Settling back into it

The night we arrived, we were too tired to think about what we had done. We were too relieved to worry about the cold. We collapsed into our beds in my mother’s house and slept as if we had truly been laid to rest.

Then, at 4am, the sun started to rise and our eyes opened in confusion. It was surely around nine, wasn’t it? When I checked the time on my phone against the summer sunrise, I knew my brain had duped me. I was jetlagged and try as I might, I could not go back to sleep.

About an hour later, my daughter and son woke up too, eventually we were all awake and my mother, bleary eyed, but excited to have her grandchildren close by woke too. Breakfast, coffees, showers, it was all arranged and all that was left to do was to let it sink in and then get moving.

Saturday morning meant a number of things; getting the keys to the house we had arranged to rent, looking for a car, for the family, renewing my driving licence at the post office and then, if there was time and all was well, actually moving in to the house.

It turns out, there wasn’t enough time and all was not well. My son became ill. Nothing serious, diarrhoea and fever, possibly caused by dehydration and fatigue and a change of climate. We had travelled thousands of miles, sitting upright on an aeroplane to a land where we shivered constantly, from a land where sun held us hostage indoors. Of course it would take a toll.

Sunday morning, armed with Diaralyte, (oral rehydration solution) and an urgency to move on with our lives, we attempted to move in.

We bought duvets and food and cleaning products and everything else we thought we might have needed and by the evening we had moved in. We had our meals in my mother’s house and we slept that night in our rental.

The following morning, I was due to meet with a head teacher at a Coventry school, where there was a job opening.

I got ready, with butterflies and other things, fluttering about inside, and I took a taxi. I arrived ten minutes early, almost choking at the fare. I resolved to start taking the bus as soon as I could.

As I walked around the school and spoke to the head teacher, relieved, again that I was somewhere familiar. I knew schools. I knew what this headteacher was talking about, I knew these classrooms and I knew I could fit in here. Walking through wardrobes into Narnia like lands, was something I had grown quite accustomed to, and this is what they did at this school on a daily basis.

I’m happy to say, I applied for the job, had a lesson observation and an interview and was selected. I start in September.

In the meantime, I do supply work. I wake each morning and catch the bus. On my days off and in the holiday, we visit the park. The weather is changeable, but bearable. We run and play and my children are beginning to climb trees. We feed the ducks and we enjoy the stretching out of days, long peaceful summer days which melt into nights.

Once we went to Foleshill Road, for Indian groceries; things like chapatti flour and curry leaves and all at once, we were Indian again. We gasped at the prices. We were shocked beyond words. This was daylight robbery. Occasionally we shivered, dismayed at the grey thick clouds. At times like these I miss India. But alternatives can be found. We discovered Coventry Market again, for cheaper vegetables and we are grateful to the library. The luxury of buying books, when we don’t have any bookshelves in this house is not an option. Instead, my husband takes the children to a place where they can borrow books every week, if they would like and then their appetite is sated.

I love the green of this place in the summer. I love how everyone is prepared to chat. I like how the social class is not so obvious. We all have the basics and I think that is fair. But sometimes I don’t like the suspicion.

On our first weekend back, I heard that the EDL were going to march in Coventry. This is my hometown. This is where I grew up. I will not accept hatred and racism here. I felt sick to the pit of stomach. Did we make a mistake in coming back? Well, we are back and we have made a decision to give it our best shot. We would fight for fairness and equality, because this was really, really important!

We headed into the city centre and found the UAF counter march, under the statue of Lady Godiva. Tears welled up in my eyes as leaders shouted slogans in defence of ‘our kind’. I was annoyed that more of ‘our kind’ were not visible. Hiding indoors in fear or apathy, I was not sure, but they should have been here, with us and the ‘white people’ who cared, who really cared for the state of society. But we stood, holding banners and waving placards and shouting slogans and dancing to tune of the live band who were playing at the time. For a few brief hours, this was our town again.

And then it was time to move on. We had lunch and headed home and somewhere between then and now, we made it back, still settling back into things but more secure in the knowledge that we can.






Memories of England

We’re back in Kolkata now. It’s wonderful to be home, but memories of a lovely time remain.

Life is a little simpler in my mother’s house, although a little cramped. It’s a house full of love and affection and emotions that spill out at every opportunity. It’s where I learned to love cricket and how to chop onions. It’s where I tantrum regularly, just because I can and it’s where I know I will always have a place in the retelling of the stories from long ago.

