WORLD BOOK DAY

Today is the world book day. It makes me reflect on my own life.

I never had formal education.Growing up in India, my fathers job meant he never stayed in a place for more than a year or so. Getting in a school was hard. So my parents arranged private tuition for me.

That meant having tutors of varying abilities turning up everywhere we went. Some couldn’t teach, or didn’t consider me a good enough learner, some I didn’t like and didn’t want them to teach me. The result was I never had a continuity  of education.

Being an only child i was mostly left to my own devices. Most of our servants lived in quarters by our house and I will make a beeline for those, where the servants children were willing partners in climbing trees and swimming in the dodgy streams.

The only thing I did have was, my father taught me the basic “the National Reader’ the text book of basic grammar in the 1950s India. My father was educated at Cambridge ,so his knowledge of the subject was impeccable. He taught me up to the second book in that series. And my mother who was a poet and read avidly, taught me up to the second book in Urdu alphabet and very basic grammar. As soon as I could put the alphabet together I started to try and read. From ketchup bottles to billboards, my favourite pass time was trying to decipher words.

Both my parents loved books, wherever we went the first thing my mother did was to sign up to the local library. She read Urdu books and wrote Urdu poetry. The famous authors of that time, Minto and Chugtai were familiar to me. My father read anything in English.Apart from the books , we had magazines like the Colliers, The Life international, Argosy and the Lilliput! And often he will explain things from those publications to my mother and I. I remember the details of the romance between Princess Margaret and Capitan Townsend, the divorce of the King of Iran ,to his beautiful wife Suraya because she couldn’t have children, all those colourful photos in the Life magazine. I was fascinated with the words and pictures.

All my spare time was spent trying to decipher the written word. And soon as I could make sentences I will try and make sense of it. Very quickly I could read and I kept on reading , I just read all the books in Urdu, according to my mother my grammar and syntax was impeccable! And my parents were not into giving compliments.

It took me a longer to learn to read English. As no one spoke the language and I couldn’t make sense of it. I started to sit in when my father used to listen to the service. And to my fathers irritation asked so many questions!

My parents being the product of the post war India ,were snobbish and believed in keeping up appearances. They were ashamed that I have not been to school, they told stories about my being “not interested” in studying or going to school etc; , but by then I could read most things, even the racy stories in publications like the Argosy! And the racy Urdu material which my parents kept on the top of the bookshelves.

When in the 1960s I wanted to join nursing , my parents disowned me ,threw me out of the house and at 16 I was homeless, but have secured a place in the Health School for a three years degree course in Health visiting. My test paper for the admission having received the top marks!

Though my parents didn’t reconcile with me until the 1974 ,when my first child was born, I have by then finished my training, worked in the rural areas , met and married my late husband and was in England ,doing further training in a London teaching hospital!

I passed on my love of books to my children at a very early age. I remember when I bought a shiny book for my son aged three months, my neighbour cynically remarked was I trying to make him an Oxbridge Scholar !

Actually he is, wining scholarships from the age of nine, and finishing at Cambridge as a lecturer and now the Reader, at a young age.

My daughter has excelled herself too.

And I really get such a buzz, when am told my grand children are avid readers, my youngest grand daughter at the age of 4 1/2 ,has just received four stars for reading. The eldest grand daughter, has read the entire selection of her favourite author and the other one aged eight is a prolific story writer.

Of course the credit goes to their parents, am not taking the credit, but it is the love of books their parents were given, may be I can take a little credit.

So here is a toast to the written word. There is nothing like it.

 

What is in a name?

A lot has been talked about changing names lately. An MP wants  to change the name of so called “Honour Killing” ,and today we are talking about the discrimination ,or alleged discrimination if you have an Asian name.

Firstly changing the name of the brutal killings, that happen in certain cultures ,one the garland it is mostly girls, as they are for some mis guided logic are responsible  for holding the family honour ,by marrying whoever it is that their parents have chosen.

Once reviewing the book called “Shame” by Jaswinder Sanghera ,I was astonished to learn the pressure young women were put under to conform to their parents wishes. And then I reviewed another book by a Muslim Pakistani girl Called Ferzana Riley, whose book “Un-broken Spirit” is an eye opener ,to the length families go to make their daughters conform to their own wishes.

Since then, and after writing about it on a website, quite a few girls got in touch with me. Intelligent and well educated girls, from quite well to do, allegedly educated Asian families , who were terrified of being taken to their parents homeland and be married off to someone they have never met. Some of them would give me the date of their visit and ask me to contact the police if I have heard from them after a certain date.

Now the proposal to change the name of “honour killing” takes away the special vigilance it takes to police/highlight such issues.

I have been involved with the Women’s refuge in my local area, of course there is domestic violence across all cultures. There are violent, drunk and stupid men in every culture who beat their wives, use emotional coercion  and subject them to all kind of misery, and of course there is murder across all cultures.

