My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
Despite Covid-19 restrictions, we have been lucky to have had some memorable times together these past few months. This has been brilliant but it has stopped me from adding new posts on Vishfullyyours! And like a good friend said, I was also waiting for the inspiration to flow. Listening to one of my favourite podcast certainly got my mind racing. The word ‘discrimination’ covers a wide range of situations: race, gender, class, wealth etc., etc. I have experienced many of these situation but do not profess to be involved in all. Do please listen to the Freakonomics podcast that got me thinking on this topic. Link below:
You know growing up in Uganda, I never gave the word ‘discrimination’ any thought. I never thought then that discrimination played any significant role in my life. Now I have a very different view. The fact that in my bubble-life in Jinja of the 1950s/60s and 70s, the inhabitants of the Ugandan town of Jinja were mostly brown and that all my classmates were Indians, was nothing unusual. Now I question all those norms. A lot of history had dictated that situation, but it did not take away the fact that we had schools to go to, and education to attain whereas the native Africans did not. The lifestyle we enjoyed in beautiful Africa was definitely a bubble existence.
There are many factors, such as books, movies, audio presentation, podcasts etc., that have influenced my thinking and I have summed up some of them in the following image.
Now let me relate some of my personal, albeit, quite tame experiences of discrimination.
My earliest memory is of an incident that happened in 1972. I was on my way to my Saturday job in Streatham. It was early morning and I was the only passenger sitting on the long bench of the iconic London red bus number 109. The bus had just stopped to pick up new passengers when these three young boys stepped on to the entrance platform, poked their faces towards me and shouted ‘Go home Paki’. Their shouting startled me and it wasn’t until I looked at them that I realised these words were being hurled at me. They stepped off the platform and in my anger I rushed to the same platform and shouted back at them, ‘I am not a Paki’. My retort was meaningless but that picture of those three boys with their goggling eyes, stretched out tongues and thumbs poked into their ears with all fingers wriggling, haunted me that whole day while I was working in the D.I.Y. store, and for many more days to come. I had previously not questioned the legitimacy of my presence in the U.K., but I have done so many times after that episode.
Then there was a time when we were quite new in Switzerland. Remember those early days of exploration? We had gone to a nearby lake for a walk and to enjoy the beautiful scenes. Hungry kids of 7 ,10 and 13 that you were, we decided to have a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant. The waiter at the entrance of the restaurant gave us one look and announced that there were no vacant tables! Though I had observed many empty tables, I assumed perhaps they had already been reserved. It was not until I heard his conversations with the next two groups of patrons that I realised he had refused us entry just on the basis of our skin colour. I was fuming and was on the verge of having a quarrel with the waiter, when dad stopped me. There have been repeats of this type of incidents over the years, but now we have deciphered where our custom will be welcome and where not. I also feel that many people’s attitudes have changed over the years and such discriminating situations are less common than before.
Even though Switzerland is a land locked country, the beaches of its many lakes are well prepared for swimming and barbecuing on warm sunny days. On many hot days I spend a few hours with a group of my friends at one of the beaches on Lake Zurich. This next incident of discrimination showed me the thinking process of many people who are unaware of the plight of the rest of the world: Two young dark skinned teenagers had come to enjoy the pleasures of the beach. They spread their towels on an empty spot which happened to be in the middle of the whole Caucasian crowd. The comments I heard from the other beach lovers made me very sad.
- Why are they here and not at the refuge center?
- Shouldn’t they be working?
- Hide your valuables!
- How did they get here?
A gender discrimination that I experienced was when I was working in a pharmacy during my university holidays. Even though this was my second summer, a new male student was invited to work in the dispensary while I was left to fill up the shelves. I was envious and seething but I did not have the courage to confront the manager. I wish I had loudly announced my displeasure.
New laws against flagrant discrimination have been introduced in many countries. This has changed some attitudes and conversations. All I can see is that people have become more aware of using morally correct phrases and conversations. This has not changed the fundamental views of the public. One gets a glimpse of these old discriminatory views when you look deeply into Brexit or even USA politics. The world will only be more tolerant in all situations when people actually change their beliefs. These words have reminded me of the news that surrounded the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol. I had never heard of this individual until all that commotion. Komal, the monologue you did for Kali theater on this subject was excellent.
This is certainly a topic that we could discuss for ever. Have you experienced incidents of discrimination? Either directed at you or something happening around you?
I will end this letter here. I hope this year is more positive than the last few years. Also hope we can regain some of our freedom to do many things and specially to socialise more. I would love to entertain more and to travel further afield.
With all my love, hugs and kisses