A Song from the Past

Poor Diana–Diana batchari. Whole bloody family ruined her life. Look at your grandma–your Bibi–tell me she’s not just like the Queen. Everyone running after them both–oh Bibi, your majesty, yes Bibi, haan Bibi, anything else? We say–Sikhs say–daughter-in-law should be precious, like God’s gift. But, look at how they treat me–look at Diana. Always in the end just women suffer. God. So sad. Diana, batchari–poor Diana.

Stephen, I have to interrupt there, because within the last few moments the Press Association in Britain citing unnamed British sources has reported that Diana Princess of Wales has died. This is not yet confirmed by any official source. So an unconfirmed source from the Press Association has said that Diana, Princess of Wales has died. And as soon as there is any further news we will bring it to you.

***

1981

And here’s a really wonderful fairytale sight. The bride on the right hand side, the father, very proud on the left, the eighth Earl Spencer who’s been at St. Paul’s almost every day of the last week and done it all for rehearsals; listened to the music being rehearsed, all for his youngest daughter. And she is escorted by police, not by household cavalry, she rides to St. Paul’s as a commoner, even though she is Lady Diana, and she comes back as the third lady in the land.

 

Can’t see nothing. Can’t see it. Bobby Ji! Oi! Boss, sir, sahib, fix this please.

Why you still here? I’ve got to close the factory. Just take your money and go home.

I don’t want to miss nothing. Please now fix it thanks.

Barbi, seriously, so you’re gonna stand and watch this here? Go home, put your feet up, cup of tea. I still have to get all this delivery in the van.

Yes yes. Enough now. Fix it.

Why you wanna watch this anyway? Just goray, that’s it–just white people anyway.

Please, come on, God give you five sons, please fix the TV.

OK. Did you finish?

What else am I going to do? So happy we all came over from Punjab for jeans, love sewing jeans, putting buttons on jeans, sewing zips on to jeans, just for English people. Even on my holiday. I finished. There! You have it!

Yeah? Aerial here? Still have it?

No, go back.

Now? Aerial here? Or here?

Oh you had it! It was clear for a second.

Now? Here? OK?

No. No. No. Yes. Better. No. Worse.

You know you’re only getting overtime for the work–not for being here just because.

Overtime better than holiday. Hold it there–bit more. It’s still a bit fussy.

Fuzzy. I think it’s maybe anyway not the aerial. Might be the TV. Hang on.

Fudgy. Fudgy.

Not fudgy. Fuzzy. Can’t believe only two came in.

You think the other women would come in? Me and Pinky must be dumb.

Well at least Pinky went home after so she must be a bit clever. How is that?

Yes. Perfect. Leave it there.

OK. Twenty minutes. Then I’m locking up. OK?

Thank you Bobby. Guru Nanak bless you. God bless you.

Ah OK whatever, nothing to do with any Guru, just twenty minutes.

 

And we await the moment, when this glass coach which we can see without periscopes come to a stop at the bottom of the steps of St. Paul’s, the door opens, and for the first time, we see in all its glory, that dress.

 

Fuckin’ hell. Looks like a wedding cake.

Oi! Bobby. Go lock up.

In a minute. Sis-ter-fuck-er, never seen a dress so long, not even in India. How long is it? How many yards is that? Must have cost a bomb.

What?

Per yard I mean. Per yard that’s got to be a thousand–thousand per yard easy. It’s creased though.

Bobby, you don’t know anything. All you think about is money. She’s beautiful.

She’s got twenty yards there easy. Twenty grand dress Barbi!

 

There is an air of mystery about her, as she takes the longest and happiest walk she will ever take.

 

Barbi! Oi Harbinder!

Oh God. Haan ji? Yes?

You here? You still here? There you are.

Haan Hari, still here. Watching the wedding.

Thicko. Our TV not good enough for you?

Hari, please, not in front of my boss. Bobby, this is my husband, Harkrishan.

Hello sir, Sat Sri Akaal, I’m Bobby. Harbinder’s boss.

Yes OK. OK. Was she working today?

Sir yes. Why?

And other days? Comes in?

Hari please.

Yes sir, everyday. She’s my best worker.

Best worker? You should see our house–the mess. How much she make per week?

