Saturday, 5 January 2013

Flash


Below is a story I wrote partially based on my personal experiences in an attempt to understand why I, like many others, have had to endure such a difficult family life. My reading of the way things had progressed with some of my family changed when I began to study Colonial and Post-Colonial Literature. It wasn't until now, armed with this new perspective that I had a sense of reason or an explanation as to why my grandfather was the way he was. It might not explain or justify everything but it's a start and it replaced years of misplaced anger that I had carried around. Please be aware that I've only taken inspiration from events in my life and a lot of the story is fiction, dramatised scenes based somewhat in reality.

I may never agree with his outlook on life but at least I understand him a little better. Unfortunately he passed away before I could tell him that, funnily enough, we shared similar interests after all.

Enjoy

T

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Flash


Who am I? It’s dark in here. I wish someone would come in and turn off these machines; their incessant beeping is keeping me awake and I am so tired. All I want to do is go to sleep; my eyelids are heavy with regret…
I can’t even turn to my side. The pipes connected to me get caught up and pull on my organs. My legs and stomach begin to shudder as a brown liquid begins to trickle down the plastic tube. The smell makes me wretch, I just want this to stop so I can go to sleep. I glance around the dark room. The chairs are stacked on top of each other in the corner… they should be around my bed… with people sitting on them. A tear begins to work its way over the bumpy wrinkles that cover my weathered face.

“Hurry up and get your things, we’re leaving now!”
The kids don’t understand that we can replace most of what they’re packing over in England. I’ve spent most of the morning going through their bags and taking out the things that we don’t need. I’m already exhausted and I’ve still got the monumental task of getting a wife and five children through a nine hour journey.
I rummage through my pocket where I’ve got all the important documents. Passports and tickets are all prepared, one way to Heathrow. Sweat trickles down my forehead, I glance up and the sun is almost above me, a blazing time bomb ticking closer and closer to our impending departure. Most of the village has turned up to see us off. A village elder hobbles into the courtyard; his white turban is stained yellow with sweat and his beard is a similar colour. He extends a bony hand and grasps mine tightly pulling me into an embrace. He whispers words of advice into my ear.
I pull away and smile.
“You don’t have to worry. Harjeet owns a bus company there. he’ll be able to help us out.”

Beep, beep. The ticket jolts out of the machine.
“Ninety five pence, please.” I extend my hand out from inside the booth. The young lad just looks at me, a petulant look on his blue eyes. He pulls the beanie from off his head. Matted and greasy blonde hair tumbles out from underneath and shudders as he shakes his head.
“I ain’t giving you nowt, fucking paki.”
He begins to walk towards the back of the bus. I shout him back but he continues down the aisle. The booth door creaks as I push it open and follow him. I glance to the left and the right at the other passengers who look on slightly annoyed. One of them has a newspaper, the bold black headline catches my eye briefly; “Paki’s go home.”
“Get off bus now.” He sits there, a smirk on his face. The other passengers begin to turn around and watch the commotion when one of them screams. I turn to see why when my head slams into the pole. Ding. I stumble off the stair and fall into the aisle, unsure of what is happening when a boot slams into my face and the smell of dog shit immediately fills my nostrils and lungs. My chest catches fire as he continues to pound me. I try to fend him off. My eyes frantically call for aid but there is none to be found. The young man steps over me. I feel a glob of sticky warm liquid splatter across my face.
“Fuck off t’where you come from, yeah?”
The walk back to booth seemed to take a year. I can feel everyone watching me. I gingerly slide back into the booth and close the door. People continue to push the bell to get off as I drive past their stops. I don’t care. The next stop is the bus depot.

A crackle distorts the presenter as he introduces his next guest, I wait for him to finish before, “Yes, hello.”
“Welcome to the show Mr. Singh. As I understand, you’re a retired bus driver and the author of ‘Zulm ka insaaf,’ in which you ask British Asian readers to justify the compromises they made to their culture, heritage or even language by living in England. So before I give you the floor, I’d just like to ask when did you come to England?”
“In 1964. Almost forty five years. Came here when I was twenty seven.”
“I see, so what would you like to add to this discussion then?”
“Well, I understand that Mr. Sahota is well educated but he is not very knowledgeable. And – no please let me finish – the problem with his programs to help our women get into more widespread professions is that he does not take into account our traditions, our history, our heritage or our culture, something which-“
“Alright, before you continue let me address that point. I’m not here to advocate losing our culture, rather simply to open up the playing field, as it were, for both the men and women of our heritage.”
“But what you are saying will lead to us losing our culture even more! It has already begun when we came here. They will begin to wear western clothes, go out drinking and such. It is important that we do not become more western in our ways. That is not who we are, do you understand?”
“Forgive me Mr. Singh but the issues I’m talking about are much larger than what clothes the women wear or how they socialise. I’m talking about getting equal footing in education and encouraging them to apply themselves. Be able to achieve whatever they apply themselves to. Isn’t that what you want for your sisters and daughters?”
“I do want them to work, but only where it is appropriate. We are Indian. We treat each other with respect, family is important. All the time I see white people getting divorced, why does this not happen with us? If the women are out working then who is going to look after the family? I ask you…”
“And yet some of these ‘white’ women, as you put it, have jobs and careers and are able to stand on their own two feet. To answer your second point, why can’t you look after the family? This isn’t the point I was trying to make but I’d like to ask you a question Mr. Singh…”
“Please do so.”
“Why are you here? I’m fascinated to learn why you came to this country at all.”        