But, and this is a big but, honour killings, or subjecting their daughters to violence and forcing them to marry someone of their choice, is really exclusive to certain cultures.

Mostly Asians, and mostly Muslim families are known to be too hung up on the so called “honour’. Though there have been many cases among the Hindu and Sikh families too, but the majority of killings and coercion has happened in the Muslim families. There were a few Turkish families , but nothing like the numbers which have happened in the Asian families.

The police have been reluctant for ages to intervene, as it was considered that forced marriage is a “cultural issue”, it took them years to acknowledge it as the crime it is.I have been on my county’s polices  independent advisory group. I have  tried my bit to educate them, passing on the books by Jaswinder and Ferzana ,to give them an insight into this so called “cultural” but vile practice.

Taking away the word honour will do nothing to improve the situation in any way at all, it is murder and coercion done in the name of honour ,by some cultures and that is how it should remain.

Calling a spade as they say…!

The Year That was…

We are into the last  few days of the 2016.

I often wonder , if the belief that the new year brings new opputunities is a is something we have made up  to console ourselves, as another  year of our lives slips by?

Nothing much changes, the world and the and our lives remain the same, but we change our perception and look to each new days with renewed hope, as we are in a new year.

Some will be glad to see the year go out ,hoping; the things they disliked in the outgoing year will somehow disappear.

They will not, the political and financial un certainty  caused by Brexit will remain, Trump will be the president of America and we will have the same day to day lives. But we will get a new dose of optimism, a new hope ; that things will look up/change for the better. And if they do then we brand the year either good or bad!

Am a born optimist, I have always looked forward to the new year, I go as far as to believe that the first day of the year ,is indicative of how the year will pan out for me!

I know , it is daft. But that is my way of rationalising my hopes for future. It is said that it is necessary to keep hope alive, to always hope that things will be better than they are today, and have an aim in life. In our younger years we do not think much of the passing years, we have children to raise, their future occupies our mind, we strive to give them a better life.

Soon they grow up and have a life and family of their own, as someone said ,they become from “us” to “they”. Their lives revolve around their families  and their children’s future. And one suddenly realise that we no longer have an aim for the future.

I suppose ,then one realises that, we have fulfilled our main purpose. Procreation,and then providing a responsible and productive generation. Everything else seems and feels trivial after that.

The urge to procreate and nurture is so strong that it takes over our lives, and once done, it is not uncommon to feel empty and useless.

I have been there.

A lot harder to create a role for yourself late in life, create a purpose. Especially if you are left on your own. It makes you ask very hard questions to yourself, and often there are no answers.

But, another year is departing as we like to call it, a year when thousands were made homeless, we learnt the words “refugee crisis”, and Brexit. We looked to America with trepidation as it elected a businessman, with no political experience or diplomacy as her president. Our prime minister resigned in a hurry and we were given the second female prime minister.

A year when a very large number of show business stars died, and we are probably right in thinking that this was not a good year.

But we look with hope and some trepidation to the coming year, how much it will change what is gone wrongs anybody’s guess.

But, in the long running tradition of pinning our hopes to the coming year ,let us hope it will.

So here it is Happy New Year, and let us hope it lives up to our expectations.

Another report

Another day, another report!

Today’s report on integration points out that among other things , women come out worse ,because if they don’t learn or know the language then they know nothing about the law of the land, or the rule of the , but they rely on Sharia law. A doctrine based law made by men , and imposed mostly  on women, often against their wish, but enforced by religion.

I have written a lot about this,( I used to blog on a on line magazine called Asians in media, and then on the My Telegraph ; the latter from 2007-2015.

As well as writing I have done a lot of voluntary work, once when I was on a committee for the local authority, the local health professionals approached me ,they were trying to get a few Muslim women to attend the ante-natal classes, as they were expecting their first babies. They women spoke no English and their men folk wouldn’t allow the health visitor to take them to the clinic. Suffice to say, I failed to convince them , and the women received no essential care ,they should have .

In 1999, the Labour Peer Lord Desai ,has commissioned a report into the fact that more than half of the Muslim women in this country ,of working age were un-employed or were un-employable, as they spoke no English, and have never been out of the  house without a male chaperone.

I was part of the action plan, as volunteers we were tasked with approaching these women and making sure they acquired some learning. We met so much hostility from the men folk, they ;under no circumstances wanted to change the status quo. It suited them that the women remained subservient and did as they were told.

Muslim  women can be divorced by a man saying “I divorce you” three times. Sharia courts settle their divorce and as the women know nothing about the law of the land or what they are entitled to ,according to the British law, are often short changed. The same goes for the  rights to their children and maintenance. Because these women do not speak the language , they are short changed and deprived. Not to speak of the money the NHS and other agencies spend on translators.

These women have no privacy, they cant even contact their doctor with  either their husband or their child present to translate.