Hari please no more. Let’s go.

What am I eh? An outcast, big sign on the door, “no entry” eh? This holy place, this factory here? You, Bobby. She get paid today?

Yeah, I already gave her her packet.

How much?

Hari! Stop. Bobby, sorry, we’re going home.

What did I do wrong? Don’t say sorry for me. How much?

OK sir, I think, let me think. Hang on. It’s something like. She gets one hundred twenty for the week–and I pay her once every two weeks.

Let me see the packet.

Look, here it is. Here it is–with overtime. Three hundred in there.

Let me check.

Honestly I pay her. Sir, one hundred percent I pay her. Did she say something like I don’t pay? Why you say this? I swear I pay.

Bobby no it’s not that. Hari please. Hari, have you been drinking?

Shut up. Two seventy five, three hundred, good. Good. When I come home I want something cooked.

Are you taking all of it? Don’t take all of it. Can’t you leave me any for shopping?

There better be something made when I get back.

Haan ji, yes OK. Please don’t drive.

Don’t tell me what to do.

 

The marriage services are introduced by the Dean of St. Paul’s, the Very Reverend, Alan Webster.

 

Oh Barbi, he gonna be alright? You said he drives a cab no?

He’s going to drive it straight to the pub.

OK. If you want, you can watch the whole thing here.

***

1982

What does it say?

‘Scuse me?

Girl or boy?

Oh right. She had a boy.

Boy?

Yeah, look here–I’ll read: The Princess of Wales gave birth to a healthy, blue-eyed son last night after more than thirteen hours of labor.

Blue eyes?

Healthy blue-eyed son. Yeah.

Aww. That’s so–God!

Thirteen hours. Mad! Sally were only four. But she were also only five pounds.

This Sally?

This is my Sal yeah. She’s got the chicken pox poor thing–bless. But it’s better when they’re young. Sal’s only four. What them got? Must be hard with twins, especially at that age. How old? A few months? They ain’t go nothing bad have they?

No. Just–check.

Ah you mean check—up? In England we say check-up. Check is what rich people pay with in a restaurant.

Huh?

Never mind. Sal, don’t go near them two there, you don’t want to give them your chicken pox.

Mrs. Bansal?

Yes!

In here please.

Yes OK. Thank you–for reading. Get better Susan.

Sally.

Sorry.

 

Hey Barbi!

Who’s that? Pinky! Hello. You in the park also? Where you going?

Hallo Barbi, all good with you? Yep just going to shops innit. These are the girls ah? So sweet. Bloody hell which one’s which?

This one on the left is Kamaldeep, and here is Rupinder. I put them in the pram like this so I know which one I’m talking to. We say Kami and Roop–they’re sick, poor things.

Must do nappies on the same one twice! So confusing ha! But sad still sister, nothing serious no?

Doctor says it’s not serious–just a cold–but it could be bad. God look after them, hopefully doesn’t get bad.

God willing everything’ll be alright. Shame. Look before I forget, Bobby was asking about you before. When you coming back to work?

Don’t know. Since I don’t want to leave them with their Bibi, I have to wait a while. Maybe a few months. They’re not even walking yet.

Can’t they just stay at home with their dad? He does night-shift no?

You kidding? You think Hari can look after kids?

Oi!

Who’s that Pinky? Friend of yours?

I dunno–he’s coming over here.

Oi! Fuckin’ Pakis!

 

Prime Minister Gandhi, Nancy and I are delighted to welcome you to the White House.

Look girls America’s Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Gandhi, we recognize that there have been differences between our two countries–

God know what he’s saying. Who knows with these goray?

Barbi. You home?

I’m home Hari. Are you OK? Come in.

Where?

Sitting room.

Shopping? You get it?

Come in. Everything OK? You look tired.

What do you think work is? Going to look tired after taxi night shift aren’t I?

Sorry. Can I get you anything? Roti? Water?

Where’s the shopping?

Kitchen.

Let me check.

Things are already away, fridge, cupboard. Look girls, America’s Prime Minister, look, look.

I’m not going to start, just tell me where it is.

Hari I can’t hear you, come back here.

Listen, I said, I’m not going start, I’m asking only–where is it?

Is what where?