If I close my eyes I can faintly hear the screams carried by the warm breeze. My fingers track the coarse stone and into the bullet holes still present in the brick. Behind me water trickles from a water fountain that has been placed on top of the well where so many perished. I glance around to the gardens and see my young grandchildren playing a game of catch on the grass; their laughter fills the otherwise serine atmosphere of Jallianwala Bagh. Behind me, across the courtyard stands a monument marking the exact site where General Dyer stood as he ordered his troops to open fire on a congregation of innocent Indians. That day the Baisakhi celebrations came to an abrupt end, it feels strangely surreal to be coming here, on Baisakhi years later as part of our celebrations.
    I make my way over the courtyard and as I do images of men screaming in terror enter my mind. Bullets zip past me and bury themselves into skulls, chests and appendages without discrimination. I look down and find myself trampling over the corpse of an elderly man, blood seeping from his wounds as my bodyweight presses down. A warm splatter of blood covers my face as another innocent is shot down in front of me but I don’t flinch. The rabid explosions of one hundred and fifty guns gets louder and louder as I approach the impenetrable wall of death made up of Dyer and his men. As I get closer I can make our Dyer’s facial expression. An evil glint is present in his eyes as he stares indifferently to the massacre happening just behind me. I try to call out, to make him stop but he doesn’t seem to hear me until finally everything fades away as my finger touches the small stone pillar where he stood. I’m taking a deep breath, when suddenly an odd thought strikes me, an unwelcome guest in this time of solitude. The dispatch manager at work is called Dyer, Richard Dyer. I shake my head with a grimace; I am beset by the ironies of my life.

The door opens. I try to raise my head to see who it is but it feels ridiculously heavy. Cold hands begin to fiddle with one of the pipes leading into my arm. I try and push her away but she is persistent. She takes some numbers from the machine and jots them down on my file before leaving. Why didn’t she help me? She could help me get back so I can rest…

“… which resulted in a hung parliament. As you can see now, David Cameron is going to see the Queen and propose-” I cut the news presenter off with a click of the remote and turn my attention to my daughter who is stood before me dishevelled and upset.
“What did you say?”
“I’m divorcing my husband, dad, try to understand…”
“Why?”
“Because he’s a drunk and I’m not happy with my life being married to him. I wanted more.”
Something bubbles up inside me. A volatile mixture of rage, shame and sadness threatens to react and force its way up my throat. I shake my head.
“You’ll go back home and make this work. Family is important. If that fails then God help us.”
“No, I can’t do that.”
“Since when did you start talking back to me?”
Another fragile voice pipes up. “Nana, I’m supporting mum in this, she’s not happy and-”
“Aasha, be quiet. When elders are speaking the youngsters don’t get involved. Go into the other room with the rest, me and your mother need to talk.”
I watch her leave. She doesn’t dare look at me.
“You will go back to him. Imagine what everyone will say if you get divorced. For decades we’ve managed to be a strong, Indian family in this country. It is important that we do not lose what makes us who we are.”
“You chose to come here, dad!”
“Pick up your bag and go home.”
“I can’t.”
There’s no going back. The eruption occurs. My hand jerks forward and grabs my own daughter by the hair. I drag her out of the living room and into the back room where the rest of the family are waiting. They look up in shock as I barge through the door and throw a sobbing heap to the floor.
“You do not speak back to me. From this moment onwards you are not a part of our, no, MY family. Do the rest of you hear me? You will not speak to them; they are no longer one of us.”
“Dad…please…”
“You lost the right to call me that. Get out!”

My chest tightens. It hurts to breath now. I try to scream out for help. I reach out for someone but I am alone in the darkness.

Bang! The fireworks explode overheard, a little earlier than expected but no matter. I look around at everyone staring up at the night sky and the cascade of dazzling lights that are flying above us. More fireworks explode into the air as I slowly head back into the house and head up the marble stairs. My hand brushes up the smooth hand rail. All my hard work accomplished this: a grand mansion back in India with enough room for all my children and grandchildren, who have all come to welcome the new millennium here in style. I head over to the master bed room and onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard - a veritable feast for the eyes. A wondrous array of colours swirl and bounce off each other from the suites the ladies are wearing and the turbans the men are sporting. The dhol drum beats a joyous and infection rhythm into the warm air. I can’t help but tap my feet. Another ten years and I will be retired. I can come back here a proud father, grandfather and live out my days in peace.
In the courtyard below my wife, my sons and daughters with their spouses and all my grandkids dance the night away in an ecstasy of joy, without a care in the world. We are together and that is all that matters. Someone shouts out the all-important “10!”
“9!”
I can see Aasha looking around for me. She glances up and spots me.
“8!”
I beckon her up and she bolts across the courtyard.
“7!”

Finally my eyes close and remain closed. A sense of peace seeps through my body, numbing my extremities and taking away the pain. The beeping fades. I extend my hand out to a memory long since passed and as the strength fades away it falls back onto the bed with a thud…

“4!”
People begin to hug each other. Cousins and friends all snatch up each other’s hands. The dhol drum beat begins to quicken.
“3!”
Aasha rushes onto the balcony. I turn and catch her in a deep embrace.
“2!”
“1!”