girl of Muslim ethnicity who, after being kidnapped by smugglers who wanted to sell her to the highest bidder, managed to escape and hide in a mosque in that city, where the imam’s wife took care of her.
The Bengali fisherman and the Burmese girl were married for practical reasons and without love between them: he needed a woman and she needed a man to take care of her in that Muslim country, where her sex was not even allowed to travel alone by bus.
They built an adobe hut in a shantytown next to the fishing port where he had got a job. For the next five years, she gave birth to Omar and two other girls. They were poor and survived day by day, but they considered themselves fortunate until the army of West Pakistan began to behave like that of an invading country and rebellion broke out.
At the age of five, hidden under a pile of rubble, Omar saw soldiers dragging his parents and sisters out of the hut. He had to cover his mouth so as not to shout when they forced the father to watch them rape and strangle his wife and then strung the little ones with their bayonets. Such a macabre spectacle didn’t end until the father was beheaded.
Divergent story: Second-class citizen
A score of years later, and after dozens of trades between Thailand and Malaysia, Omar arrived in Singapore and, now a man, managed to defend himself by selling fruit in a trolley that he dragged from one neighbourhood to another.
As a practical man, he managed to erase from his memory those horrendous events of the past, including the famine that Bangladesh suffered shortly after independence from Pakistan. Now in his fifties, Omar has a wife who respected him and has given him four sons and three daughters, with the consequent collection of grandchildren, of whom he sometimes forgot how many.
Omar likes to smoke his pipe sitting in front of his shop on Bussorah Street, and he would be totally satisfied if it weren’t for the fact that, despite his time in Singapore, he is still a second-class citizen; someone whom the government of that island, under its strict laws, could deport for a petty offence, even if it were only to take part in a demonstration or complain about the high taxes he is forced to pay.
DIVERGENT STORY, by Nando Baba