Rosie?

Oh haan, yes, the rose milkshake. Sorry. Not enough money.

You didn’t have the money. How much you spend on baby powder? But nothing when it comes to mother. No money for her drink.

Hari please the girls need their things too. They’re babies. What should I do, tell me, spend everything on rose milkshake?

Straighten up–you know this is fixable. We fix you. Keep not getting Bibi anything. Just come home watch TV. See what happens.

Hari you took the money, remember, there wasn’t enough left for everything. I promise, next time I’ll get your mum her milkshake.

My fault is it?

Please I didn’t mean it like that. It’s hard, we all live in this small house–

Listen to this. How were you brought up on that farm of yours eh? Brought up to be a bitch just like your mother. I tell you, I swear to God, you’re lucky you live in this country. If we were still in India, you know what we would have done with you already.

Yes. I know.

We would have stripped you naked and made you walk around the place, swear to God.

Well it’s a good thing I live in this country then isn’t it?

What did you say?

Nothing. I didn’t say nothing.

You’d think these parents of yours would have beat the bitch out of you.

Hari please. Sorry. Next time I’ll get it. OK? Sorry. Look, the girls are crying.

This is her house. Bibi’s house. I bought this house for her. Not for you. When she wants something you get it, understood? She is your mother-in-law. Swear to God I worked day in day out in a toothpaste factory, putting the caps on the tube–like this. Day and night so she can live here. Now I drive my taxi–working all the time. So she can live here. I bought this house for her, not for you. You better start getting the bitch out of you, be sensible, grow up. Else we fix you.

Stop. Stop. The girls.

 

Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan. To me every journey is an adventure and I can say that this one is an adventure in search of understanding and friendship.

 

Stop. The girls.

Watch. Swear to God.

***

1984

How’s the eye?

Fine Pinky. Hurts but still.

You should have called the police.

And then what?

I dunno. At least scare him. Shouldn’t hit you. Nice sunglasses though. Like actress.

We should have gone Canada. Got a letter from Lucky, my uncle–said Canada is good, plenty jobs in Vancouver. Plenty. Not like here.

Sister you’re too moody-shoody. Why ah? Factory’s good.

Really, everyday buttons zips, everyday Bobby touching the girls.

Yeah but not you though?

He knows Hari.

Ah yeah. He doesn’t touch me neither. My brother picked me up one day from work. Showed him.

Should have gone Canada. You know Lucky says there the house, normal house, has four bedrooms. Just the normal one–not a special one. Not like ours. Two bed. One for Bibi, and one for the four of us.

That’s bad.

Maa?

Haan Kami, tell me.

Maa?

Haan?

Maa Roop doesn’t let me on the swing.

Let her on the swing Kami. God. Always mix it up. Roop, let Kami on the swing.

Eh Barbi you see this?

What is it? Don’t show me. If it’s about this Mr. Bhindranwale terrorist again I don’t want to hear it.

Oi, don’t say that. He stuck up for us Sikhs. India doesn’t care about us.

I’m glad he’s dead.

What if someone hears?

I don’t care if anyone hears. Hari goes on about him–Bhindranwale dead, our saint, our hope. Lion of the Punjab, killed by that bitch Mrs. Gandhi.

Mum said a swear!

Roop shut up.

Tea sister?

No thanks Pinky.

Brought my thermos. Best thing is to come to the park and drink tea I tell you.

Honestly Pink–I don’t care if they killed him. He was a terrorist. One hundred percent.

No you don’t know. We live here in this gora’s paradise and it’s easy. Them in India still have it bad, so many bent Hindus in government killed so many of our men women. Children, little babies! They had some photos in here.

I don’t know why you read that nonsense Pinko.

The Des Pardes is not nonsense, it’s honest. Tells the truth. Look.

Look, Bhindranwale deserved it, taking weapons into the Golden Temple and thinking everyone should be OK with that. Why would the government be OK with that?

Sister please shh. What if someone hears?

Oh you mean like them in the temple? Hari met some men in the temple–they all support Bhindranwale and now guess what surprise surprise Hari’s become a follower.

I know I seen him, did I tell you? Your husband, I seen him on the road. His turban was huge! I was shocked! I said to myself hang on! This guy used to be a proper alcoholic. Now he’s like a proper Sikh.

