My mum was born on this day in 1958 in Jamnagar, India as the youngest of five children. There are a few stories surrounding her birth, a lot of them pretty far fetched. What we do know is that my Nanima made her way to the hospital alone as my Nana was in Karachi, Pakistan, at the time (he was pretty much based there). We’ve been told that my mum was delivered before my Nanima could reach the hospital. Apparently, my mum did not cry upon being delivered, so the driver of whatever mode of transport they were travelling on (I don’t know why I imagine a bullock cart) put a drop of alcoholic liquor from a hip flask he was carrying into my mum’s mouth. It was then that she started to cry. And this is the story my mum always relays to us when she wants to justify why she hates alcohol so much.
Jamnagar is a town right on the north-western tip of the Kathiawar peninsula, near Sindh. It was developed to a modern city by its Maharaja Jam Saheb in the 1920s, almost 40 years before my mum was born, and is probably most famous for giving Polish refugees shelter from the Nazis for nine years during WW2. It is quite unlikely that there were no hospitals close by when my mum was born.
My mum was always a rebel child; she was known for being a bully back in the day, but a bully with a cause. She was on the bus to college one morning when she noticed a man inappropriately touching a female passenger against her will. My mum grabbed his head from behind and smashed it into the seat in front, warning him never to misbehave with a woman again. My Nanima had a stepmother who would occasionally visit and berate my nan, deeply upsetting her. Once, as a child, my mum had had enough. As her step-nani was leaving, my mum went up to the balcony and dropped a clay pot onto her head. Smash ‘n’ dash. She got into so much trouble for that!
My mum holds degrees in both psychology and economics, but people have always treated her like she was dumb, my dad’s family have always called her stupid and illiterate because she didn’t study at an English school and studied in Gujarati. This is something she regrets to this day.
When she was younger she wanted to be an air hostess. On a trip to Bombay once, she claims she was approached by Dev Anand, who was apparently captivated by her beauty, and invited for a screen test. My mum had to ask her brother’s permission, who point blank refused; the entertainment industry was no profession for respectable women. She was made to come back home on the next train.
I have watched people treat my mum differently because of the way she spoke English. I watched her being pushed to the ground and spat on, called a P*ki by a group of boys. She tried to hit them with her slipper, but they were finally chased away by a burly white man. She went to fight with our black neighbour after her nephew had called me a P*ki. I distinctly remember Nicardo’s aunt laughing in my mum’s face at her accent, at the way my mum pronounced that word, telling her that this is what we were. I have recently had fellow South Asians insist to me that we are a privileged community due to being close to whiteness. My mum’s skin colour can be classed as “close to whiteness”, but where was her privilege?
When we were kids, she took her privilege and her two degrees to apply for a job at McDonald’s. The white staff there were absolutely horrible to her, subjecting her to nasty racial abuse. She ended up studying to be a childminder, and opened her own childminding business from home. She was always told that she was too dumb to learn to drive. It was a Pakistani friend of hers who taught her for free, resulting in my mum passing her driving test the first time.
She came to the U.K. on holiday in the 1980s, where she met my dad. His family came to the U.K. as refugees from Uganda in 1972. My aunt has told me how, when their bus first brought them to their council flat in East London (the flat I was born in, and where I’m actually currently living) directly from the refugee camp, all the neighbours came out shouting, “The P*kis are here!” They would throw bananas at my grandma and bully my aunts and uncles. This racist bullying resulted in the tragic death of my youngest uncle at the age of fifteen.
In the first two photos we are with my mum at Chessington Zoo, as it was known in the 90s. Notice my mum’s rebellious streak as she DISREGARDS the barriers to get the photo atop the giant Buddha. The next two photos are of my parents at their marriage registry in Coventry, where my mum’s side of the family had settled. The final photo is of my mum on her honeymoon in Italy.
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