The Dreamer by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

THE DREAMER by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Extract from Chapter 1

I was always the anti-star, the supporting-villain, but I was beginning to be known. I had a small apartment in L.A., with less furniture than my London flat, but when I accepted a West End role for a six week run, Helen told me I was making a mistake. But I had a reason, I could sense it, and the reason was Vanessa, right on cue. She was a costume designer then, and the first time we kissed we both knew. It felt like going home, although – and this didn’t occur to us at the time –  neither of us had very good memories of home.

After Vanessa and I were married I made The King and became a household face, if not a name. After a few years, I stopped feeling paranoid; the Kingwas not a nice man; the king, of course, was the villain. The hero was Russell Crowe.

We were only screen together for one scene. Clad in my underwear, I stood in the desert and he blew my brains out in balletic slow-mo. It was the only scene he and I were together for, and it was the only time you saw my face, and even that was a controversial decision.

For the rest of the film I was in shadow or the camera would lock onto my shoes, or one of my many guns arranged beside fountain pens and telephones. And then there was my voice. I’ve played Arabs before, can get away with whole sentences in Arabic, but this took months to perfect. In the absence of my face, my voice had to speak for my whole character.

I succeeded, but it hurt. It always hurts.

Then after The King’s release I became a figure of revilement for many Asians. It vilified Muslims, they said, and I was an opportunist and traitor. For me it was a purely internal process, but the internal isn’t visible. Furthermore, they didn’t know about the following, deleted, scene.

Crowe stares down at my dying body and I morph till almost Christlike. He looks into the past and we see my old life. A family man; my family are killed; I wander in despair till I find faith and plastic explosives. Crowe’s face… a single tear.

This probably wouldn’t have satisfied them anyway, but what none of them will ever believe is that I didn’t even know the whole story until I saw the final cut. I hadn’t read the script, and I didn’t care. Actors don’t need to read the script, Ray said. It’s the character that counts, and if the character isn’t in you – if you can’t find him – you can’t do it.

Finding anything has always been hard for me. My father died when I was nine, and before then everything is hazy. When my mother died whole sections of my memory were extracted, as if by a surgeon. Others endured, fresh as newborns, but going back is always painful. At first I would pretend, and Ray and the others never guessed, but after a time the parts became too interesting, too irresistible, for pretence. So I became a method actor, giving my soul to villains who possessed me. And The King was one.

Vanessa noticed. When I returned from the desert she told me my face looked different.  She could see him in my eyes. Ray would say he’d been there for years,  but I’d dragged him into the light.

If I could have had a respite it might have been different, but in all my years I don’t think I played one character you could even describe as likeable, let alone good.

But what did I care? Suddenly I was famous, in a manner of speaking, and I had money, a lot it. I won a BAFTA and there were whispers about an OSCAR which never materialised; I met Spike Lee, could always get a table at The Ivy, and was invited to the Superbowl but didn’t go.

I suppose it was around that time people began to suspect I had a drink problem. Previously I’d been a flamboyant figure, given to gentle witty debauchery after the curtain has fallen. But now I was drunk all the time, and became significantly less witty and more unpredictable. People like Oliver Reed, eventually, will be applauded for such behaviour, but folk like me will always be viewed as animals, poked between bars while we’re sick in a corner.

The only person who ever said anything was Ray, and with characteristic directness. ‘You’re an alcoholic, Shashi. You’ll be impotent soon.’ After that, we saw less of each other, drifted apart. It’s become a habit for me to ignore his calls now, though I do this to most people. My only friends were Khal and Ameena, though even that wasn’t simple.

A few weeks after I won my BAFTA, Action Corps Theatre staged a play called The Chimp, which ran for three nights and never drew an audience greater than thirty.  It was a one man show, starring and written by Khaled Wahid. Though it showed at the Bush Theatre it didn’t have the aura of a professional production: it was a skit, for an in-crowd.