Proper Sikh! He’s just angry. He’s an idiot, Pink, honestly. My God. Idiot. And his mum. If he was a proper Sikh he’d buy us a bigger house.

Well, it’s not about Bhindranwale. It’s about Diana. The news. See, even the Des Pardes has gossip in it. Diana. She had a boy.

Oh good. Another boy. Lucky her. How nice.

Henry. She called him–Henry. Prince Henry. Stupid name ah?

Why you read the Des Pardes Pinky? Can’t you get something with a star sign in it?

Des Pardes is good. Punjabi. Plus oh Barbi doll it has got star signs.

What does it say?

What are you? Libra?

Cancer.

Cancer–hang on.

Cancer: watch out for surprises today. You will get a big one.

Oh. Well. If only.

Sister! Ha ha! Shh!

***

1992

For the princess, the sightseeing part of this tour is now over, and she gets back to work. Much of that, as it has been in the past, will be without her husband.

Your wife Diana’s in India Maa.

Roop always talk like you’re from the gutter, just tell me what they’re saying.

I am Maa. The news man says she’s visiting famous heritage sites.

Ooh check out my fancy-pancy sister princess. Such big words.

Yes indeedy-doody.

Ooh hoo hoo.

Idiots both of you. What they saying? Just tell me.

Kami you do it.

No Roop your turn.

One of you do it please. God. Thanks.

I will.

Good. Kami my educated girl–Roop, you’re the same as Kami, how come you’re not as clever?

Roop’s fine Maa.

How did you get so clever Kami, can understand news, five years old.

Maa we’re eight. They say–listening Maa? They say that Diana has to do some work now in India, and Prince Charles is not with her.

Yeah it’s like that girls. Men leave you to it alone. Look at this–have to look after your brother on my own.

Maa?

What Roop?

Maa, next week the school is going to Alton Towers and Kami and I want to go.

And?

Can we have fifteen pounds each for the bus and entry?

Fifteen pounds each? Twenty twenty five thirty. Thirty pounds?

I know it’s a lot. But we want to go.

What is it? What is so special about this Altotown?

Ha ha. Maa no, Alton Towers. It’s a theme park. Roller coaster rides. Kami and me want to go.

I want to go on the log flume.

I will ask your dad girls. You know he’s not going to let you go.

We know Maa. Can we put the radio on?

Kami, you know your Dad’s here.

I know. I wish we didn’t have to wait till he was gone. Roop and me were listening to Michael Jackson the other day. He turned it off and said–ghosts are stuck to him. Are there ghosts stuck to him?

You know Kami sister–it’s not Sikh, like he says.

Girls shh. Look. Look at your brother. He’s so cute sleeping.

 

Hari?

What?

I don’t know if I can ask you this now, but, the girls–

Fucking hell woman I just got in, just back from shift. Can I at least get in the door before you piss me off?

I’ve been up all night. I was scared to ask you, but–

What’s for dinner? There were so many drunks tonight, they talk to me like I’m nothing, but they don’t know I’m God’s Sikh. Everyday the same. Every morning, you in my ear saying buy us a house. Every night, Paki this, Paki that, take us here Paki, drive us there. God. Get out of the way.

***

1995

Buckingham Palace was involved in frosty exchanges with the Princess of Wales last night as she announced that she has agreed to the Prince of Wales’ demands for a divorce.

What they say?

They’re getting divorced.

This much I know genius. Go help your sister then in the kitchen if you’re not going to help me read.

But Maa come on, how can I?

Roop, go help your sister.

OK. Oh and Baba’s here.

Who let him in? You or Kami? Idiot. Both of you are idiots. If your dad sees his dad is here, my God. Go make tea, we’ve got people coming round. I have to tidy still and I have to feed your brother.

Who’s coming round?

Go! Fucking girls never listen. Never listen. Get him to go. Make sure your Bibi doesn’t see Baba. She’s gonna have a fit if she sees him.

 

Roop, how come when Baba comes round he sits in the shed?

Well my silly little brother. It’s like this. One day I saw dad and him fighting once, and dad said he’s not allowed in the house.

Really?

