The Only Paki In The Village

“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, “Indian people 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 neighbours 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 rumours 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.

Still, when our school brought in swimming lessons, the two shop children and I were banned from joining in as the other parents didn’t want their children to share the water with us. We were the ones who had to sit apart from everyone else at school Christmas dinners and weren’t allowed parts in the nativity plays as our religions wouldn’t allow it (no matter how many times my mother explained that we were Catholics who celebrated Christmas it always fell on deaf ears).

For the most part, life in a small village in the 1980’s with dark skin was a hellish place to be.

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.

14 Comments »

  1. The content makes me so mad. Thank goodness things are moving in the right direction. Shit that you had to experience that as a little one. I really enjoyed the story and how you told it though.

    Like

  2. God how mortifying that those attitudes were in existence such a short time ago; though by the sounds of reports post Brexit we might not have moved on all that far. Thanks for sharing an honest post – makes me think about my own childhood in north of England in 1980s where there were very few children who weren’t , well, white basically . #stayclassymama

    Like

  3. What a powerful post and thank you so much for sharing. We moved to a small north Devon village with a single mum in the 80s shock horror to the local community. I can not even understand how these people could acted the way they did in such a truly dreadful way to you and your family, it makes me feel a whole raft of emotions and non of them good #stayclassymama

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing such a personal story with us. I can’t even begin to imagine how you all felt at the time. It’s insane how much racism there was, my nan in law is in her 80’s and still uses names for people that have not been acceptable for a long time! As a kid I remember my divorced mum wearing her wedding ring as she’d got upset by all the remarks about irresponsible single mums. I was initially one of the only kids in my school to be from a divorced family. Now it’s the norm.
    I’m glad my girls grow up in such a multi-cultural society where they don’t bat an eyelid at a friend’s colour or their background. #stayclassymama

    Like

  5. How horrendus. I can’t believe people would treat you like that and that school did it too. I’m so sorry you went through that. Sadly I think recent events show that not everyone has changed as much as we might think. Hopefully one day we will realise how ridiculous racism is.

    Like

  6. It sounds soul destroying. I’m also wondering about that other family and how things would be now. I would hope things had changed but I’m worried they probably haven’t as much as they should. Thought-provoking post.

    Like

  7. My god, you poor thing. That must have been a horrific experience and I hate how people can be so vile and ignorant. I’m glad you got out of there and just hope things have now improved across the country, and indeed the world. #stayclassymama

    Like

  8. Wow, so much ignorance you had to cope with! The whole Brexit thing has revealed that this side of people is still around even 30 years later, unfortunately. People love to put you in a pigeonhole. I grew up in America but have spent my whole adult like in the UK. I obviously still have an American twang and people often tease or even abuse me in public for it, as if I’m somehow responsible for all the crap things that go on in America. Sometimes I think I’ll scream if another drunk guy in a pub asks me where I’m from. I always say ‘Surrey’. But of course my annoyance at being treated as an outsider here is nothing to the outright racism you’ve experienced.

    It’s going to start looking like I’m stalking you because I keep commenting on your posts, but you are funny and a good storyteller so I can’t stop reading!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s