The protagonist was a boxer -the title being a twist on The Champ – who emerges from obscurity to become the featherweight champion of the world. As his success increases he comes increasingly to resemble a primate until, in the last act, he has fur growing from his shoulders and walks on all fours with boxing gloves strapped to his hands and feet. In Act I he uses a barely intelligible northern dialect, but by the end he speaks the Queen’s English in a mansion in Hampstead and with a beautiful blonde wife, whom we never see her. I sat at the back each night, slipping out just before the end.

A few months later, for the first time, Khal came to me for help, which I was happy to give. He was struggling, had two children now, and I told him he could have mycredit card if he liked, but Khal wanted Helen. He wanted to work.

Helen said yes, probably as a favour to me – the market wouldn’t easily support another Asian male in his thirties – and I was grateful, never suspecting this could affect me.As far as I was concerned I was the equal of heaven, but it’s at times like this when we begin our descent, so gradual we don’t even notice at first.

Khal began to work, to really work, entering the commercial so late he was bound to suffer.  And Khal wasn’t proud, not anymore; he even did adverts. Helen never sent us up for the same roles, which must have been deliberate, and for years we lived separate lives, seeing each other with increasing rarity.

And then I was sent a script for was a two-part television drama called Back, Sac and Crack, about two brothers who run a massage parlour as a money laundering front, but then fall for the same woman. It was quite humorous, descending into an almost operatic finale in which they fire machine guns at each other across the salon. I accepted the lead as the slightly younger brother, and then Helen rang: Khal’s the other brother, she said.

She sounded anxious, but after the initial embarrassment, everything worked out beautifully.  It was so easy working with Khal, and more to the point, so fun, which was a word I never associated with work. From the minute shooting began we were always in each others’ rooms, gossiping and bitching. Khal told me how much he hated the commercial world, and how he worried he wasn’t good enough. I was worried I’d drag him down to my level, but Khal said he didn’t care; he had two children now.

The truth is that, as an actor, Khal was only passable, but he made up for his weaknesses by being self-disciplined and organised, the opposite to me who was always late and usually drunk. Ray would have called me a prima donna,, but I didn’t care; I was Tony Shah and Tony Shah was a prick, we all knew that. Except for Khal. Khal didn’t know Tony, not until yesterday anyway. Yesterday. There isn’t that much to tell…

It was raining outside and we had about half an hour before the gunfight scene and we were in Khal’s room. The set was rather elaborate, but by now both of us were bored with the whole thing. We’d enjoyed working together, but the film was shit and the fact that we were together meant we couldn’t lie to ourselves. It didn’t matter; Khal needed money and I was too drunk to care.

I remember laughing then realising his face was wet and thinking the rain had leaked inside, but then he started to cry out loud.

Ameena’s left me.

I thought this meant she’d died, so I started crying too, or was about to:

I slept with someone else.

Idiot, I said, but only because I thought he was joking.

We sat together until we were called, which came as a surprise. I’d forgotten where we were. I don’t remember much about makeup.

There must have been twenty, thirty people on set. I had to throw open the door, run inside, punch Khal on the nose, then watch as he crawled across the floor after his machine gun. I remember the sound guy making some joke about a brewery, which could have been directed at me, and then we were shooting. I was so distracted I wasn’t even in character.

I pushed open the door, walked inside, punched Khal hard in the stomach then hammered the top of his head with the side of my fist. When I started kicking our eyes met and he looked… I didn’t care.

I can’t remember what I did after that, but it probably involved alcohol.

Writers in Politics by Ngugi Wa Thiong ‘O

Writers in Politics: A re-engagement with issues of literature and society by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O

Literature results from conscious acts of men and women in society. Being a product of their intellectual and imaginative activity, it is thoroughly social. The very act of writing, even at the level of the individual, implies a social relationship: one is writing about somebody for somebody. At the collective level literature embodies in word-images the tensions, conflicts and contradictions at the heart of a community’s being and becoming. It reflects, on the aesthetic plane, a community’s wrestling with its environment to make it yield the means of life – food, clothes, shelter. It is of course more than just a mechanical reflection of social reality. As one of man’s artistic activities, literature is in itself part of human self-realisation as a result of his wrestling with nature and with one another. It is also enjoyable as a process and as an end product. More importantly, it shapes our attitude to life, to the daily struggles with nature, within communities and within our individual souls and selves. It shapes our feelings. And feelings are an important component of thinking, imagination, decision making and action.

