Two mountains apart, unable to withstand heat from the sun neither bolts of lightning, their upright posture slowly crumbles descending into a lake where love and hate meet, to separate them would be as trying to remove oil from water’ -They flow together.
My mother and father are of Indian descent, being born, raised, and having lived in parts of the African continent. From my vague recollection (pardon me) both sets of grandparents decided it would be best to flee their homeland in order to escape the remnants of the British Raj (British rule by the British crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858-1947) hoping for a prosperous future. Original location of residency in India is unknown to me.
My mother, the youngest daughter of nine siblings spoke regularly of her upbringing in what is called ‘The warm heart of Africa’ Malawi. Attending formal education at an all-girls school expressing her love for singing, dancing, and sharing jokes with peers. I always got the sense from her story telling that she was a mischievous child, her cheeky grin and smirk would confirm I was right in my thinking. Her father (My maternal grandfather) owned a convenience store with my grandmother being a housewife. I would hear of her mother tongue, (Chichewa, official national language along with English) when she spoke to relatives – I was alien to it! However, the happy stories gave me a sense of her free natured childhood spent content.
Similar feelings were felt about my father, as a young child you absorb such stories you hear about your parents with joy & fascination. I believe my father had four siblings, he too had a mischievous streak being born in Kenya (Uganda) he had that ‘Hakuna Matata’ ( No worries) feeling whenever he was around or wherever he went, climbing up coconut trees, visiting the Serengeti & Maasai Mara people, helping them with their animal duties, as well as serving in the Kenyan army for a while. I don’t know whether that is true – my paternal aunty did say his childhood dream was to be a ‘hero’ I suspect being in the army or pretending to be could have made him believe he was one! Convincing others too. My father did attend school finishing his formal education at age sixteen. He spoke the national language, (‘Kiswahili’ commonly known as ‘Swahili although I never really heard him speak with great depth, only one word from my recollection ‘Jambo’ meaning hello.)
In 1979 my father alongside his family left Kenya immigrating to England (London) North West London to be precise. My mother followed suit with her family living within the same areas.
There was a period where African migrants believed their countries were being ‘taken over’ by foreigners a feeling my family could empathise with, so regarding that, many Indian settlers were ‘kicked’ out even forced out by malicious attacks possibly, (which I will not delve into) my point is, it must have been very difficult for the both families. Time passed & healed any open emotional wounds I suspect. I know my maternal grandmother did die shortly after arriving.
How did my mother & father meet?
Well, my parents were Hindus and would attend their local Temple alone or with family to pray and offer their deities blessings. My mother’s account- “I met your father in the temple, it started from there“, what a holy place for an encounter like that to come about.
There’s were no such devices as mobile phones I guess it was all word of mouth. My mother & father were in the courting stages…. Communicating they spoke in Gujarati (my grandparents mother tongue native to India, so yes, my parents were bilingual English not being their strongest language.)
“He took me to the same lovely restaurant every Friday when his wages would come through, he would pick me up in a lovely car dressed smartly with his black zipped leather boots, and off we would go“ – My mother’s eyes twinkle every time she recalls this memory she also starts blushing too!
In India there is a caste system, society there are set within these systems from birth and by family name.
My father I believe, was born into a family with high caste status whereas my mother wasn’t, however, she wasn’t right at the bottom neither. Just different, that difference meant that their families would forbid a marriage. You represented your caste, marrying outside that would bring disrespect and shame onto the family name.
My mother came of age, where an arranged marriage would be proposed, her elder brothers alongside her father would choose someone suitable from back home which they did. The man was brought over to England for the ceremony, but it didn’t last long he was sent back due to not meeting the criteria to obtain British residency.
Being told by my mother to wait and within time they would be together again! He fortunately didn’t/couldn’t wait and married someone else having children. Yay! I’m glad as if it went according to plan I would not be here!
My mother’s heart did break, however, she was adamant that she would choose who she wanted to be with, which she did my father. Both being aware of the caste system including the family’s disapproval. I firmly believe at that time my father was a secure figure in my mothers’ life she formed distrust towards her family regarding the arrange marriage that failed – that wound was still fresh in many ways.
My father provided a safety net for her which she needed. They continued their dates which flourished into ‘love’ that love resulted with me being the product. My mother was pregnant! That I guess was a happy moment, things needed to be well within all angles of their life. Both families did disapprove. Resulting in my parents being forced to live in a hostel.
