Hanif Kureishi got me beaten up. Admittedly it was by my dad. At home, as at the factory where for more than half of his life he had been a semi-skilled machine operator, he preferred to communicate with his hands. Yet as his fists whacked into my face I thought, then as now, how right he was to do what he was doing.
He had come to England in 1965, spurred by the promise of quick wealth and the chance to flex his masculinity. Sikhs have traditionally been among the most enterprising, far-travelling people in India. At the end of the 19th century my father's grandfather had sailed to Australia, where he worked for twenty years. Now it was his turn to assert his independence, to nudge at the frontiers of possibility. Squeezed into a tiny box-room in the Hounslow house of his elder brother, working 16-hour shifts in the local Nestlé factory, he didn't quite achieve this. These were frugal, unswinging times. Most of his scanty earnings he handed over to my venal uncle. The rest he sent to the wife and daughter he had left behind in India. Shortly after they joined him here in 1969 they all moved to Gloucester, a small and unglamorous town known these days as Kwik Save Central. Its main claim to fame is Fred West, whose home I jaunted past to and from school for seven years and which has recently been turned into a memorial garden.
LRB 18 May 2000 | PDF Download