If you’ve been reading this blog as it has evolved you’ll know that I was one of the many women of Manchester who submitted my story to the archive. We hope that at some point all of the stories we have received will be digitalised and available for reading online. But in the meantime, here’s my submission so that you can catch a little glimpse of the kind of writing we’ve been getting from across Manchester and that you can hope to read in our archive.
I am Mancunian and have been for thirteen years. This is where I completed my PhD and become the person I am today. Manchester gave me the distance I needed from the land of my birth, to think, to analyse and to be objective about my past, my beliefs and assumptions. Coming here changed me and the path I tread.
My mother died and is buried in Manchester. I wasn’t ready for her to go, but there was relief, and guilt over my relief. I had to forgive myself for being her greatest disappointment. And yet, I couldn’t allow her judgement of my life and choices to colour my path. I had to stay true to my authentic soul. I had to learn that I am a work in progress. Three years of counselling and personal work later, I know that life can’t be static, and as long as I am content, other peoples’ opinions do not matter, not even my mother’s. I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own.
I remember I was seven when my father drove me and my mother to my cousin’s surgery for the procedure they call Khatna or female genital mutilation. I remember being surprised at my father accompanying us for what I thought was an ordinary family visit for he was not that kind of man. I remember being back home, not sure what happened, but instinctively knowing it was taboo to speak of what had taken place.
I remember when I first learned that my mother had had an abortion when she was twenty-seven. For supposedly practicing Muslims, my parents were extremely flexible in their views of what was acceptable. My mother was joining my father in London and didn’t want a baby to slow her down. Even though my maternal grandmother offered to raise the baby, my mother refused. I remember being confused as to why she’d then go on about me being her miracle, when she had me twelve years later. She hadn’t wanted children. She’d been on the pill for seven years. It seemed hypocritical to then claim that God didn’t give her children until I popped out when she was thirty-nine.
I remember growing up with the belief that I was cold-blooded and incapable of love because I had always been a child who asked too many questions and didn’t do as I was told by my mother. I was convinced that I would never be loved, or be able to love.
I remember falling in love for the first time. I could love! I could be loved! And it could all be unconditional.
I remember the first time I met my husband. I was on an eighteen-month trainee-ship teaching English in Poland and he was on a ten-day holiday. Destiny, Fate and Karma, they all ensured that two people from opposite sides of the globe met and found their soul-mate. I couldn’t believe his kindness and gentleness. These are such underappreciated qualities.
I remember when I was called “Paki” on Albert Road in Levenshulme. It was a rare sunny day and I was walking to the post-office. And this young man, as he walked by me, called me Paki. I remember standing on the pavement, turning around, trying to understand what had happened. “Did he really call me Paki?” But I couldn’t have imagined it. It’s not the kind of thing one imagines. I remember going into the post-office, my hands shaking as I tried to give the man behind the counter my ID. He was so kind. “Are you okay?” he asked. When I explained what had happened, his shock eased mine. “How do these people sleep at night?”
I remember my husband’s inability to comfort me over what had happened. I remember his pain, his dismay. Our love transcends race, ethnicity, colour, faith. We were meant to be together. We are two halves of a whole. I am here in Manchester because I met the most amazing person, and he is English and he can’t do the work he does in my homeland. We decided, his career over mine. My work is flexible, his is not.
I remember longing to scream that I am not defined by the colour of my skin. This extra melanin just allowed me to survive the blazing island sun. It is such a small thing to use to differentiate and discriminate.
I remember seeing people pulled out of cars and set ablaze with kerosene as a child in Colombo during what is now known as Black July 1983. I remember seeing the dead bodies of young men float down the Kelaniya River as I travelled home from Temple with my ayah Lilah in 1989. I’ll never forget that one of the bodies had on a red linen shirt, and it has filled with water, giving him and the rest the appearance of broken dolls in the bath. War and violence in all its forms is just so pointless. Hatred does nothing but breed more hatred. We need to love; fearlessly, boldly and unconditionally.
I remember the day I accepted that I didn’t believe in Islam, or a dictatorial God who demanded my worship, or truthfully, any kind of institutionalised religion. I remember the fear, the shame, the freedom. I had broken all ties with my past. The only thing that tied me to Asia was the colour of my skin. My thoughts, my path and my lifestyle were my own. I was a product of living, working and growing in Manchester; radical, questioning, independent and rational. I am home. This is my city. I am Mancunian.
I hope you are looking forward to our limited edition, re-imagined Suffragette magazine and the exhibition that is to follow. And I hope you will really enjoy reading our archive filled with some amazing stories written by the women of Manchester.