With their Indian mother and white father, my children stand out at the gurdwara. They look different, and although they don't know it yet, I wonder what impact this will have on their lives. As I see them alongside little boys with turbans and young girls in traditional dress, I wonder when they will notice the differences that are skin deep. With their mixed parentage, when will they know who they are? With their mixed parentage, when will I know who they are?
When I decided to marry my husband, a white New Zealander, I understood that I would be bringing an outsider into the culture I had grown up immersed in. Being a British Indian had meant, as a child, learning to navigate British life from a different starting point to many of my school friends.
The difference was about more than my parents speaking another language and us all going to the gurdwara on a Sunday. There was the religious, cultural and political history I learnt at Sunday school. There was the value system and moral code I had grown up with. There was the observance of customs, traditions and religious rituals. None of this made me any less British, but it did make me feel a 'different' kind of British to many of my friends. I was not only British. There was more.
My husband was introduced to all of this before our wedding. With remarkable ease, he observed, accepted and joined in with traditional customs. He learnt of a new religion and culture, and his family to some extent did the same. He was welcomed into my family with open arms. Once in our midst, he accepted us as we had accepted him. For acceptance, I learnt then, is a reciprocal process.
I know, however, that the apparent ease with which he has entered this new world doesn't tell the whole story. I know he feels 'different' as the only white man at the gurdwara. I know he feels that he stands out with nowhere to hide at large religious events. I know this because I feel the same when the roles are reversed.
I have loved being welcomed into my husband's family. With their wide-open New Zealand arms, they treat me as one of them. But I have felt that pang that our histories are different. I have felt that ache that their Sunday mornings were not spent as mine were. I have felt that separateness that comes with knowing the stories our families have told for generations are worlds apart.
My children will grow up in a place neither my husband nor I know. It is a place positioned directly in the middle of two cultures. I'm not sure yet whether they will go to Sunday school as I did. I'm not sure yet whether they will struggle over the Punjabi alphabet as I did. Yet I need them to understand who their mother is and where I have come from. For this, it feels inevitable that they must know the religious and cultural and history of my people in our own language.
They must, also, know the same of their father. They must know the stories of his people. They must know the history of the culture he was born into. They must know about the times, places, circumstances and events that shaped his family and upbringing and country.
Our children will grow up forging their own stories. Yet for them to know who they are, they must know who their parents are and where we have come from. From this knowledge, they can know themselves.
Our children will make their path in a world new to my husband and I. It is a world where they will know acceptance from the outset, because theirs will be a privileged position straddling two worlds. Yet while they will know acceptance, they will also know its opposite edge. It is this side that I fear - although I also believe they will be loved enough never to experience its bitterness. Instead, they will grow up knowing the beauty of tolerance in a world where skin-deep differences don't matter. And it is my hope, that just by being themselves, they will teach this beauty to others.Suggest a correction