When I was young…

I never thought that I’d turn into someone who said, ‘When I was young…’ but I suppose as you get older, it’s inevitable isn’t it?  I’m fascinated with how much the world has changed since I was a single digit-er.  I remember memorising our land line number off by heart – of course then, we just called it a telephone number.  The terms ‘landline’ and ‘mobiles’ were science-fiction.  I still remember it – 440489.  I remember repeating it to myself again and again in case I got lost and needed someone to call my mum.  There was no internet and there were only 3 channels on TV.  Believe it or not, I still remember the bizarre, space-age way that Channel 4 was launched.  I remember only being allowed to watch ‘Play School’ on TV, and my sister named our toy rabbits Jemima and Hambel in honour of the dolls on that wonderful programme.

What a funny, simple world we lived in at the time.  People could hold telephone numbers in their heads.  There was no internet.  People actually popped over to your house without phoning in advance.  If you planned to meet someone at a specific time – guess what?  You made it!  Shops were open between 9 – 5 everyday, nothing was open on Sundays.  People managed.

It was a hard world too.  We didn’t have a washing machine when I was very young, or a vacuum cleaner, or a microwave…everything was done by hand.  My mum was a really young mum, just 19 years old when she had me; and she figured it all out – somehow.  How she coped with no Google; shops not open 24/7; not being able to text and contact people at the drop of a hat….sounds like I was alive in the 1800’s doesn’t it?  The irony is that it wasn’t that long ago.  In the 1980’s the world just changed.  It was as if someone had clicked their fingers and boom – technology took over the world.  The world had more things that made everything more convenient for everyone.

I’m glad.  I don’t look back on my very young days and think – oh wasn’t everything much better then?  In fact I often wonder how I would have coped having to wash clothes by hand; cleaning the house with a dustpan and brush; not being to heat things using a microwave; no central heating; not being to google what to do when my children were ill, having to wait until 9am for the world to reset itself and restart again…the list is endless.

The other thing about the good old days is the lack of choice.  People grew up and tended to live where they grew up, they got jobs where they grew up, they got married to people from the area where they grew up.  Then, in the 80’s – the world just changed.  People moved away.  People started to experiment with different types of food; different jobs; dating different people…not restricting themselves to their own town/city; own race; own gender…the tides were changing and by the 90’s – we were in a different world.  But my favourite was the 00’s.  Turn of the century.  I had come into my own.  The music, the fashion, the world was just better! People didn’t care who you were – you could be yourself.

We’re in the 2010’s now…and I’m not enjoying myself as much.  The 2000’s had seemed so progressive in people’s views and technology meant that the world was your oyster….but the decade that we’re in now….I feel that in many ways, we’ve regressed.

I remember growing up in 1980’s with an acute sense of fear.  I hated the 80’s with a passion.  Racism was open and rife.  I remember walking into town with my mum and little sister.  Everything was grey.  The sky was grey, the concrete around us was grey, it was a cold, grey day.  Walking to the city centre just seemed to be taking ages.  I was probably about 7 or 8 at the time and my sister was 4 or 5.  My mum was wearing one of her signature, beautiful, multi-coloured saris and between her brows, she wore a red dot of sindoor to signify that she was a married lady.  As I was saying before, we were walking for ages, on the grey, endless pavement, wondering how much longer this was going to take.

I distinctly remember walking under a part of the ring road, there were huge concrete pillars holding up the road overhead and my heart soared, yes, we were nearly there! All of sudden, I felt my mum tense and hold onto our hands a little bit tighter, in Bengali she warned us ‘Don’t look at those people!’

What happens when you’re little and someone tells you not to look at something?  The urgency in their voice doesn’t matter.  The fact that you know something is wrong doesn’t matter.  Your natural instinct is to look.  I looked.  Mum didn’t.  But I did.

I heard the cars passing overhead as we were being approached by 4 or 5 men (at least I thought they were), they could have been older teens, I wasn’t sure.  I looked around with dread. No one else was around. These men were pointing at my mum and laughing.  I felt anger swell up inside me – but also a sense of helplessness.  What could I do?  I suppose it would have been fine if that’s all they did.  But they were men, drunk with power and a sense of superiority, approaching a young Asian mum with her two very young daughters.  They got closer and closer to us; then blocked our path and stopped us from walking.  They continued laughing and asking mum why she was wearing that dot on her head.  As idiots do, they started mimicking and speaking in a pseudo-Indian accent, very much like Apu from The Simpsons, and pretending they also had ‘dots’ on their heads.  We didn’t respond.  I realise now that mum wasn’t afraid of their words, or their insults.  I know now that what she feared more than anything was a sexual assault.  So they carried on for a few moments more…I remember praying for this ordeal to end.  I’m not sure what happened – they might have seen other people coming nearer; they might have got bored because we weren’t reacting; they might have had somewhere else to go…but finally they decided to carry on and leave us alone.

I found my mum’s reaction strange at the time.  She wasn’t angry.  I was a little, angry, confused girl.  But she just seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, shrug it off and her mind turned back to the task in hand.  I knew not to ask her questions.  I knew that would irritate her.  We’d experienced racism before, but that was in the form of men (usually), shouting abuse, from across the road.  But this incident was a group of men.  It was more menacing, more physically threatening and intimidating than anything that I’d experienced before.

My mum told my dad what happened later that evening.  Being the quiet people-watcher that I was; I could see it in his eyes.  Silent, white rage.  Even at that young age, I’d seen many Bollywood movies and in my heart I believed that had my dad been there, he would have thrashed every man there with just his bare hands – just like the heroes did in the films.  He just told my mum to be careful and to take the bus into town from then on….which we did.

That wasn’t the only incident that happened whilst I was growing up, just one of them.  Good people campaigned throughout the years for racial equality.  People of all races.  People fought and fought for equality, and in the late 90’s and 00’s – I felt that change.  I felt empowered.  My colour of skin, my race, my heritage wasn’t something that people were allowed to attack and get away with anymore.  And if they did – there would be consequences.

But in the 2010’s – like I said before – I feel that the world is regressing.  I hear about women and girls being abused on the street, on trains and buses – because they wear a head covering.  I read on Twitter last night how someone referred to a female muslim contestant on The Apprentice, as a ‘towel head’. Every time I read about something like this, I immediately feel a huge knot in my stomach tighten aggressively.

Technology has changed, life has become more convenient – but people; many people’s basic instinct to hate – that has remained the same.  And who do they target?  Women and children.  And how do they target them? In groups.  It’s easy to be brave in a group. It’s easier to bully and abuse people in a group.  It’s easy to feel powerful and intimidate people who know won’t be able to fight back when you’re in a group of like-minded people.

I’m not really sure where today’s post is going…. Sometimes I feel like Dumbledore, where I have so many thoughts swimming around in my head, I need to take them out and write them down.  This blog is my pensieve.

Hatred of any kind, towards any people is ugly.  Bullying of any kind is ugly.  Intimidating a person, or people is ugly.

But I do hold onto this.  The number of beautiful people who I know far outweighs the ugly.  And so that’s what I have to keep remembering, when I read things that upset me; remind me of ugly incidents from the past, there is more beauty, more kindness than the bad.  Meanwhile, we should all try to remind the trolls that rear their repulsive heads from time to time – look in the mirror buddy – surely you’re disgusted by what you see?  Make a change.  It’s not too late.

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