I’ll have memories of the dandelion clocks and the neighbour’s cats; the roses in my mother’s garden and the golden evenings in the duck park, where we saw the sun set and sky change. But most of all I’ll remember the feel of my father’s embrace and my mother’s cheek as they bid us welcome and then later, farewell.






Being Back Here

I’m back in Coventry. I hesitate to say I’m back at home, because I’m not sure it is anymore. There’s no angst about it though…just a shift in perspectives. I’m in my parents’ house. We arrived here on the 1st of May and surprised them on their doorstep. They were over the moon! We were exhausted because we had just come via 5 days in Paris. (Another post for another day)

I’m enjoying being back in the town of my childhood. I love the English springtime, although we experienced only rain for the first couple of weeks. I love the fact that you can step out of your front door and take a walk without the fear of pollution and waste and traffic and a basic lack of footpaths. I love being able to drive a car! Needless to say, I’m too scared in Calcutta to even attempt it. (Maybe, one day). I love the fact that I can pop to the library and pick out children’s books with my children and have them beg me to stay for longer. And then, walk to the charity shops and look for, yet more books, as we stop to feed the ducks in the park, by our house!

I loved meeting my old colleagues to the point I almost wanted to go back to work and I loved meeting old friends and seeing their little ones who have grown up so much it’s silly, but completely understandable! (Child time works differently compared to adult time).

I haven’t even mentioned food yet. During my first week here I found a full block of mature English Cheddar in the fridge. Then I saw the fresh strawberries! I have been feasting on cheese and strawberries ever since, in between real meals, of course!

I love the flowers too.  Apricot roses nodded in greeting and rhubard and custard tulips stood to attention, as we arrived through the big white gates to my parents’ house. Everything was comfortingly familiar.

Being back here though, has had a negative effect on me and my attitude. I was calmer in Calcutta, I had learned to go with the flow, to be less angry. I find actually, that it was Calcutta which had that effect on me, not so much a shift in my personality…because being back here is turning me slowly into that angry, frustrated, grumpy person I was before I left. Or perhaps it’s just being in close proximity to my parents and my little brother, all of whom I love more than words can express but who also succeed in driving me crazy in equal measure. I also seemed to have lost a lot of time during the day, even though the sun does not deem fit to set until around 8.30-ish in the evening. I’m washing dishes, I’m cooking (a little), I’m actually looking after the children and by the time I go to bed, I’m shattered. I was spoiled in Calcutta! I had time to read and write. I’m not really doing that here! (Which explains why I haven’t posted anything for such a long time!) And that’s making me feel a little out of sorts too.

I don’t know…I’m overthinking things. I need to chill out, as they say and calm down and breathe. I need to sit with my grandmother and listen to her stories because they are wonderfully entertaining. And I need to watch my children play games with each other and their grandparents who conspire to help them steal sweets from their great-grandmother’s room when she nips to the bathroom and I need to breathe in the spring sunshine whenever it appears, as I hang out the washing on the line, in the back garden that grows runner-beans and peas and tomatoes and tats.

(Photos next time, I promise!)

Happy Belated Eid!

From google images

From google images

A couple of days ago was the Mulsim festival of Eid-Ul-Fitr. Today I tried to read up about it to find out why it is celebrated. To be honest, in my ignorance I could not find a very coherent answer. But this is what I have gathered:(and please, my Muslim brothers and sister, feel free to correct me or provide some more information)

Eid is celebrated because the almighty Allah had commanded it. He had also commanded 40 days of fasting before hand, in preparation so his children could fully appreciate what they have been given, and in that knowledge, they should rejoice and feast!

When I was in the UK, I taught in a little inner-city school called Edgewick. I was immensely proud of this place and enjoyed, on the whole, of going into work everyday. You see, Edgewick was no ordinary school. Its cohort was made up of a significant and growing Muslim population. But that’s not what made it special. It was special because alongside that Muslim population there were Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians, with a Christian at the healm and staff from various faiths too. You might think it was a stressful place to work, but it wasn’t. Thanks to the head teacher and staff, it was an amazing place to work. We partied hard and we worked harder. We celebrated everything just so the children would grow up to value themselves and their varied backgrounds. We did this because only when a child learns to value themselves, they can learn to value those around them. And it worked. I am so proud of these children and their behavior and I miss them dearly.