My father was a motor mechanic by trade securing financial income. Things were ‘very real’ for them now, living alone only having each other. My father was close to his family I suspect my mother was too, so emotional hardships did playout. Maybe the progress of pregnancy and baby arrival could swing the external family to make amends.
Yes!!!! It did! I was born overdue. ‘
“You were born at 40 weeks, the midwives had to induce me. It was a hard labour, you weighed 8 pounds had a full head of black hair, was chubby, with big brown eyes.”
“everyone loved you, including all the hospital staff. I was poorly so the midwives would tend to you I was afraid of kidnap. I would awake and stumble out of my bed, making my way to the nursery to find you-and you were there my baby girl”
Both external families came to visit at home, with presents and eagerly wanting to hold me. Both my grandfathers held me. Proud moment for both my mother and father- that was an Indian custom I guess in terms of blessing perhaps. All was sweet.
“Your father was amazing, he helped so much, made your bottles, changed your nappy, and held you constantly, hating leaving you. He called you his Nini” (my pet name)
I grew up in the hostel until age 2 years. I remember an incident vividly. I hurt my right foot running around – it was painful I cried, my mother and father hoisted me up onto the kitchen counter, reassuring me my dad rubbed some ‘Ghee’ on it (Indian purified butter) I guess it was one of the household remedies of that time. Soon after we moved into a lovely two-bedroom house.
It was great, we had a garden, lovely peacock mirror on the landing, and stairs leading to our rooms!
I loved it I had some very happy times there. My mother cooked wonderful Indian dishes the smell of a mixture of spiced seeds popping in a hot oiled pan. I started to despise my mother’s traditional cooking once I started school (loved English dinners) My dad would work close to home as a mechanic – we would take him lunch sometimes on weekends. Soon after my brother was born. Family would from time to time visit. I loved when my paternal aunties would visit, they were kind, always beautifully dressed, and brought lovely gifts. They had a close bond to my dad it was evident to see. I felt loved!
I thought what a great family!
My paternal grandfather died before the birth of my brother, my dad was distraught. From then, we would regularly visit my paternal grandmother at her house, she never came to ours. That didn’t bother me as I was so excited to see her – I loved her! We would be a couple of minutes from her front door, she would know as she would see us from the window -she’d open the door- that’s it I’d be off, I would run as fast as I could and give her an almighty hug. The feeling of her soft silk white sari pleated waist down with red & gold design. I knew she was my dad’s mum, and my dad was my dad, we all looked similar. My father adored her as she did him.
My father hated leaving my side, I hated leaving hers. Her home was big and beautiful, she had the sweetest smile and caring nature toward me. Her garden was something else! Out of this world all the different plants and flowers were amazing my favourite were her collection of primroses.
I felt so excited and happy there. I wish those visits were made more often as well as fairly.
My father’s trade boomed. He would work not only in the garage during the week, but to be close to us at home he would fix clients cars during the weekends by appointment.
I admired my dad- “look at me Nini I’m so strong I am carrying an engine of a car”
I don’t know if it actually was an engine. His hands and nails would be covered in black oil! He had very strong hands. How cool was my dad I thought at the time? His clients knew he was good at his job he would fix a problem soon as. Sometimes during the weekday’s clients would pop up to the house assuming he would be in if there was an emergency. Sometimes they would wait or go over to the garage, or decide to come back the next day.
See, the device such as phones just wasn’t available (mobile phones, not everyone could afford them) business was healthy leaving not much time however to visit friends or family.
Both my mother and father would take it in turns with school runs. Our first ever family car was a bright yellow mini! I was ecstatic being driven into school in that car. My dad always made jokes sometimes without the car he would pick me up, the class door would open and he would be there with a gigantic smile with both arms stretched out. He would pick me up twirl me around and place me sitting on his shoulders. I felt on top of the world. I was age 5. From then on, he would sit me on his lap during the evenings read books and at the end ask,
‘M”what would you like to be nini when you grow up’? ‘‘erm…. A nurse”
That answer would be the same for many years following. My father played with both myself and my brother lovingly. We would all watch Tom and Jerry chuckling all the time!
One day, my mother picked me up from school, I got through the door went upstairs to change into home clothing while my mother started on dinner. Our house phone was upstairs for some strange reason that is unknown to me. The phone rang, I was commanded to answer I did so.
“hello, is your dad there?”
“no, he is at work”
“Oh, what about your mum?”
“she is busy cooking”
“I’m going to tell you something about your mum, she is very naughty, she has been very naughty”
I hung up on the unknown caller as I could not recognise the voice. I froze with confusion not understanding what that man meant.