Such women tend to insist on marrying their children to spouses from “back home”, they surely dont want a daughter in law or a son in law who is not like them. Especially daughter in laws, they want another woman who will stay home ,be company to them and will keep the family together.

The whole cycle is then repeated.

This morning’s report has been sneered by a lot of male radio presenters, they have no idea what life can be like for these women.

And of course they cant say, as they speak no English.

 

This and That..

A lot has happened since I wrote my last blog. America has got a new president, we have a woman prime minister and winter has arrived!

As you grow older ,you tend to get less exercised about world affairs  and politics, as experience teaches you that there is not a lot you can change, despite the claims of democracy the political band wagon grinds on regardless of what you think or want.

So back to getting older.

Old age suddenly descends on you without warning, one minute you were rushing around raising a family, holding a job and had little  time to think about it, next you know , they have grown up, created their own families, have little time for interaction and you have lost your life partner.

You are left to fend for your own needs. In the west especially, there is very little interaction with anyone. In the East where I grew up, people just drop in , relatives, friends of your relatives , and those you didn’t know could have any connection with you .

I remember, in my grandfathers house, a huge house ,at any given time there will be ten to twelve “guests” . My grandfather has come from the north of India ,and was now living and practicing as  a lawyer in the south. So people from the city where he came from  arrived all the time, seeking a better life or a visit ,will consider it their right to use our ancestral home as a guest house.It will be rude ,not to;” was the mantra. Most of them stayed for a month or two , and most of them were unknown to us and even to my grandfather. But he was very happy to offer the hospitality. I think I have the same family trait, I love people, entertaining and having house guests. But I do know that this is not the norm in the west and am sure a lot must view my intentions with suspicion!

Am lucky that I have a lot of friends, good neighbours and well wishers, I do other things and am in good health, but these wet, grey and grim mornings put me in mind of those who are not so fortunate, how do they cope with old age, loneliness and isolation. How and why this happens , am not sure.

But the world has changed since my childhood, even in the East, joint families and support to the older generation has declined. Most children these days go abroad and elsewhere , and no one can afford big houses to accommodate  family, never mind friends and acquaintances .

This is progress, most people work so hard just to look after themselves and their immediate family , they haven’t got the time or the money to interact with their elderly relatives.

So it has nothing to do with cultures , we all are in the same boat! So when we say that we try to stay young as long as we can, it is not just for aesthetics. Old age has become a dirty word, they suddenly become isolated, may be because interacting reminds us all of the future which awaits us all.

A grim thought indeed.

Religious symbols

 

I dont know how many of you have heard about it, but when the Nice bombing happened ,in summer the news was reported on by the C4 reporter Fatima Manji, who wears a Hijab( the head covering),some people took offence, but I, along with others defended the fact that she was a good reporter who was doing her job well, that she wore a Hijab was of no consequence.
The Editor of the Mail (or Sun?),Kelvin Mckenzie it seems wrote an article berating the fact that the event shouldn’t have been covered by a Muslim ,wearing a Hijab. C4 and Ms Manji launched a complaint against Mckenzee, but the press regulator rejected the appeal ,on the ground that under freedom of speech Mackenzie has a right to his opinion .
This morning Fatima was on the Today programme, saying that this means an open season on Muslims, and it was distressing to her and her family.
I disagreed, my tweeted reply to radio4, brought a big response, most agreed with why I disagreed.
I disagreed that if you are in the public eye, your looks/dress are often criticised, it is the nature of the job, it doesn’t mean this is an open season on Islam.
2. C4 is partly public funded, it has a remit to represent minorities, so if they are going to represent a Muslim woman wearing hijab, they should show Christians sporting a Cross, Hindus wearing their religious symbols and Jewish and other religious groups should be represented too.
3. In a secular country ,I feel either every religion should get equal support or no religion should be visible.Not just one faith should be given prominence.

Personally I would like to see no religious display on screen, religion and ones relationship with God is an intensely private matter, and should be kept as such.
Some Muslim men, one in particular on Twitter ,took umbrage to my comments and accused me of playing into the hands of ‘racists and those who deride Islam”. He said that Mckenzie’s paper showed naked women and degraded them , where as he is deriding a woman who wears a hijab to protect her modesty.
My point is in a free society ,where (thank Goodness) we have freedom of speech , people who want to look at those pictures and women who pose for it are free to do so. No one is forced to look at them , but public broadcasting is another matter, and unless a channel is funded and belongs to a certain interest, public broadcasters should cater for all faiths ,if they are so minded.The BBC doesn’t allow any particular  garb or symbols  in ints broadcasts or reporters.

I find it sad that whenever something is criticised it takes on the mantle of being persecution and attack on a faith.

May be it is not a case of persecuting any religion , may be it is because these days more and more people do not want to subscribe to faiths and religions.

Whatever the reason may be, though I didn’t  read the offending article in that newspaper , so am not aware as to what was or was not said, but my comments are based on this morning’s interview on the Today programme.