Paki, Paki!

Despite community initiatives, racism against UK Asians persists, including among young people who have absorbed the prejudices of those older.

Guest Blogger Lasya Basavaraj in her own words: I am a software engineer by degree with a long history of being an obsessive reader. I live in the UK and  work for a library as IT co-ordinator. I occasionally write when I have something fascinating to share. 

In the days when India’s global image is getting tarnished by widespread corruption and red-tapism, I, as an Indian residing in the UK, had a small moment of pride a few days back.

I usually spend my late afternoons in the health club close to my home. One day, as I stepped inside the Jacuzzi to relax a bit after a tiring swimming session, a middle-aged English lady greeted me with a smile, a thing that is so typically English. While a nice smile does a lot to break the ice, more often than not the Brits limit themselves to exchanging pleasantries.

However, to my surprise, the lady next to me was more than friendly and opened up a conversation, “Hi, are you a member of the fitness club or are you put up in the hotel?” “I am a member of this health club and I often come here in the evening”, I replied.

The warm water bubbling all over seemed to have a soothing effect on the body and mind and I stretched my hands and legs some more to ease off the pain in my joints. I closed my eyes to relax for a few minutes and when I opened my eyes the English lady quickly threw another question at me as though she was waiting for me to open my eyes, “Hey, I am Becky, may I know your name?” Immersing my body some more into the puddle of warm water, I flashed her a grin, “Hi Becky, I am Lasya, and I am from India. Hope you know India”. “Of course, many of my colleagues are from India”, she retorted.

Having spent 2 years in the UK and aware of the detestation that creeps in due to my brown skin, whenever anyone asks me about my nationality, I have always answered it with a sense of pride, and if the person in a mood to chit-chat I puff up a bit with conceit singing praises about India as a country, its sublime monuments, its diversity, stressing upon how the Indian IT industry has gained a brand identity in the world. But that day I tried to elicit her impression of India instead of blowing my own bugle.

After a bit of friendly banter she said, “It must be really hard for you to stay away from your homeland, particularly as the cultural difference is huge. Don’t you feel very lonely here?” “I do miss my country a lot, and yes I had a bit of culture shock initially, but I stay in an apartment where all my neighbours are from India. Also thanks to the Brits, they have always been very friendly and helpful to me”, I replied beaming with joy. “That sounds good. You know you are from India and that precisely is the reason for the warm and cordial treatment you received. Not every national gets the same kind of treatment”, she said frostily.

It didn’t take me too long to understand what she was insinuating at, particularly when I was familiar with how ‘Paki’ is used as a term of derision in the UK. It was clear to me that she despised Pakistanis. The conversation seemed to ring a bell with me.

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It was an appalling incident. It was only a couple of days after I had moved to the UK and I had just settled in, trying to beat the loneliness with the company of my Indian neighbours. The bright and sunny weather encouraged me to come out of the house. I decided to go out for a stroll and as I passed the playground behind my house, I heard a loud scream, “Hey, Paki, Paki” from a bunch of teenage boys. I craned forward to look more clearly and they shouted at me some more. I stared at those boys, anger and disappointment churning through me but somehow kept my cool. I went near them and with a deliberate smile on my face said, “Listen boys, I am not a Paki. Kindly keep your hostility and prejudice to yourself. Lets have a friendly neighbourhood here”, trying to strike a friendly note. “Pakis bombed my country, I hate them”, one of the boys replied.

“Alright, but you don’t have to be so rude and pass nasty comments to every Asian who passes by”, I quickly retorted. Before I could say anymore they fled from the place and I came back home agitated. Such incidents of flagrant racial hatred didn’t stop after that and I am not one to believe that those teenagers mended their ways listening to my words; however, I felt happy for raising my voice against racism.

It has been close to 2 years since I moved to the UK and it would be disingenuous if I don’t mention the attempts made by voluntary groups and the council to eradicate feelings of contempt and hatred from these young minds. Aware of the fact that racial hatred and its manifestations can be dangerous for a heterogeneous neighbourhood like ours to co-exist, the council authorities and several voluntary groups organise events and workshops from time to time to build love and harmony among communities. The question is, how long would it take to sink in?


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