Words are the Religion

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Your Daddy is dyslexic. His mother and father had both left school by the age of 11, so when he was 14, he had decided that he hated English class. The teacher made him read aloud.

In their home there were tabloid newspapers, and picture books when they had been young. Now, there is an old radio and three televisions. These are the windows into the outside world. They didn’t go to church, and until today never had central heating.

When I met him, in a mosque after walking the Marylebone High Street, the childhood he described was an age away from where we were.

He was only 16 when he began to attend the Sufi circle at his local mosque. This place had provided a balm, a healing for the life he had come from. They chanted ancient words in Arabic, as foreign to him as eating with chopsticks.

I was born, just as he was, a child in a big family calling a council estate my home. The social housing in East London brought together many kinds of people. My English neighbours were alcoholics that had never gotten married, whose children were mistakes. There were petty criminals and scary dog breeders. We, like the other immigrant families, lived among the neglected indigenous population of England.

I was instilled with a deep sense of moral obligation towards God and my family. Our Muslim identity was something we breathed at home, praying together and learning together. Achieving academically was very important.

When we were moved to a better neighborhood, and I attended school in Hertfordshire, that is when I learned what it meant to be different. There was a girl in my class whose father was a Tory MP, another girl whose sister was at Cambridge. Their houses were enormous, with thick carpet and big gardens and lovely bathrooms. I would go home where the 6 of us lived on the first-floor and devour my library books.

On Cultivating Beauty

We’ve bee through such a tragedy, losing you. I cannot moralise it, it is the saddest thing that happened to me.

I am extremely gratified to have the life I do, and for your father, but your stillbirth was a tragedy unlike any other.

We were floating along, helping whoever asked, (you become popular, opening your door to strangers) riding our bicycles because we couldn’t afford a car (telling ourselves we were saving the environment) not establishing roots anywhere, (enjoying our youthful freedom) no structured boundaries and no organisation. And then you began to grow inside me, so I went into over-gear with trying to sort our family out, all the while lingering in my mind was the knowledge that it was probably too late, because a baby was coming and we were behind with planning a more comfortable, stable future. I went to the Job Centre because I was fed up of hearing that unemployment rates have dropped under the coalition government whilst I couldn’t find full time employment for a year after graduating. When I was in the last trimester of pregnancy, I still went to job interviews. I worked another internship and saved the £50 a week for you, to buy you a nice baby blanket and a baby bath. In that time, our floor began to show signs of leaky plumbing and the old, single-glazed windows rattled. Our flimsily-gathered ‘friends’ rang our doorbell at night and I cried. We struggled on, privately renting a first floor flat that wasn’t fit to raise a baby in, and saving nothing every month.

According to John Mirowsky, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, biologically, having a baby is best early on, but the sociological impact is far from ideal.

‘At age 20 or younger, Mirowsky wrote, pregnancy is “more likely to happen out of wedlock, more likely to interfere with educational attainment, and more likely to crystallize a disadvantaged status.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cusp/201211/whats-the-best-age-have-baby

Your presence woke me up to the stark reality of how an impoverished background can crystallise a deprived future, what Russell Brand terms a ‘down-payment on a slow suicide’  http://www.russellbrand.com/death-takes-small-bites/

You woke me up to the life I wanted for my children, free from dependency on the council-housing waiting list I had been on my whole life. During labour, I thought about all this, I thought about struggling and never sending you forward to the education you should be able to access, to the beautiful life I would like to cultivate for you.

It turns out, you were not destined to inhale any beautiful air, because you came into this world born still, but you cultivated beauty in my life, rather than I cultivating it in yours.

I changed rapidly from the grief, I was no longer acquiescent to an unfulfilled existence. My father said the grief would be empowering, and it has been. In ways I will describe here in the future.

Our Family Story

To my little girl,

I will write our family story, about India and England, about race, class and history, about death and life.

Ours is a story untold, because too often we fall into the marginalised groups, those without a voice, untold because your great-grandmother was illiterate, untold before Gayatri Spivak told us we could speak.

After walking through echoing corridors in universities, handing in essays and presenting theories, I have learnt that a true education teaches you more about yourself then any other subject. And you were my education.

Rabia