I believe this school represents how the world should be. How Multicultural Britain could be. Not one person who is a part of this establishment felt any less British during the Olympics. Oh my goodness, we were there! Our school and, I believe, 200 or so others, was picked out of hundreds in Britain to go to the Olympics and be a part of it. We were all so proud! The children beamed in assembly as the Head told them the news. We sang and danced and painted and wrote ballads, all in the name of this great honour. Mandeville, or possibly Wenlock(I get confused) visited our school during our Sports Day. We were a part of Great Britain then. These children were British! Oh, the pride at every medal won! But hold on a minute! They were Muslims too. They fasted, and we helped. They took the day off for Eid and we allowed it. But in the rest of Britain, Eid was a metaphysical idea that may or may not exist, in the realms of those Muslim Extremists; something they’ve heard of, but have never really experienced. People went to work, they had lunch, worked some more and then came home. The fact that there were thousands of citizens around the country celebrating one of their most important festivals, passed them by.

Here, in Calcutta, the whole city grinds to a halt. The streets are impassable and public transport, a nightmare. It’s declared a public holiday! Yet this is a Hindu country. With Independence day just a few days away, we are asked to provide Idlis for an “India Day” celebration at school, we are asked to make our children wear orange, green and white. This Independence meant that the British quit the country but just the day before it meant that Muslims got their own country too and the mass exodus and migration culminated in bloodshed and heartbreak. Isn’t it a little miraculous then, that the Muslims in this Hindu state are given the right not to show up to work and the Hindus, Christians, Jains, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and anyone in between, get a holiday too? Needless to say it happens for all the major Hindu and Christian festivals too, but isn’t that just wonderful?

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say except that I love the idea of celebrating absolutely everything and everyone as long as we’re not celebrating murder and persecution. The world is becoming smaller and we have to be more aware of the people around us, because there are always people around us. There would be so much more joy in the world if we could share the joy that we experience on a societal level.

I think back to my time at Edgewick, first as a pupil, then as a teacher. There were fewer gloomy days than the days we spent with glitter on our clothes celebrating each other’s festivals. We made each other Christmas cards and Diwali cards, took home painted divas and Advent Calendars. I think perhaps if the whole world could do the same we’d all live a little happier, see God a little more often and perhaps be inclined to kill each other a little less. Maybe.

Oh, Coconuts!

ImageBefore coming to India, I had begun to question my identity. I had always taken for granted that I was British. I love hot buttered scones and a cup of tea with only a drop of milk. I loved Bob Holness on Blockbusters. I know nothing of Bhangra and one of my favourite indulgences is a bacon ‘sarnie’. But I really started to question my place in my beloved Britain when I went to Devon to learn how to teach. I was a little brown raisin in a sea of creamy, Devonshire rice pudding! I was suddenly exotic and people were taken aback when my accent was not dripping with the masala laden twang of the East Indies. I was asked to give talks and hold assemblies about racism and equality and I became quite a celebrity in little old Barnstaple. I quickly got over that and moved back to Coventry, back to safety. I got a job and started living my life again where I was just the normal teacher who lived next door until one day, as my mother brought in the wheely bin, she was shouted at from across the street. “Go home, you Pakis!” “Go back to where you came from!” I was livid and in shock! My mother just shrugged her shoulders, took the bin around the back and said, “It’s nothing, these things happen!”

But that had never happened before! Not to me! Racism was a myth. People just needed to get to know us! However, by this time, things had started to change in Britain, the Twin Towers incident helped fuel lots of distrust. Immigration policy, with open European borders helped the BNP and EDL gain support. We, with our brown faces, our desire to succeed and good work ethic were becoming a blight on the face of fair Britannia. I must stress this is not the majority view in the UK, but it was starting to certainly feel that way.

So who am I? What am I? British Indian, Indian British, Indian or British? Or an infinite combination of these four possibilities?

To some here, in Kolkata, I’m ‘brown on the outside and white on the inside’ This is an actual quote from a friend’s husband. In the UK that would make me a coconut! But I prefer to think of myself as brown on the outside, with lots of different colours on the inside, again I’m quoting my friend’s learned husband here, ‘a coconut gone really bad!’ Depending on my mood, I may prefer a little Rabindra Sangeet, or a little daal chawal (lentils and rice) or I may prefer pasta with lots of Parmesan cheese whilst listening to some Adele. One day I may prefer to wear a kurti with my jeans and for social gatherings I think a sari looks elegant, although a pain to tie. Admittedly I’m more comfortable in ‘sweats’ as they say in the US and I prefer to talk in English. I eat rice and chapatti with my hands and I cry unashamedly at a Karan Johar Bollywood extravaganza but my point is, no one is as simple to define in a single sentence. To some I’m just a ‘Paki’, to others I’m a coconut and to those who know me best, I’m a just a person who happens to be a product of her time.

