The Journey To Britishdom

Photo by Sarahhoa
Photo by Sarahhoa
Spring 1982
The crowded bus sped through the streets of Islamabad, lined on both sides with flowering jasmine bushes. The sweet fragrance outside vied with the stench of body odour inside the bus. I was hanging onto a loose iron bar, pushing away the hand of another passenger who had grabbed my trousers in an area far too close to my private parts, to prevent himself from falling out into the road. 
With my immigration papers clutched in my hand, I was on my way to the British Council that had provided me with a scholarship. As the bus lurched I lost control, dropping the papers into the lap of an elderly seated passenger. Before Id had time to recover, the old man had glanced at them.
Are you going to London? he asked, his bulging eyes reflecting the depth of his shock.
Yes, I replied. 
Immediately he jumped out of his seat and offered it to me. From his reaction I realised that I must be going to Heaven, a place called London.
In the air
During the long plane journey to London, my attention was grabbed by some fellow passengers dancing, singing, smoking and drinking. Dear God, I thought, London must be better than Heaven. Look at them! Theyre so happy to be going homeI kept staring and smiling until one of them shouted, What the fuck are you looking at? I jumped up to rummage for my dictionary in the overhead lockers. Opening it, I looked up the connection between whatfuck and looking at. I couldnt find it but I kept smiling at them.
Finally, the plane touched the ground. Grinning broadly, I approached the immigration officer who happened to be a voluminous lady — not exactly an English rose. 
Looking at me seriously, she said, Papers please! 
I produced my document, which was a form of ID issued for Afghan refugees by the Pakistani government. It was simply a yellowish piece of A4 paper, like a newspaper left out for years in the rain and sun.
Glaring at it, she shouted angrily, What the fuck is this? 
I bent down to find the dictionary in my bag. I wanted to look up the connection between
whatfuck and this
A few years later
I never thought that I would end up in this amazing neighbourhood, with streets named after Shake-speare, Milton and Dryden. A place where Mr. AB, Ashok Basu, the Indian philosopher, owns the Taj Deluxe restaurant and Mr. Hai Chan owns the Peking takeaway and a stunning, hands-off daughter. 
I came to England with so much hope. I imagined myself reading my poems out loud in front of mesmerised English audiences. Instead, on arrival, I learn that England is full of dead poets. AB was a lecturer at the University of Bengal. His powers of persuasive argument could easily prove that the Queen of Britain was Indian! In fact, he could prove that everything was Indian. But we dont know what Hai did in China. He does not speak any English. And he doesnt need to. 
Observing this chaotic environment makes me wonder what would have happened to Tagore had he become a refugee in England like us. They would probably have named an haute cuisine dish after him, like Tagores Tandoori Chicken. And what would have happened to Shakespeare, if he had been a refugee in India? Shakespeare, the proud owner of Stratford Fish & Chips in Bengal, of course!

One comment

Leave a Comment