I went downstairs informing my mother of the call but not telling her about the “naughty part, neither questioning her“at that moment I felt fear.
Then it was all forgotten about.
Another occasion I was dropped home by a family friend whose child attended the same school. When reaching home, in the hall-way I saw a new small, elegant mahogany table with our home phone placed on it. I fell in love with the table rushing into the kitchen to ask my mum if I could clean it?
There was a man in the kitchen, a man that was familiar to me, one of my dad’s clients…
I said hello didn’t batter an eyelid and proceeded to obtain the things I needed to clean that beautiful table. I spent hours cleaning and polishing it until my dad walked through the door.
“Hi dad, guess who was here today?”
My parents continued to speak Gujrati, I understood the language being able to speak it too, but preferred to answer in English. When amongst social gatherings we all would speak both English & Gujrati (translation method)
My mother walked out of the kitchen and gave me such a stern look as if to say “you tell, and I will punish you”.
I changed the subject as quick as I could telling him about how long I spent cleaning the table. Within that moment I learned about the art of ‘deceit and lies. I felt uneasy and couldn’t understand why she would not want to tell my dad.
I became protective over my father.
That phone call soon played on my young mind and something did not feel right especially being an open family sharing everything, so secrecy was very new to me.
My mother was having affairs and was promiscuous with my dad’s clients/friends. They were to blame just as her. My father was working, I was at school, my young brother was at home with my mother who had some time to herself now knowing what she decided to use her time on.
My father did find out, as jokes at work were made, he would confront my mother who denied it outright which sparked horrid arguments.
My father would be kicked out on many occasions on purpose so my mother could full-fill her desires privately. It wasn’t private as I could see, hear, and understand whereas my brother couldn’t. I became angry at how my dad’s friends could be cruel including my mum.
I learned about betrayal.
I was a child helpless caught in that horrible pit. Those clients never stayed long -they only wanted one thing, after knowing that, my mum would then rely on my dad. She would become bored and do it again. My father willing to forgive to save our family. I guess temptation was to strong my mother couldn’t resist.
She couldn’t resist it even for the sake of her children.
We were broken from that point on as a family.
My fathers work and mental health suffered. He resorted to alcohol, my mother was pregnant with her third child my half-sister. Yes, biologically my dad was not her father, my mother convinced him he was, when in fact she was his client’s, his best friends’ child!
I knew as he would always be around – I hated him. I remember stabbing him in the eye with a pen as he sat on our sofa. My mind is blank as to watch happened next.
My father thought ok fresh start, another kid on the way maybe this could work. Until my sister was born my father looked at my wrinkly sister and had no doubts then, he gave her his surname actually believing my mothers lies. I was age 7.
I felt so helpless having no power to tell my dad the truth. My mother held all power, she held authority over all of us. While at school I’d forget the tangled situation of home until it I went home having to live it.
We stopped eating around the table, we didn’t play anymore with our parents, I had to help my mother with my brother, I was left alone watching tv for long periods while my mother napped and my father drank until he passed out.
We decided to move away seeing as we all wanted a fresh start as there was a new baby. Things were content for a while. I noticed my dad consume more alcohol than usual.
I was worried, very worried.
I looked out for my brother and sister. My sister was aged 8 months my dad went into melt-down as her hair was not like mine or my bothers it was afro-Caribbean textured. I believe that was the demise of my dad. Arguments broke out constantly, police visits occurred constantly. My mother’s promiscuity continued.
My sister was born in 1995. 1997 was the last time I saw my dad.
He left and never came back!
By that time, he was a chronic alcoholic. No one really supported him not even his family as he turned out to be an embarrassment.
Many injunctions were set on him in court to not come to the house, when he did my mothers boyfriends would beat him up! I’d scream crying as my dad was no match for them drunk. Before, when he could carry a car’s engine maybe he was tough then.
They had no mercy.
Maybe his violent language wasn’t great but we as children didn’t need to see that.
I felt abandoned & frightful. I didn’t feel secure with many different people being in the house. I constantly was on ‘autopilot’ in defence mode waiting for something bad to happen. On many occasions there would be fights, screaming, shouting, smashing of glasses, and banging of doors. The smell of spilled whiskey & coke would swamp the home. My mother loved spirits two bottles could be consumed within one day, with the repeat pattern taking place the day after. Clouds of cigarette smoke would engulf the entire flat invisibly tarring our lungs…