The journey to the journey was an exciting, yet arduous one. It wasn’t without its frustrations- and I don’t mean the drama encountered from attempting to renew my passport. No. That drama belongs in another post and heaven forbid I drag it into this one, which deserves its own title, it’s own space and it’s own audience. Suffice to say, the Nigeria High Commission messed up my names which unbeknownst to me for the last 14 months had been poised patiently to have a knock on effect on my British Passport renewal. So we found ourselves in December 2017- toppled pieces and all- scrambling to rearrange my life.
Yes, we were/are/always will be happy to visit India. We have never been to Asia, but more importantly the entire family will be together under one roof! Three generations with our spouses and friends that long ago became family. What’s not to love about that? The frustrations began when I realised that impressing acquaintances with this news was not going to be an easy feat. First was Mohammed, my ex-delivery driver. Oh he was impressed alright but He is Pakistani, not Indian. Prior to reading ‘White Teeth‘ by Zadie Smith, this distinction would not have earned even blurred lines. There wouldn’t have been a distinction. It would have been a mono-truth, (like monolith, only instead of an unbroken stone structure we had structured truth) Like a glass of filtered water. No colour, no sediments, no taste. But Zadie schooled me on the importance of drawing a very thick line, a gully, if you will, between both countries. And I did so respectfully. Mohammed was happy that I was heading to India. He put on a broad smile and I think in that moment, we liked each other more. The schism between the black (wo)man and the Pakistani (or Indian) was levelled slightly with some soil. Not so much that it had become a line, but enough to stop you falling in if you crossed over to shake hands. Unfortunately, the threadbare cloak of Mohammed’s awe and respect wore off the day he told me he didn’t want to do a delivery because he disliked Chinese people intensely. Yes, all he had to do was assemble their furniture but no, he didn’t like them because “they didn’t like brown skinned people. “They”, he insisted “thought they were better than us”. That was the last time he worked for me.
The next few weeks involved weaving a tapestry from the stress over my passport, pre-Christmas customer deliveries, (including a white nursing chair I feared would have turned brown by the time it arrived in Denmark. I mean, I don’t know how to wear a white shirt for more than 6 hours) that, and looking for people to impress with my upcoming trip. I suffered and still carry this notion that ethnic people living in England see it as a sign of respect and solidarity when another person of colour chooses to visit their home. In that moment, the visitor is seen as helping to hold up the person’s arm leaving them free to give the finger to the media who showed images of Indian children in reference to ‘world poverty’. You can just hear it. ‘Children all over the world are suffering..‘. Or, ‘Hamid has no clean water…‘ Come to think of it it was either Hamid in the rice fields of India, or Ngoya in the African plains.
“Are you Indian or Pakistani?” became my greeting of choice when I met suspected Indians. “Where are you from?” was the tactic I used when less confident. The previous method of informing targets that I was traveling to India did not work. I’d deliver the news and step back, waiting for them to be impressed. It never happened. Like what went down with my either Indian or Pakistani uber driver:
Me: “Where are you from?”
Him: (Heavy Indian or Pakistani accent) “London”
“Oh cool! Where are you from originally?” ‘Originally’ is slightly emphasised and my ethnic origin is starting to shift towards ‘White British.’
“Docklands. You know docklands?”
“Yes.” My stubborn streak stretches into a rather wide band, I want to impress him with my upcoming trip to India. If he is Indian. I hope he is Indian. “Where are your ancestors from?” I continue.
“I live here 17 years. Long time” long uncomfortable pause…and then; “Do you like Indian food?”
Feeling pleased. ‘India’ has finally featured in our conversation. “Yeah”, I lie. “I like Indian food. Are you from India?”
“No. How about you, you from London?”
I don’t answer.
He continues; “I have an Indian restaurant on Burnt Ash Road, do you know it?” He tells me the name.
“Ah! I know it, so you are Indian!”
“Well, I’m going to India” I try to sound casual like a child trying to hide her feelings after being bitten by the long snake on ‘Snakes & Ladders’ This one has bluntly refused to be impressed.
“I have some menus, I give you one.”
“I’ll tell all my friends about your restaurant”
So, friends. Please visit spice Garden on Burnt Ash Lane. Done.