Culture Writing

My British-Indian Heritage

I was born in Bombay in 1976 and at the age of two, I moved to London with my mother. My father had long decided that he wanted to live in England than in India. Having lived in Dar-Es-Salaam, Africa for most of his years, he had always wanted to live in London. That’s where the money is, he said. When the chance came, he grabbed this opportunity. So after setting down in England and finding a place to live, my mother, I and my brother moved to seventies London.

It was just the four of us for a while, that was until sister number two and sister number three arrived. My brother and I looked out for one another in times of need. There were racial attacks where we lived and we soon learnt to stay away from those people who didn’t like us and liked to bully us. We were told to keep our heads down and walk away from those bullies.

We lived in Edmonton for a while, then moved to Palmers Green and lived in a spacious, council house called a Maisonette. We had good neighbours. One side was of a mixed race family and the other side, a greek family. Here, we were safe. No one bothered us, apart from a few troublesome children who would knock on our door and run away. I would get very angry and would open the door , cursing those who dared to annoy us. My mum would call me back inside.

Before we moved to Palmers Green, my grandmother came to live with us in Edmonton. She was from India, and had moved there from Africa. I remember she was very strict and wore a cotton sari, sometimes plain white or white with blue spots. She was quite robust and wore, brown, large round glasses. When my mum and dad went to work, she would look after us. We called her Ba. We would switch the big, brown square box on and watch programmes in black and white. Ba didn’t understand English and would say “you children watch such rubbish”. We laughed and said “We love cartoons Ba.’ Tom and Jerry and Mickey Mouse were the favourites then.

At night time, Ba would sing Gujarati folk songs and talk to us about many things. It was nice to have her there with us, only even if it was for just a year.

I don’t remember what we wore and what was around then but my dad loved to take pictures and I would sit there and sift through them in my later years. Images of flares and wide shirts, long side burns and funny glasses would make me laugh.

In the eightees, as we grew older, we went to Southend-on-Sea quite often. It was a great family trip. Around fifteen of us would go in our individual cars, following each other on the motorways. We would pack our tiffins of Theplas (shallow fried, yellow coloured chappatis) and dry, potatoe curries, achars and chutneys for our picnics. To this day, I still think – why can’t we just have chips?

When I first visited India, I was eight. I was shocked at what I saw – the dirt, the smell and the heat! I didn’t know where I was! I was introduced to all the cousins – there were dozens! My mother had lived in India all of her childhood and the first part of her marriage (she married at 19) and moved to London after my birth. She lived in a village called Royshara and had five sisters and two brothers, all of whom had got married and had children of their own. My dad had two sisters and one brother. We visited everyone.

On the first day, I remember deciding to jump onto a small space of contrete, which actually, turned out to be a small pond. Splash! I went right in the mucky, brown water, smelling awful I presume. I can’t remember. But I know I cried and a kindly, tall (everyone looked tall to me then) thin man helped me out and took me home. My sister, who saw me jump in, laughed and laughed as did everyone else. I didn’t think it was funny.

I loved it – the food, the customs and the atmosphere. But very soon, I was longing to come back home – to London for that is where I truly belong.

Please tell me about your experiences of being British. Were you born in a country outside of the UK but moved here? What were your feelings? What did you think of the UK? I would love to hear from you.


1 thought on “My British-Indian Heritage”

  1. A very interesting article, Malika. You write so vividly I feel like I’m there watching. For those of you who are not aware, Malika has given me a lot of help with information about Hinduism to help make the Hindu characters in the DI Lyle series true to life.

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