There is no place like home
‘This is our town, this is our place’. ‘There’s one paki here’. You would think those lines were linked wouldn’t you? The sentiment is, for sure. But the first line is taken from the theatre production ‘Dishoom!’ set in the 70s about two best friends who should be happy about leaving school but the National Front are on the streets. The second quotation is from a man referring to me on the tube recently one evening, scaring me in my seat when I should’ve been happy after leaving a charity event I had just hosted.
As I sat in the audience of the play held at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex, the 70s set transported me back to my train seat and I watched my real life experience play out in front of my eyes.
The actor’s words that a Pakistani had taken over the local shop and it ‘smelt funny’ echoed the large white man’s voice as he, holding his beer can, put on a heavy Indian-accent to accentuate his hatred and say ‘would you like to come to my corner shop’. ‘They’re taking over the streets’. ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The actor and the man were finishing each other’s sentences and had merged in my mind.
I am a born and bred Essex woman with a bright red British passport, soon to possibly turn blue post-Brexit. I have lived in one town my entire life and have challenged people who question my identity as English despite it being my mother tongue.
Though I was called a ‘paki’ that evening, my roots are actually on the other side of the border: India. My grandfather moved from New Delhi to England in 1963 on a work permit given to people of the Commonwealth to fill roles and help rebuild the country after World War II. My grandmother followed in 1963 with two children, one of which was my father.
My grandparents in New Delhi, India 1958
Do not get my wrong, I am extremely proud of my Indian heritage. While growing up and attending my local state school, my grandparents told me their childhood tales. I have watched every Bollywood movie and dreamt of dancing around trees like the stars selling the ultimate love story while studying a Master’s in Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick.
I taught girls-only Bollywood dance classes in my local community center and talked about issues British Asian youths face and have also been the first British Asian Indian to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Equality Party in the Greater London Assembly to represent and help girls and women from all backgrounds in our nation.
While my family decorates divas for Diwali, we also lay the table with a Turkey and all the trimmings at Christmas. London Fashion Week; India Fashion Week London. Dress; salwar kameez. Curry; bacon butty. I have lived in a tale of two cultures and two identities, yet the two have always been in parallel with the paths created by me and never really physically crossing.
Now, they are going to cross. I am going to visit India for the first time in my life. At 27 years of age, and having hosted my own show on the biggest South Asian network in the world Zee TV, and having interviewed some of the biggest Bollywood celebrities, I have never set foot on Indian soil.
Interviewing Bollywood actor Kajol for Brit Asia TV
And I am nervous. Perhaps they do not cook a curry like those in Brick Lane. Perhaps my chants to end poverty and inequality have not travelled the distance and touched even the air of that land. Perhaps my version of Indian does not fit in with India?
I am about to embark on a journey to a land that has lived only within me but that I have not touched or cast a real gaze. I will be doing my wedding shopping which on reflection sees me reaching a cyclical pinnacle. It’s the point at which the weddings I watched so eagerly in Bollywood films will actually come to actuality. It is both exciting and unsettling.
That is why the chants I heard on the tube have been so poignant. England has always been my home and some men on one lovely evening after I had raised awareness of period poverty and ending FGM decided to try to displace me. They tried to detach me from the place I call ‘home’.
And now that I am visiting India, although it may be alien to me, it may feel like another physical reality is meeting the one that I have lived with my entire life. I do not know how I will feel during my trip to a place I have subliminally lived. But one thing that I do know is this: the loud burly men chanted ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and while this may be true, nobody can make you exit the place you call home, because home is where the heart is.