Wednesday, 4 July 2018

This is me - if you don't like it *shrugs*

Last night me and my mum went to a talk by Anita Anand about Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. I already knew she had been a suffragette and a favourite in the court of Queen Victoria, but I had no idea of her Indian pedigree. Her grandfather was Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I drew sharp intake of breath when I heard that - Mum just nodded and smiled. You don't grow up in a Punjabi household and now know who Maharaja Ranjit Singh was. He is an icon in Sikh history and was known as 'Sher e Punjab' - the lion of Punjab. The story of his heir Duleep Singh being brought to Britain and kept like an English gentleman is absolutely fascinating, but it's how Sophia came to be such a rebel that I was captivated by. A woman who was too Indian to marry an Englishman, but too English to marry an Indian. Who dedicated her life to the advancement of women. She broke the rules and didn't give a damn. She was a brown woman who had been a society darling and lived at Hampton Court Palace and sold suffragette propaganda outside the gates. She had been arrested, but much to her annoyance didn't get imprisoned.

In her later life when women had been given partial suffrage she became a nurse and tended to the Indian soldiers who were being tended at the war hospital in Brighton Pavillion. Horrified that they had been sent to fight for the British without the correct kit she made it her mission to raise money to buy them boots and coats so they wouldn't die of cold. This woman was just amazing. She was also a pain in the arse to the government and specifically to Winston Churchill. I am so in awe of her !

I like to think that the Sher part of her punjabi heritage was what made her so forthright. I should know, after all I come from feisty stock. My grandfather fought in the British Army, so he was told before partition that it was on the horizon and took his wife and 1 year old daughter (my Mum) out of Punjab for safety. It's possible that in doing so he saved all their lives. My grandmother went on to study to be a teacher while my grandfather took care of their children. She ran her own school and raised 5 children pretty much alone when she was widowed at a young age. Her energy levels were legendary, she had a wicked sense of humour and it was well known in the family that she loved ice cream. She would always say, 'give it to the children first,' be we would make sure there was plenty left for her. It meant so much to me when she met Hubbie and declared, 'he's definitely punjabi' - it was the highest possible compliment !

Then we come to my mother, a woman who while softly spoken and seemingly gentle has a core of steel. Kaur - see what I did there ? She is a licensee, used to play darts, worked full time until only a few years ago and to this day is the one person I know I can call to ask pretty much anything. "Mum how do I set my economy seven heating ?" She talked me through it over the phone. True story. Oh and did I mention that she can whistle. I mean proper fingers in the mouth ear splitting whistle. I have never had the guts to ask her in what context she learned to do this. She is in her seventies and can still do it. Mind blown !

So my point is I'm from a long line of fierce punjabi women - this is in my blood. It's my heritage and it's in my DNA. I can't be any other way. Woe betide you if you make the mistake of thinking I am a pushover. I'm not some passive indian woman - never make that mistake. Once in my days as a procurement manager I had a meeting with a salesman about a printer he wanted to sell my company. I went to the offices for the sales presentation and then we had lunch. Over nachos (or something) he said, "When I first met you I thought you were a small, quiet indian woman, then you opened your mouth." It was then I realised that being me, looking like I do comes with certain preconceptions.

Last week I went for a run at lunchtime - I'm training for a half marathon - and headed towards Bushy Park. I ran halfway across the zebra crossing and then came to a stop (still jogging on the spot) as a motorbike and cyclist came to a stop on the other half. The guy on the motorbike took out one of his earplugs and yelled. "Why you running ?" I looked at him with my head to one side, not quite understanding the question. "You're supposed to walk" and he helpfully made a walking gesture with his fingers in case I didn't understand him shouting at me. I looked at him, again said, "what ?" and he pointed at his head to indicate I was stupid so I slowly raised two fingers towards his face and said - with a smile. "Fuck you !" and ran the rest of the way. As I got to the end of the crossing the cyclist called out to me, "Don't worry, you're fine." I thanked him and carried on. As I processed my anger (and shame) through running I wondered, if I'd been a white woman would he have talked to me like that ? I bet he wouldn't. He would know bettter in case he got a mouthful of abuse. Oh well.

Today I was going to pick up the boys from school. As I got to the bottom of our road it was clear there had been an accident as traffic was building up and I decided to go back up the hill, park outside our house and walk to school so I wouldn't be late. As I turned my car round I saw a line of cars who had taken my road as a 'short cut' and were queuing on the wrong side of the road blocking my way back home. I waited for a few to pass and then inched forward to where there was a gap for the oncoming car to pull in so I could pass. He refused to move. I got angry. I shouted at him to move. He refused. I got out and said, " I have the right of way so I'm not moving." he told me to get back in my car - I guess 'like a good girl' was implied. Now his first mistake was in thinking he could talk to me like that. His second was in telling me what to do. Oh I will get back in my car. And I will sit here and wait until you decide to move. So I did. He shook his head. I smiled. We could both hear the drivers behind him getting impatient and I stood my ground - I was in the right after all. Eventually he reversed into the space - badly - and I couldn't resist shouting out, "See I knew you could do it." His reply to me is unrepeateable, mostly because I didn't stay to hear it. He tried to intimidate me and get me to move even though I was in the right - he lost. To a brown woman. Oh for shame !

Yep I was being a dickhead. I can be. And you know what I don't care. I don't have to be a good girl because it upsets someone else's narrative about me. I am done with anyone who wants me to be their idea of what an indian woman is supposed to be. If having an attitude and being angry is not what you expected from me so what ? I'm not a meek and quiet woman. For years I would beat myself up for being too outspoken. I'd try to train myself to keep my thoughts inside, to shut up and not express an opinion so as not to cause upset. It never lasted. I did this for years and I'm done with that. I am not going to apologise for who I am. Not any more.

Do you know what ? I'm pretty fucking awesome and if you don't think so then you know where the door is.*

*Yes I am angry. Very angry. I'm not really this arrogant.

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