I did. Pass the milk.

That’s scary. Milk is here.

Thank you Mandeep Singh. Good boy.

Whenever he comes round he says he’s seeing me for the first time.

Yeah. He’s weird. Drinking all the time.

Roop, can I ask you a question? How can dad fight with his dad?

Don’t you want to fight with ours?

 

Baba? I wanted to see how you are.

Ah, Barbi, come and sit. I wanted to meet my grandson for the first time. This him?

This is him Baba. Say hello to your Baba–say hello Baba.

Hello Baba.

Say your name Mani.

My name is Mandeep.

Mandeep his name? A good name. Mandeep.

Say hello.

Hello Baba.

How old are you now? Two?

I’m five!

Five. Oh wow. Barbi, thank you for visiting me. You know it’s special to me to see this boy. He’s big. My own son doesn’t want me here.

Forget him.

Was that him in there–he organize that in the sitting room?

Haan, yes, him and your wife.

Ah my wife.

Sorry it took so long, I didn’t even know you were here. I wanted to read the paper, Princess Diana’s in it. I didn’t know those people from the temple and Hari would be talking here for two hours. I had to just sit there.

What did they say Barbi?

Nothing, Baba. The usual. They always just gossip about me, threaten me, saying look how bad my family is, everybody always gossiping about the girls saying they hang out with boys, smoke cigarettes. They threatened me.

How?

They said if I do what I did like last time–if I make a fuss and try to go–they gonna beat me up.

Those men? Barbi, those men inside there said that?

Yeah, they said if I do what I did last time, they gonna beat me up. And if Hari troubles me, they gonna beat him up. But I don’t believe them. They’re only going to get me. I don’t know what to do.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you came here to do this. Just to be in this house with my son and his mother. Sorry. But look, God has still given you children. A beautiful son. Just think of that–first time I’m meeting him, God bless.

Yeah.

Come on. Good girl, don’t cry. Look, everything will be OK. Everything will be fine. Look, when I was growing up in my village, we didn’t even have water to drink sometimes. Now look–cup, roti in my hand, I have everything. Things get better.

But you’re sitting in a shed, Baba.

Harbinder?

Haan Hari.

Did I see that sister-fucker here?

Your father is here.

Tell him to fuck off.

***

1996

Mandeep what are you reading?

Oh! Nothing dad.

Show me.

It’s a comic book. Asterix.

Look at this–stupid. Stupid. This has drawings of women in. My God. Where did you get this?

From library.

Library. Is this what you get from library? Dirty books? Your sister puts on dirty music and you get this trash.

Dad it’s not trash.

What else is it? Waste of time. Go! Downstairs, cut the grass.

Dad it’s raining.

I said downstairs! Bloody come to this country to be raised by these, no sense goray, white kids. Raining. And next time you go to the library bring back something clean.

 

He got ill from that. From you.

From me what? How did I make him ill?

You sent him out, for the grass. In the rain!

So?

He’s a boy! He’s only six or seven. And do you have to put that there?

Where shall I put it?

In the bin maybe–it’s disgusting. When you comes out just put it in the bin.

Look, if it comes out in the comb, what can I do with it? Ah?

Well why not the bin?

Harbinder, we don’t do that. The true Guru says hair is precious. How can I cut it then? That’s why it’s in the box. Next time we have a fire I’ll burn it.

When are we going to do a fire then?

Well we have to do a fire soon. Mani’s mattress is ruined. He keeps pissing on it.

Everyone keeps scaring him!

Who’s scaring him? What’s he scared by? Tell me.

You. Bibi.

That’s it. Shut this fucking shit up. Enough. I don’t know why you feel you have to ruin my time every time you see me.

 

What are you reading?

Something Dad gave me. About Sikhs.

How’s that? Can I sit?

Yeah.

Are you hungry? Here have some more duvet. Do you need another pillow or anything? Hungry? Your dad says I care after you too much. He says I should look after him more.

Is Dad still angry?

Oh who cares? How is this nose?

Ah–umm. Cold.

You’ll get better. Roop and Kami have gone to Pizza Cottage to eat. But they better not be talking to boys. I don’t want anyone gossiping. When you get better you can go too. I’ll take you, just you and me. You can get whatever you want. What do you want?