Literature, then, does not belong to ethereal planes and surreal spaces, electing to have nothing to do with the mundanity of economics, politics, race, class, history. As a process and an end, it is conditioned by these social forces and pressures because imagination takes place within economic, political, class and race contexts. Arising from its thoroughly social character, literature is partisan: it takes sides more so in a class society.

A writer after all comes from a particular class, gender, race and nation. He is a product of an actual social process of eating, drinking, learning, loving, hating, and he has developed a class attitude to all these activities in support or opposition. A writer tries to persuade his readers, to make them not only view a certain reality, but also from a certain angle of vision. The persuasion can take the form of a direct appeal on behalf of a writer’s open doctrine or an indirect one through influencing the imagination, feelings and actions of the recipient in a certain way towards certain goals and values consciously or unconsciously held by him.

A nation’s literature which is a sum total of the products of many individuals in that society is then both a reflection of that people’s collective reality and also an embodiment of that people’s way of looking at the world and their place in its making. It is partisan on the collective level because it tries to make the reader see how that nation has defined itself historically in the internal relationship of all the parts that contribute to its wholeness and the worlds around it.

In order to make economic and political occupation complete and effective, the coloniser tried also to control the cultural environment – education, religion, language, literature, songs and dances, every form of expressive practices – hoping in this way to control a people’ values, their world outlook and hence their images and definitions of self. Their ideal was to have a slave who accepted that he was a slave. Better still a slave who would actually be grateful to the master for his magnanimity in chaining him to a nobler civilisation…. The fact is a slave is never a slave until he accepts that he is a slave. Hence all those celebrated programmes of assimilation and co-option with the language of the colonizer playing a central mediating role. Mind control through culture was the key! Cultural subjugation was a necessary condition for economic and political mastery.

Amilcar Cabral has argued that ‘to dominate a nation by force of arms is, above all, to take up arms to destroy, or at least to neutralise or paralyse its culture. For, as long as a section of the populace is able to have a cultural life, foreign domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation.’ Seeds of cultural opposition could so easily sprout into political resistance and even armed opposition. In such a situation the coloniser is faced with two untenable alternatives: liquidisation of the entire population or harmonisation of the ‘economic and political domination of these people with its cultural personality.’ The first alternative which implies the genocide of the indigenous population ‘creates a void which takes from the foreign domination its content and objective’ which is of course the labour of the dominated people. The second has never been confirmed by history for it is impossible to harmonise economic and political domination of a people whatever the degree of social development, with the preservation of its culture. To avoid either of these alternatives colonial imperialist domination creates theories about the coloniser and the colonised which are ‘nothing but crude racist formulations.’ Racism and racist doctrines formulated through culture become an integral part of the ‘permanent siege’ of the indigenous population.

Extracts from Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

Extracts from Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (1956)

‘Sometimes I look back at all the years I spend in Brit’n’ Moses say, ‘and I surprise that so many years gone by. Looking at things in general life really hard for the boys in London. This is a lonely miserable city, if it was that we didn’t get together now and then to talk about things back home, we would suffer like hell. Here is not like home where you have friends all about. In the beginning you would think that is a good thing, that nobody minding your business, but after a while you want to get in company, you want to go to somebody house and eat a meal, you want to go on excursion to the sea, you want to go and play football and cricket. Nobody in London does really accept you. They tolerate you, yes, but you can’t go in their house and eat or sit down and talk. It ain’t have no sort of family life for us here. Look at Joseph. He married to a English girl and they have four children, and they living in two rooms in Paddington. He apply to the LCC for a flat, but it look like he would never get one. Now the children big enough to go to school, and what you think? Is big fight everyday because the other children calling him darkie. When they not at school they in the street playing. Boy, when I was a little fellar my mother cut my tail if I play in the street. And you think Joseph could make out on that six pounds ten he getting?…’

