Hi, I am Mina. I was born to my Indian parents who had immigrated to the UK from rural Punjab during the late 1960s. Parts of the industrial Black Country, where I grew up as the only Asian in the village, were still reeling form the aftermath of the infamous Rivers of Blood speech and I felt like an outsider in my own country. I often reminiscence about my childhood and wonder if my struggle to fit in with my ‘friends’ over my young, impressionable years did indeed shape me into a more tolerant person that I am? I will never know.
Well, that was the 1970s and this is nearly 14 years into the next century. I have since been to the university, qualified as an accountant, and now live in a vibrant part of London with my solicitor husband and two young children. Oh, and over that time I have also witnessed the real-life soap opera called the British Monarchy; the ups and downs of our economy; whimsical shoulder pads, tank tops and leotards; punk, rock and rap, and another wave of immigrants from the sub-continent, just like my parents.
Back to present, I have a group of friends, “gates mafia” we call ourselves, who meet at the school gates most mornings as we see off our brood and natter as we do. There are around half a dozen of us, fairly like minded, trying to juggle work and run a household putting on a tiger mum garb. Most of us, given the diverse and vibrant area that we live in, have family roots in the Indian subcontinent. But very few of us have been to this mystical land of snake charmers and peacocks, and imagine it just as our mums and aunties have described it to us. However there is one exception: Aditi, a young professional working mum who was proudly ‘Made in India’!
I am in total awe of Aditi. She is so unlike my own mother or aunties who had gradually arrived in the 60s and the 70s as young brides from India. Aditi is so confident, so comfortable in her own skin – she doesn’t conform to the blacks and greys around her and proudly wears her bright Indian suits to the school gates when she fancies! She celebrates the various festivals with an infectious zeal that its hard not to get drawn in – even the gates mafia was trending self made rangoli patterns over whatsap last Diwali!
Aditi always has an opinion on anything Indian or global, and articulates that in her own style with a smattering of ‘hai naas’ and ‘arre babas’. If truth be told, there are one or two mums who deride her accent and mannerism, and treading a tightrope of irony, call her a ‘Freshie’ in hushed tones. Of course she is immune to such twaddle and dismisses it with a laugh so shrill and an argument so strong that it knocks the wind out of their sails! She is growing to be one of the most loveable members of the mafia.
I have been so intrigued by Aditi that one afternoon I wondered aloud as to why she is so different from the way I had always imagined Indian women to be. Aditi smiled bringing on huge dimples on her round face devoid of any make-up. She exclaimed that she was really an Indian woman – a real, proud Indian woman of today who had made Britain her home. She was the product of a nation of boundless cultural heritage. A place so culturally rich and diverse that it was impossible not to imbibe that richness by simply being in the midst of the hurly-burly of Indian life.
She was the child who grew up in a nation that respected faculty and encouraged to vie for more. She was taught to be humble yet never feel ashamed of her achievements. Even though her school and college library was filled of mostly dog eared books rather than endless suites of shiny computers, she had an education that excited and stretched her. There was huge thirst for knowledge. It was an era when internet was a fanciful dream; Google and Wikipedia were not even conceived. Getting that coveted book from the college library brought about endless joy to the borrower and glances of envy from the peers. And of course she was taught that the teacher, the guru, was akin to God. No question.
I listened to her admiringly when she told me that reading a proper news paper, bereft of a page 3, first thing in the morning with a cup of tea was the national custom. Discussions abound at home and outside on issues of national and international interest and the latest Bollywood films alike. No wonder she had a sound handle on the world affairs and talked with the same ease on why Govinda was her favourite Bollywood hero.
And finally, she was the youth who had set off from a “Shining India” just as it began to realise its lustre. Her suitcases were packed full of that confidence and self-belief when she hit the shores of this country. She had gained so much from her motherland and now had traversed through continents and adopted a new culture with gusto while not for one minute pretending to be someone else. She rubbished the belief that identifying less with her own or cultural values would equate to fitting better into her new country. So she proudly celebrated Diwali and Christmas in quick succession leaving the New Year resolutions to deal with her excesses.
I listened to her wide-eyed and had one last question for her. She would be fooling herself if she didn’t accept the tremendous challenge of starting life once again in a new country. Was it not hard for her? She looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Of course I came across my fair share of challenges and obstacles. But I never gave up. Would I have settled for anything less had I remained in India? No. So I am not going to now. I may be living in a different country but I remain the same me!”
As she walked to greet her son with a ‘hello my munna’, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for my friend Aditi and all the Aditis dotting this world!
Author – Rekha Dutta
I Juggle work and home and really enjoy the challenge. Been working in Whitehall for the last 14 years and have 2 lovely boys aged 9 and 13. Friday is my favourite day of the week. I chill out by cooking something nice; even the boys bickering sounds like music as mother in law, hubby and I watch the previous weeks nach baliye