"Why did you have to buy the corner shop? Why? Don't you know they are all laughing at you, at us?"
My mother was incandescent with rage the first time she met the only other Indian family to move to our tiny, Cornish village in the mid 1980's. She couldn't believe that after four years of being a social pariah because of her skin colour and trying so hard to make a place for herself and for us in the small community that another Indian family had moved in and become a stereotype - they had bought the corner shop.
Or the 'Paki Shop' as it was delightfully known from then on. Although, like my mother, they were not actually Pakistani but Indian; but lets not let geography get in the way of a bit of causal racism.
I was seven years old and I was actually quite pleased that this new family had moved to the village. In the four years since we moved from the very cosmopolitan Hounslow in Greater London to the tiny village of Dobwalls in Cornwall, I had been the only 'Paki' in the village school.
I was stared at, bullied by children, their parents and my school teachers. I was made to wash my hands before I entered the classroom each morning as one teacher insisted, "Indians use their hands instead of toilet paper to wipe their backsides" and was constantly told to "go home" while walking around the village.
All that abuse, just because of the colour of my skin. Which, incidentally, isn't all that dark as my father is a blonde haired, blue eyed, English man. My mother's father was also a blonde haired, blue eyed, English man, who just happened to be born and raised in India as his father was a General in the British Army, Stationed in Bombay in 1910. For those doing the math's, that makes my mother half Indian and me a paltry quarter Indian.
From the time my mother and grandfather had to leave India and come to Britain under the threat of being murdered in 1965 when the British were ousted and the Indians took back independence, her life was blighted by racism from those around her. She was 16 and suddenly thrust into a life in London, having to leave behind her Indian mother who was not allowed to leave the country, and everything she had ever known.
However, she thought she would be accepted. Having grown up in a British enclave, she was more British than Indian. Her first language was English (although spoken with an Indian accent), she was a Catholic, had an English name and surname, wore western clothes and was more than well acquainted with a Sunday roast. The only thing that marked her out as different was the colour of her skin.
Over the years, things in London became easier with mass immigration from all over the world. My mother recalled feeling actually quite lucky that she was brown and not Caribbean or Irish as they had it much worse than the Indian immigrants did. By the time I came along in 1980, my mother was a cancer specialist nurse; married to my white father and we were happily living in West London, in an area in which our neighbors were from all corners of the earth.
So why she chose to move us to deepest, darkest Cornwall, I will never understand. It was naivety I think, and a London mindset that everyone was accepted for who they were.
From day one there was gossip: My parents had run away from my father's family to marry; my mother was here illegally and had to marry my father to stay in the country; my mother had to get special permission to marry a white man; my father had 'bought' my mother; my mother was one of those strange Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs, or that we wanted to buy the local shop.
None of those rumors were true. We were just a normal, boring, average family. But that didn't stop the locals.
When the new Indian family moved in and bought the shop, I was selfishly very happy. As a seven year old, I was over the moon that 'proper' Indians had moved in and my mother and I were no longer the only 'Pakis' in the village. They had two children the around same age as me. They were darker than me, they had Indian names, they were Hindu and they owned a shop. They were more Indian than I would ever be so maybe, just maybe, they would be bullied instead. A horrible thing to think, but I was a young child who had been through the mill at the hands of baying locals for far too long.
Oh, how wrong I was! The teachers at my tiny school immediately paired me up with the elder child, a boy who was the same age as me. Obviously, as we both had brown skin, we would get on. We didn't. I didn't like his year younger sister either. My mother didn't like their parents as she was a staunch catholic and they were Hindu, and as an Anglo-Indian, she still had the superiority complex that many of her time had over the lower class Indians. They didn't like her either for the same reasons. There is nothing more that messes with your head as a victim of race bullying to be at the center of same culture racism.
But the village decided we had to be friends. The villagers were also very happy for my family that an Indian boy my age was in the village. Because now I had someone to marry when I grew up! It was like the arranged marriage from hell; even the teachers would talk about how one day, this boy and me would marry and take over the shop. We would just glare at each other and silently die of embarrassment.
We finally up sticks and moved to Slough, glorious, multicultural Slough, when I was ten, where I went from being bullied about my colour to no one even noticing it.
I sometimes wonder what happened to that Indian family after we left, if they carried on receiving the same vile treatment. I can only hope that it got better with time.
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