Chips and coleslaw. I think only Roop’s gone Maa.

What’s that? Col-saw.

It’s like. Mayonnaise with cheese in.

Ah OK. I thought it’s what you get when you’re sick.

That’s a cold-sore Mum!

Tell me what is your book about?

It’s about India and how Gandhi had a fight with the Sikhs.

Oh God this again. You don’t need to read this, OK?

Isn’t it important?

Yes. But also is important to rest when you’re ill. OK, my lovely bird, my golden bird. Have this.

Dad’s newspaper? I don’t want it.

Well maybe it’s easier to read than this religious thing. Look a Diana story.

I don’t know Maa.

Read it a bit.

The Princess of Wales has claimed Stenning, the photographer–this is boring Maa.

OK then, let me tell you a proper story: one was a songbird, one was a crow, you know this, no? One day the crow said to the songbird–oh little bird, little bird, you make such beautiful songs, but you can’t sing all day, you need to also eat. And so do I–so how about we work together?

Barbi. Har-binder!

Wait here, what? Hari what?

Where are you?

In our room with Mani. What do you want?

Come downstairs a sec.

Why?

Come here!

Hang on Mani. Your dad needs something, probably for her majesty.

But what happened? With the bird?

Come down!

Hang on. Haan Hari?

***

1997

What are my rules Mandeep?

No running. No talking loud. No playing with other children. Tell you if Mum is talking with her family.

And?

If Bibi wants something, then do it.

So?

Bibi wants her clothes strung up, so put them on the line. But, Dad, Mum just put her clothes up. How can I put Bibi’s up?

You know the answer.

Yes Dad.

Pita Ji. Not “Dad.”

 

Maa?

Shh Mani.

We will not allow them to suffer the anguish, that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair. And beyond that, on behalf of your mother and sisters, that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men.

What’d he say? Roop? Kami? Where’s Kami, Roop?

She’s out Maa. Diana’s brother said he’s gonna look after Harry and William because the queen isn’t going to.

Bloody bitch!

Maa?

Haan Mani, what?

I have to take the clothes off the line.

I just put them out, yes.

No Mum–

Mani please, shh.

***

2000

Mum.

I never thought I would write this letter. I’m leaving. I’m not coming back. I’m going to live with my boyfriend. I’m not saying where. I love him and he loves me. Our whole lives there’s been nothing but pain. Everyone always hated us. Dad, Bibi, all the other stupid Sikhs near us, everyone always bullied us, gossiped about us, and I have to say sorry, at least one thing is true, there is a boyfriend. Sorry for not being perfect. After you left Dad and Bibi and that house I thought things would get better, but they haven’t. I thought the three of us leaving Bradford, moving to Leeds would make it better but it hasn’t. All it’s done is make things worse. You are obsessed with what everyone thinks. Just like dad. You just want to control what everyone thinks is happening with us like we’re some perfect family. You can’t accept us for who we are. You want me to live with you forever and just get married like some good Indian girl. You want to turn Mani into dad. You want to be controlling just like Bibi. And the worst thing is, you keep pretending like Kami is still here. Kami’s dead Mum, you need to get over it. She went a long time ago. In that car crash that you caused. We have always tried to be perfect for you but it was never good enough. I’m not going to try anymore. You finally got your own house Mum, but you will end up alone in it. Tell Mani I love him.

Roop

***

2011

And we can see those from images that when she climbed into this beautiful Rolls Royce, that there is quite a train, it could take her a few minutes to get out of the car.

 

She looks good.

She looks beautiful, Mani.

 

Two meters seventeen, the train. What a vision.

It’s exquisite.

 

What’d they say? What vision? They mean her eyes are good?

No just means, looks good.

Not good. Beautiful, Mani.

 

And this truly is reminiscent of the day the Prince’s mother married Prince Charles–this truly is wonderful. A song from the past.

 

So how long are you staying this time? A week?

I’m here for–exams are really soon so I have to get back as soon as. Trains to Cambridge are expensive, so I should get back whenever I can.

OK. Did William go to Cambridge too? Maybe you can find a gori like Kate–or Peppa whatever her sister’s called.

Aha. No. They went to a university in Scotland.

