Please note: This is Ep.5
Please click here for Ep.4
I accidentally deleted the original version of this post by clicking on the trash icon instead of comments (I write and edit on my phone and the icons are quite tiny and close together, so please don’t make the same mistake I did).
So, until (if) it can be restored somehow, I’m posting it again here to continue the story.
It was a very difficult post to write, about a sensitive topic, and I know it was triggering for some of you who have gone through something similar or have a loved one who did. Sometimes the pain has to be faced head-on for the healing to happen and I found opening up about it here and talking about it with all of you very liberating for me. I feel for my brother more than anything.
Thank you all for the amazing comments and words of support you’d left for me and each other on that post.
Jai Sri Hari! 🙏🏻
5. The Cracking of the Immigrant Dream
1984 – 1988
When I was four years old, my father had saved enough to put a down payment on a semi-detached two-and-a-half-bedroom house on a tree-lined road in Edgware, suburban North West London. We’d swapped the lake and the park for a tarmac road and a concrete pavement and driveway, but the back of the house faced a huge playing field, and we had our own bedrooms, two reception rooms, a garage, a little garden at the front and one at the back with a fish pond, plus our first car, a Ford Escort. It was a decent enough trade.
My parents had made many friends in the area. They were all young, lively couples, mostly Indian immigrants via East Africa, too, who had kids around the same age as us, mostly sons. I was one of only a couple of girls in the big group of boys, so I was a right little, what they used to say back then, ‘tom-boy’. I wasn’t into dresses or playing with dolls. I had short hair and I played card games, cricket, football, snooker and pool. We rode around on our bikes together, chasing down the ice-cream van man. We loved watching kung-fu movies and we used to re-enact our favourite moves from WWF wrestling and have arm wrestling matches, which although I was a skinny little thing, I often won, by the way.
My parents were a gorgeous-looking young couple; my dad was fashion conscious, six foot tall and dashing, with chiselled features, and my mother, a natural beauty, was a spitting image of the Bollywood actress Parveen Babi in her younger years.
My parents were clearly in love and lived life to the fullest. Our house was always a hub of activity with music, dancing, dinner parties, and fun and games. With whatever little my parents had, they were always smiling, kind and generous, making sure every guest was well fed and taken care of.
Everybody loved coming over to ‘Vip and Naina’s’ place, they were the perfect hosts, and we were always invited over to someone’s house or a celebration somewhere.
My parents even had such a great relationship with our next-door neighbours in particular that we’d opened up the fences that connected our back gardens on both sides so that we could easily go over to each other’s houses and hang out in each other’s gardens. There were never any disagreements. Such a relationship between neighbours was rare then and probably even rarer now.
In the summer months, we’d often pack up huge hampers of food and head to the park or drive off to the seaside in our convoy of parents and kids, spreading out on picnic blankets, eating, playing games and making merry. We were living the immigrant dream… until…
One couple in our group had made a friend in the neighbourhood, an elderly English man, a pensioner, who lived alone. He had no children and no family of his own left, so we opened our hearts to him and he became a part of the family. He loved to join us for our get-togethers, birthday parties, picnics and days out. He loved us and we loved him; he became a trusted friend, like a grandfather to us. He would sometimes babysit and give our parents time off, taking all us kids out swimming or to museums or to the fun children’s attractions in London and the countryside. His home was full of vintage children’s toys, games, dolls and books, and his garden was a child’s dream with a Victorian-style miniature railway that was crafted throughout the entire space. He had a workshop in the garden where he assembled and painted his trains and the little houses, animals and characters that were dotted all along the tiny train-tracks that ran amongst the flower beds, grass, and sand pits. We loved playing there, we loved gardening and building parts of the miniature village and railway.
The old man often picked us up on weekends or after school and either took us out somewhere fun or to his home to play. My memories of those years are very hazy as I was only four years old when we first started going to his house. I have a snapshot memory of being at his house alone with him one day because I’d been unwell and both my parents were at work, so he’d picked me up from school on their behalf – it’s not a comfortable memory – but that’s it. It’s as if I’ve blocked out much of those years altogether. The rest of the memories I do have are because of some photographs I’ve seen of us playing in his house and garden. Perhaps somewhere, somehow, my mind doesn’t want to remember, but, my brother, a year elder than I, we now know, remembers everything that happened to him.
I was around eight years old, on a family and friends’ group holiday in Kenya, when we received the message that the old man had died. He had gassed himself in his car in his garage, intentionally. His body was found after the neighbours had complained about the stench coming from his property. Sometime after his death, there was talk of the father of one of the kids in the neighbourhood being angry with the old man and reporting him to the police. Perhaps the old man was scared, perhaps the guilt had finally caught up with him. Whatever the case, it was over.
Because my brother and I never spoke about certain things to each other or to our parents, nobody assumed anything had happened to us. In any case, the eight-year-old me couldn’t make sense of the whispers about the old man’s death and the angry parents. I thought he did it because we’d all left him and gone on holiday without him. I thought he did it because he missed us.
Please click here to continue to Ep.6