Authenticity. Authentic. What is that? I always wondered, what it meant when people referred to the lentils mum made us as “really authentic, not like that stuff you get in the curry houses thats not real, its not actually indian compared to this”. I assume it was because she was the only indian person that they actually knew, the first time that they actually saw lentils being made in this way.
Authenticity. The first thing that comes to mind was a house, a large old manor that was converted into a place called “Trading Boundaries” and there were two large model elephants outside. We used to go there to look at the furniture that had been imported from Bali on the way back from school. It was lavish.
The objects and ornaments in there mixed with the smell of incense felt like something, out of a book I read called A Little Princess. A story, of little rich girl that feels lost and abandoned in London, after being sent to boarding school from India where her father is a Captain. Upon her father’s death in war, and a confusion about financial ownership she is rendered worthless by the English headmistress and made to be a servant at the school, where previously she was a princess. Anyway, the part that I remember is that she becomes friends with a black girl called Becky, who is also a servant though treated a lot worse than the princess, but they bond over their misery and become friends and the princess entertains her with magical stories of Gods in India. There is also a pet monkey involved somewhere that they play with and love as much as they do each other.
What a story to read as a little girl. Being half indian, half english, the princess of my fathers eye, blissfully unaware of what colonialism actually was. Confusion, is a word that doesn’t quite cover it. Authentic?
My mother is Indian and was born in Tanzania. She came over to Britain with the great wave of Indians that did from East Africa amongst political unrest where they were forced to choose between an African or a British passport. They chose British as did many, for the obvious economic and state security benefits. As immigrants coming in however; they were assigned to a council house by the government. It was small, poor, closed in and stacked on top of other places that were occupied by immigrants from all over the world. Neighbours were from Africa, Jamaica, India, Pakistan and more. Of course there are the poorest english people living there too, who didn’t take very kindly to all the foreigners coming in. Black, brown, Arab looking people flooded London. Gang culture and violence in this particular area was rife. It is very symbolic of the ‘multi-cultural’ society we are told that Britain is. The council estate area that my mother is from, also has the highest percentage of the British National Party supporters in all of the UK. This party, only regards White British people as British; all others are aliens in a country that doesn’t belong to them. Their ideology exists and lives in British society.
I remember that as my family were sitting around the living room, a brick came through my late grandmothers window and smashed into it, whilst my cousin was still a new born in her arms.
Safety in numbers has always meant further exclusion to me. Sometimes, you identify as part one of a group, under oppression from another. What happens when you fit into both? By the BNP we are regarded as “unnatural”. The sordid crossing of a boundary that was never supposed to be crossed. And it isn’t just the BNP that say that.
What I do know, is it isn’t my war. It has taken the best part of my life to realise, and understand that this conflict isn’t actually me. This feeling, of confusion and identity misplacement, is an experience that belongs to many.
There is this radical notion that people fall in love. Even now, its highly debatable. The stars shining, fireworks blasting, the high and giddy feeling when it happens…well…it happens. Two humans get married and make children. Drastically different humans, from different corners of the earth with different cultures, languages, skin colour, perceptions from society, and all sorts, come together fall in love and want to start a family. I am a direct product of that. I am no different, to any other child in that respect.
My father, is the son of a wildly free-spirited woman. She’s a northern lady, that moved to London with her husband not long after the war. From northern roots, she identified less with the conservative rich of the South. She had radical ideas of communism. She showed us films of Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn gave us books that she had read and made me read ‘Emma’. In love with her children and life to some extent, she reminded us all that it was present, happening and to embrace it.
My father, educated through her, finally brought my mother home. I am told, and can quite clearly see to this day, the two women formed an unshakable bond. A white middle class woman that gained an Indian working class daughter-in-law, treated her better than she ever could have dreamt, should she have married someone from her own community. My grandmother campaigned, for her daughter in-laws right to choose who she married regardless of culture. This is where, I do identify as a woman. Patriarchy governs all colours.
If someone was to ask where my deepest fundamental beliefs are; I am neither brown nor white. Politically, I am closest to being black. White imperialism, in its essence, I hold responsible for this myriad of insecurity and confusion amongst us all. That being said, I see no justice nor punishment happen to anyone for it either.
I once began to work for my Dad in London on weekends for extra cash and he had an Indian staff member. I was left alone with him for a while, where he asked a lot about my mum. He said- “so hold on, have they taught you Gujarati? You can speak it right?” No, I replied. “See this is my biggest problem with this mixing. Its the children that suffer and get confused when they lose all connection to their true heritage and tradition.”
I suppose I should be offended.
Commodification. When you are white enough for people to relate to, but have what people politely call an “exotic look” you get photographed next to all kinds of things. It was a fascination. It wasn’t malicious.
Until of course, a boy at school tells you that he “likes a dirty Paki” then tells you to “fuck off back to the corner shop” when you are too “frigid” to let him shove his hand down your top. Well I didn’t know what a “Paki” was? Pakistan is a country that has nothing to do with me. I was confused. Though I didn’t know why he was trying to shove his hand down my top either at that age.
I did know, that there were more boys like him around than there were girls like me. For a long while, my mum was the only non-white parent to come and pick me up from school. Something was developing in my consciousness. Everybody acted like there wasn’t a blindly obvious situation here- though I didn’t understand what it was. We are different, that’s all I knew. But that wasn’t quite what it was either. Why was I always always always made to be Scary Spice when I didn’t like her, I wanted to be Posh Spice, eventually Victoria Beckham.