Such a nice wedding. Get married soon OK. Otherwise people will say things about you. Do you want to eat?

Sure.

Roti OK? Or you want pasta or something?

Perfect. Mum, I wanted to say something, and I don’t really know how to talk with you–about this.

OK? Well, just say it.

OK. I’ll help with the roti.

Just sit down. I’ll make it. You say your big thing.

OK. Mum–after Cambridge, I’m going to go traveling.

OK. That’s it? That’s fine. So when you coming back here?

That’s the thing. I won’t be.

What do you mean?

I’ve decided I’m going to go traveling, and then after that, I won’t move back to Leeds.

Where you gonna go? After traveling I mean?

London.

OK. I understand. It’s like with the girls. You’re leaving because you hate me too.

No Mum, no. Nothing like that. No Mum. Please Mum. Don’t cry. Come on, Mum.

You hate me too!

No Mum. Jesus Christ Mum don’t do this.

Don’t do what? You just told me you’re not coming back home.

Mum, stop crying. Just calm down.

OK. OK. Sorry. God. Got flour on my face.

 

The first couple kiss. Pippa the maid of honor, Prince Harry finding it all very funny, the royal family, happily sharing a joke.

 

So where you going then?

I’m planning to go to South America. I want to see Peru and Argentina and the mountains, and there’s a company there that lets you volunteer for cool projects.

So, you’re going to the other side of the world to not earn money? And just leave me here in this tiny house?

Mum, not everything is about money.

But why London after? Can’t you be a lawyer here?

I’m not becoming a lawyer Mum.

What?! What! Why did I send you to Cambridge then?

What? You never sent me. I went myself.

So why you bother then, why not just work in some factory here then, like other Indian boys?

Mum, I’m going to London after to–I don’t know, find a job–any job. Just not law, just not that. I’ll find something. Mum. Mum?

Haan?

You’re not saying anything.

What should I say? My whole life I’ve lived in shitholes like this, why should it be any different for you if you want to leave? I tell everyone “my son will be a lawyer, he is the best.” Lies!

Mum.

Go.

 

The entire nation rejoices.

 

Mum, I’m all packed. I found a train for tomorrow morning.

Mani, I’ve been watching this wedding and thinking. Why don’t you just get married instead? You would look so handsome, and your wife would be so pretty and you could both live here, and I wouldn’t be like Bibi, I would leave you two alone. You know, if you said to me, “Mum I’d like to spend a few hours with my wife,” I’d leave the house, understand?

Oh my God Mum, this is gross. What the hell?

Look at how nice it would be. Or you could work and we could buy a bigger house together.

 

What a wonderful day it was.

 

Wait. Sit. I want to tell you something.

No Mum, I’m going.

Just wait will you.

Why?

I want to tell. When I was little–sit. When I was little, our mum raised us, our dad left India and worked in England–he flew over to get a job here, and she raised us. Four of us, me and my brother and two sisters. It’s not normal, you know. A woman, at that time to be alone. And they never saw one another again–

Mum, come on, I’m sick of this story.

I know. But I want you to know something–my mum, she wanted to look after us. She made sure the house was tidy all the time, we had enough food, she painted the walls every year. To make the house fresh. Every spring. And when we flew over, me and my brother and sisters, we never saw her again. I came to your dad’s house, and I never saw her again. Instead, I had Bibi, and your dad, treating me like I’m nothing. Hating me, telling me I’m nothing. And you know, your dad, one day, said that Bibi is now your mum.

No he didn’t. Did he?

He did.

Me and my brother and sisters, we never saw our mum again. Neither did our dad.

I’m sorry Mum. But come on.

Listen, you go now, go do your thing because you know what, when my mum died, the priest said her prayers are still with us, and when I die mine will still be with you.

Mum! Stop trying to guilt me.

I’m not making you feel guilty. Just listen. She died, and in Bradford, I had Bibi, and your dad, treating me like I’m nothing, hating me, telling me I’m nothing. Just me, with this–disgusting family.

Yeah. Mum, I’m sorry. But this is different. You can’t guilt trip me into staying.

It’s OK. I just want you to know that, because–your sisters left. Did you ever see the letter they wrote to me?

No.