What I love about Kolkata is its readiness to accept and nod knowingly at whatever combination of nationalities, languages, behaviour traits you may possess. Although, theoretically, India and Kolkata have had centuries to get used to people like us. Migration is not a new thing. People don’t bat an eyelid when I tell them my husband speaks Telugu and my Bengali is not brilliant. What’s great is, that no one needs an explanation about where Telugu is spoken or why my Bengali is not great! Everyone knows or can guess! Everyone speaks English or Hindi and we get by. We’ve made friends quickly and our children are happy. I still miss a proper cuppa, (ironically, we’re only a couple hours away from Darjeeling!) but I’m sure I’ll find one if I look properly. We’ve slotted in quite well, I’d say. No one’s asking me to go home; as far as they’re concerned, I think they think, I am home.

Saying goodbye. The simple things.

walkers-prawn-cocktail-flavour-crisps-case-of-48-bags-6107-p“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

The Alchemist: one of my favourite books. It taught me to follow the opportunities that are given to us and that love is a much bigger force than we realise…

When I first learnt that we may be coming to India, it was a bolt from the blue. My husband was always keen to return and I suppose I went along with it because I never really believed it would happen. And I was right, to some extent; it wasn’t going to happen, not on paper. I mean, we hadn’t even applied for any jobs overseas.

I was at work when my husband called. It was a lunchtime and I literally could not look my colleagues in the eye! Nothing was set in stone, it was just a possibility! But for a couple of weeks though, it was a very real possibility. Then it all went quiet.

I told myself that it wasn’t going to happen, after all. I continued to live my life in the present and refused to look at what might be. It was coming up to the end of our tenancy agreement on the house we were staying in and there were even discussions about saving for a few months and buying a house of our own in sleepy Coventry. I’d fallen in love with my hometown all over again by this time. I loved the pink blossom on the trees along the long, wide stretch of Leamington Road, I loved the Sunday coffee chats, with my friend in the town centre and I loved my teaching job. I was even thinking about career advancement and I was very content to see my daughter settled in the best possible school for her at the time.

However, slowly, but surely the wheels were turning and things were being put into place. I’m not sure if the readers of this blog believe in fate or destiny, but there was really nothing that could stop our lives from taking this dramatic turn. My husband and I both believe in something higher, guiding us, leading the way. I suppose that’s why I learnt to just accept it and imagine the best that could happen, rather than the worst. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. There would be days when I would just break down and cry at the silliest thing. There were other times when I just couldn’t wait to get on a plane and fly far away from the gloom of the English winter. I found myself making a list of the pros and cons of moving, of all the things that I would miss. One of them, was the bright pink packets of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps and of course, there’s always the good ol’ fashioned English breakfast and not to forget beans/cheese on toast. Who knew that I was so into my food? But the hardest thing to say goodbye to was probably my parents.

See now, I’m in danger of crying and ruining that freshly applied mascara, ready for a birthday party, I’m attending later. But for the last few months we were in the UK we were living with Mum and Dad. We had to vacate the house we were renting and there was no point in renting somewhere new. I saw them with fresh eyes this time, knowing we’d be saying goodbye for an indefinite length of time. They were more frail than I remembered. Slightly smaller. When I hugged my father it struck me how easily my arms wrapped around his diminished frame. I watched him as he played with my son, recycling the same tales he had spun for my brother and I. I watched my children make a den under the same table that my brother and I had used to play hide and seek in. I found myself getting annoyed at my brother for not spending more time at home with us because there was a time when he was my best friend. But most importantly I found myself finally, truly understanding my mother in all her glory.

I had already started to see my mother in a different light, as soon as I became a mother to my daughter but this time I saw the complete dedication she had for her role of homemaker. My brother and my father lacked for nothing and when we arrived, neither did we. She was tireless in trying to make us feel happy and at home and we just accepted it as it her job, her duty. I also marvelled at how selflessly she looked after her own mother, a diabetic and a character in herself. But most of all I saw how much love one person can hold with absolutely no resentment towards anyone. Not once did she complain about how much there was to do, even though her back ached and her legs struggled to keep her standing. Under the same conditions I know that I would have crumbled but she just got on with it!

I suppose the one thing that can be said about saying goodbye is that it makes you focus on what you’re saying goodbye to; the good and the bad. It provides you with a new pair of magic glasses that somehow clarifies all the important things in life. And the most important things in life are usually quite small, simple and right under our nose.