There’s a derogatory statement people make, siting Coventry: If you’re being ignored, or punished, you’re being ‘sent to Coventry’. I’m not sure where that came from but I do know that Coventry’s not all that bad.
My fondest memories are of Foleshill. The little cluster of a thousand communities. There were Punjabis, Gujratis, Muslim Bengalis, Pakistanis and us, the minority in some ways and the least distinguishable; the Hindu Bengalis. There were, of course, a few families of English origin and we all lived side by side in perfect harmony, in my mind, at least.
Foleshill Road was, and still is a feast of smells and colours. The communities have changed, made new migrations but the feel is just the same. Uneven, broken pavements, lined with brightly lit shop windows, filled with sparkling rainbow fabrics. Grocery shop fronts with every type of vegetable and fruit imaginable; Bitter Gourd, Yams, Okra, Drum Sticks, Lychees, Pomegranate, Green Bananas. There were sweetmeat shops selling Barfi, Samosas and Pakoras, that you can smell all the way to the Swimming Baths! The owners knew us all by sight and banter was common. Sometimes, if my brother and I looked especially sweet, we’d get a free penny sweet from ‘Shopkeeper Uncle’.
My primary school sat right in the middle of Foleshill Road, overseeing everything like a ‘Big Friendly Giant’. Inside reflected the outside. Colours, sounds, songs, games, languages. We knew how to swear in 5 different languages, at least! We knew all about Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter, Baisakhi. We had a tuneless music teacher who composed songs around each festival for us to learn and sing around an ancient piano in the school hall. We celebrated each of our festivals with feasting, dancing and games. We loved school and we respected our differences, after all, it was a great excuse for a party!
I had a great childhood! It was the 80s. All the clichés were true: bad hair, bad clothes, weird, I mean, iconic music, only 4 TV channels and playing out with our friends on the street. I remember He-Man, She-Ra, Rainbow and Timmy Mallet. I remember endless summers and the most amazing beach trips with a sizeable proportion of the Bengali community in a hired van. I remember my mother being the most beautiful woman in the world. I remember the perfume of one of my Aunts, as I sat in the back seat of our battered Datsun Cherry, falling helplessly asleep on her lap and the feel of her scratchy cardigan on my cheeks, as she chatted with my parents on the long drive home from a Durga Puja.
There was one particular family on the street we lived on, that I saw as my surrogate family. MyMy (Mami), Sanju Mamu and their son lived about a 5-minute walk away from our house. Like us they were Hindu Bengali Immigrants. Now, citizens of the United Kingdom. They were second generation, like my mother and they celebrated Christmas and everything! I loved going to their house! Their son, 2 years younger than me, was my best friend and brother. We played Rugby and wrestled each other, as if were the Undertaker and the Honky-Tonk Man. We played Cricket in our back garden and we were pilots and astronauts and we swore we would be friends forever! We drifted apart, as you do, but I’m glad to say we’re still Facebook friends and see each other at least once a year!
Childhood wasn’t hard. Before our trip back to India, I could imagine nothing else. We didn’t have much but we didn’t need it. We had each other.