My nephew is turning three this month and he brings me so much joy and happiness as I gaze upon his mad little ways. Born in the UK and the product of British parents, he is well and truly British but with Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage. I look at his play dates and the friends of my sister and brother in law with heritage from all over the world: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Iraq, UK, Libya, Greece and so on – a true reflection of multicultural Britain. I think of my future children and who they would make friends with through me – “Your friends are like the United Colours of Benetton” a friend recently said to me – not quite sure he knows exactly what that is but the reference to colours I think summed it up for him.
But then I look at my parents and the play dates we had growing up – mostly with British Bangladeshi children who were the product of Bangladeshi parents who had moved to this country as well as play dates we made through school. Looking at it now, I do wonder, would my parents have been friends with these people in Bangladesh and realised they were kindred spirits? Or did they flock together because under the circumstances their friendships were able to blossom? I know when I lived in France and Spain, it was very normal for the Brits to stick together – you were with people who knew where you came from and you could face your trials and tribulations with local life together. That’s just human nature.
The way of life in South Asia is very different to that of life in the UK in some respects. Our parents came from a country where alcohol is strictly prohibited unless you have a licence to a land where on every other street there are pubs selling this very substance, halal meat back then was next to non-existent, going to nightclubs and wearing less conservative clothing and having a boyfriend and moving out were all totally normal parts of life. This was so different to society back home that there were two types of parents – those afraid of losing their children to a lifestyle they hadn’t grown up in and those who fully embraced it and let go of their past. Most parents were the former and did their best to ensure their children did not forget their roots, whether cultural or religious. I grew up knowing who I was and exactly where I came from but also adopting best of British. So how will I raise my kids? During a girly lunch, a British Bangladeshi, a British Indian and a British Mauritian pondered this question. Would we allow our children to date as teenagers? Would we give them curfews? My answers came from a religious background but what amazed us was that as much as we had established our ways in British society, some of these things were still niggles in the back of our mind. Would we be cool with things our parents weren’t? Or at least would we be cool enough to openly discuss certain things with our kids that we would have winced at with our parents like who we fancied at school? How many generations would it take till things radically changed or would our heritage still be in the back of our kids’ minds?
I don’t look back and regret any of my parents’ decisions with me by instilling Bangladeshi and Muslim values – I don’t think the world would have been ready for my thunder thighs in a mini skirt nor do I think I missed out on dating awkward clueless teenage boys and I have always been mad enough without the need for alcohol in my system. The question remains though, will my children feel the same?