1957. Dad was just 23 years old when he stepped off the ship onto British soil for the first time. And already he had experienced more of life than we would ever wish to…
In 1947 his family found themselves on “the wrong side of the line” when Pakistan was created by the British. Ethnic cleansing was rife. Fleeing with their lives and the belongings they could carry, they left their home and business behind. Having been reasonably wealthy, they became refugees.
Ten years later, leaving the whole family behind (parents, eight brothers and sisters) Dad landed in the UK.
Why? Because he saw Britain as an opportunity to earn a reasonable living, to send money back to the family “back home” to lift them out of the perpetual poverty they faced. Something that was possible even on a bus driver’s salary.Dad loved family, and most importantly, living in the bosom of an extended family. But that was 5000 miles away, on the other side of the world.
It wasn’t an option to visit often – travel was much less accessible back then. Life in the UK was different. Different from anything and everything he’d known. Blatant racism of course. Different culture. Different values. Different lifestyle. Much of it in direct opposition to the values in his world.
As we, his children, grew up, this conflict became more apparent. We grew up as British kids. With British friends. British attitudes. And British values. And a very different perspective on the everyday things like love, sex, and the freedom to make our own choices regardless of gender.
This was difficult for Dad. He viewed himself as “head of the household”.What he said was how it should be – without question – regardless of what was right or wrong.
And he never really learnt to reconcile this with the different world in which he brought up his children. All this combined with the angst of being so far from the rest of the family.
This was beyond the understanding of his children. Too young and immature to allow for the conflict he was experiencing. And too young to understand that you can’t just “undo” your values and ways of thinking just because you live in another country. Which made for a less than harmonious environment.
Enlightenment for me came just two years ago, more than two decades after his passing. A long-overdue visit to India to see my uncles and aunts, and more cousins than I ever knew. Listening to my uncle talk about my father with much love and respect, I realised just how much he had sacrificed for his parents, brothers and sisters. He’d given up the warmth and messiness of extended family life, to make things better for them, and his own children too.
Thank you Dad. I was slow to see it, but now I understand.
You are a hero.