They said I never loved them. And now you say I make you feel guilty.

Mum, only Roop left. Kami has been gone a long time.

Please. Let me talk. Let me finish. I know you kids say I don’t love you–
Mum, Jesus. Don’t cry.

 

Hugh, it’s getting quite hectic out here at the moment, the crowds surge forward, as we witness those two lovely kisses, two kisses on the balcony!

 

About this with Kami. You explained. I understand. I know. You were depressed.
Alone, sick, depressed. In that house, with those people–hating me. So yeah, I tried to run away with the girls and you once.

Yeah I know. Me and Roop were OK, but Kami–

And Kami and Roop and you–sorry, just Roop and you–were taken away by the council.

Maa I know this.

No listen. The council took you both away from me. But they saw, two years it took, two years fighting the council and then they let me have you back. And your dad brought his friends to the house and they said if I ran away again they’d beat me, kill me or something.

Mum, I’m sorry. I’m sorry–but, this–look, sorry, this has nothing to do with me, I’m sorry Kami died. I’m sorry Dad was an arsehole. I’m sorry I’m not going to buy you a massive big house. I’m sorry Roop ran away. God–why can’t we just try to be happy Maa? Why do we always have to talk about what happened back then? Why do these fucking Royals have to be on in your house all the time?

Mani, you don’t understand. I just don’t want to die alone. OK, even if my mum’s prayers are still with me, I don’t want to live alone in this house OK, I just don’t see why I had to go through all of that to end up alone.

I know. I know. Mum. Don’t cry.

I just feel so bad. Everybody hates me.

Nobody hates you Mum.

Everybody leaves me in the end. The only thing I ever wanted was for us to be a proper family, and now I’m on my own.

Mum listen. You don’t get it.

Everybody hates me.

You don’t get it, Mum.

What don’t I get?

Listen, remember that story you used to tell us? One was a songbird, one was a crow.

What?

This story about the two birds.

The one I used to tell you? That’s just an old Punjabi children’s story.

Yeah that one. Look, listen, you went through all of that, but it’s not like it wasn’t worth it.

Ha?

One day the crow said to the songbird, we both need to eat, why don’t we work together and collect seeds. The songbird worked all day and collected loads of seeds, but the crow did nothing. Then, the crow ate all the seeds, and threw the husks in a big pile. The songbird was so sad, she worked all day, but was left with nothing. The crow laughed and fell asleep. Then the rain came, there was a massive storm. The songbird crawled under the husks. And it stayed there, under the big pile.

Yes. So?

Because to you, you think if you don’t have the best house, or your family’s not perfect, or if you made mistakes, you’re a failure. But you don’t get it.

How?

Because that’s not how we see it. Because don’t you remember? What happens in the story?

The birds?

Yeah what happens?

The songbird survives under the husks.

That’s right Mum. The crow was washed away.

Related Posts

Michael Jackson They were ex-cons and grad students, fractious Bolsheviks and urban castaways, rock-throwers and pot-smokers, juggalos and candy kids. They were people angry at their chances or at someone else’s. They were there because they were trying to make art about it or because it was a safe place to sell dr...
Labors in a Field I push the sharp edges of the shovel into the scorched, dry dirt. The ground gives way and a stinking clump of earth slides out. I dig in the earth because I must tend to the plants, and I must tend to the plants because I work in the field in which the plants grow. Such is my job. The plants gro...
from Emilie’s Flight Even with everything in such turmoil since Antoine’s body had been found on the beach, Maï was very happy that Emilie had decided to come see her. The two friends Skyped all the time, but it was the first time they had seen each other in person since Emilie had left Senegal for Europe over a decade ...
Gaza Fractures Is there a characteristically Gazan sentence? Could it be this one from Asmaa al-Ghul’s recent short story “You and I,” published in The Book of Gaza (Comma Press, 2014): “Drops of morning dew evaporate taking the pain with them, because we are together”? Or this sentence from Zaki al ’Ela’s 1980 st...

Gurmeet Singh

Gurmeet Singh is a Berlin-based British writer. He is working on a novel and writes short stories and essays, more of which can be found here: https://gurmeetsingh758.wordpress.com/. He tweets at: @therealgurmeet.