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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Cultural Divides

My first love was T. He was the brother of my best friend B, who I'd known since senior high school.

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Yes, I did say senior high school - we had a crazy system in my borough. From 11 - 14, you went to junior high school, then from 14 - 18, you went to senior high school. Except when I went through the system, they were changing it so that from 11 - 16 you went to "high" school and from 16 - 18 you went to sixth form college. So, between the ages of 11 and 18, through no fault of my own, I went to junior high school (11 - 14), senior high school (14 - 16) and sixth form college (16 - 18). Which makes my Friends Reunited entry look rather more voluminous than others; like the BF for example, who attended just one school between the ages of 11 and 18. Still, didn't seem to do me too much harm...

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So, my friend B's brother T was my first real love. I'd known B first, and had spent many a long hour round her house after school, watching her make chapatis and curry (B's family are muslims, of Pakistani descent, like many families in Walthamstow, my home town). T would often appear briefly, sporting an oft-worn Marillion t-shirt, and nod hello discreetly. It was only when we were at sixth form college together that we began to get close. T was in the year above us at school, but his first attempt at A levels yielded grades which wouldn't get him to university, so he stayed at sixth form college and retook them. We were in the same maths class and would revise together. It was one of those relationships which started as a friendship, continued as companionship and then, when we both went off to different universities, we realised how integral to each other's lives we had become, and what a wrench it was to be apart. We were together for about two and a half years and, in all that time, his parents never knew about it...

Which is why, when I went to see the film "Ae Fond Kiss", the memories of this time of my life came flooding back. Aside from its title (which I wasn't sure how to pronounce - I think they should provide a phonetic guide so that when you ask for tickets, you know how to say it...) I think the film did an excellent job of capturing the struggles of such a relationship. Having to hide when together in certain parts of town in case one of his "cousins" spotted us, the looming threat of arranged marriage, the ever-present fear of his father's wrath, wondering if I would always come second to "family matters" (either that, or cricket!)...

It also captured the tremendous pressure on the so-called “second generation” of Asians in this country, who essentially find themselves living double lives to satisfy the needs of their family as well as their own aspirations in the Western world in which they were raised. I've seen it with B. In her parents' home, she is the dutiful muslim daughter, wearing shalwar kameez and headscarf, making a seemingly endless pile of chapatis, serving food to her father and brothers while she and her mother and sisters eat separately in the kitchen. While when she was living away from home, at university, she would go out drinking, smoking, fraternising with members of the opposite sex (*gasp*), wearing “Western” clothes and having her hair cut shorter. Once, to explain her shorter hair, she told her mother she had burnt it on the stove and *had* to have it cut – presumably, in her mother’s eyes, no *respectable* girl would have their hair cut that way by *choice*.

B is now married – yes, an arranged marriage – with one child. I wonder how she will bring up her son? How different will his upbringing be from hers? T is in a relationship with a white girl, with whom he also has a son. It took his mother a long time to forgive him when he rejected the marriage arranged for him. In fact, if his father were still alive, I wonder if they would even be in contact today...




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