One night of any night, liming on the Embankment near to Chelsea, he stand on the bank of the river, watching the lights of the buildings reflected in the water, thinking what he must do, if he should save up money and go back home, if he should try to make it by next year before he change his mind again
The old Moses, standing by the banks of the Thames. Sometimes he thinks he see some sort of profound realisation in his life, as if all that happen to him was experience that make him a better man, as if now he could draw apart from any hustling and just sit down and watch other people fight to live. Under the kiff-kiff laughter, behind the ballad and the episode, the what-happening, the summer-is-hearts, he could see a great aimlessness, a great restless, swaying movement that leaving you standing in the same spot. As if a forlorn shadow of doom fall on all the spades in the country. As if he could see the black faces bobbing up and down in the millions of white, strained faces, everyone hustling along the Strand, the spades jostling in the crowd, bewildered, hopeless. As if, on the surface, things don’t look so bad, but when you go down a little, you bounce up a kind of misery and pathos and a frightening – what? He don’t know the right word, but he have the right feeling in his heart. As if all the boys laughing, but they only laughing because they afraid to cry, they only laughing because they fraid to cry, they only laughing because to think about everything would be a big calamity – like how they here now, the thoughts so heavy like he unable to move his body.

A Float for Shez by Kavita Bhanot

A Float for Shez by Kavita Bhanot
(published in Roads Ahead, Tindal Street Press, 2009)

It was one of those moments that hits a classroom every now and then. A wave of silence starts at the back of the room, usually the noisiest part, and laps so suddenly across the room that it catches those at the front unawares. It was Shez, sitting in the front, who was caught by the silence. And once the words were out, we both knew she’d never hear the end of it.
It wasn’t what she said. The words, if someone else had said them, would have produced a few laughs, a bit of teasing, but that was all. They would have been forgotten in minutes. But coming from Shez’s mouth, they must have sounded really strange, especially to anyone who didn’t know her. Because someone like Shez wasn’t supposed to say something like that. She was ‘trying to be who she wasn’t’ and that, as far as 9C was concerned, was unforgivable.
The first time little Shez told me that she fancied my brother Shakeel, even I asked her if she was feeling all right. Then I just found Shez’s purely theoretical obsess- ion with the male species funny, assuming it was because she spent too much time with her boy-crazy cousins, who all lived on the same street as her, and were bigger, louder, better-looking versions of her. She copied them in everything, wore their clothes, a hijab, straightened her hair. She had recently started to put on black eyeliner, smudged and wonky.
But that day, in the maths lesson, when everyone heard her, I felt myself growing red with embarrassment. ‘What did you say that for?’ I whispered, dipping my head to join hers, as the girls around us echoed Shez’s words, ‘Ali’s got a nice bum, Ali’s got a nice bum.’
Some girls ask to be bullied. Girls like Mavis, who had an old lady’s name and a stutter, but who still wouldn’t stay quiet; always trying to make jokes that weren’t funny, tagging along with girls who didn’t want her, buying them Brain Lickers, telling them her secrets. And then, when they made fun of her, when they imitated her stutter, she got so splutteringly angry she stuttered even more. But from the first day of Year 7, when we had found each other, Shez and I had managed to make ourselves invisible. Apart from the odd comment about Shez’s headscarf, nobody really noticed us. Until now.
Shez’s words followed us around for weeks. And for the first time, I saw Shez as the other girls probably saw her. She was tiny, the second smallest girl in our class, and the smallest, Louise, was virtually a dwarf. Her school uniform, passed down from her cousins, was too big for her. The long blue skirt swept the ground as she walked and she was always tripping on the rippling waves of material. She wore a baggy blue jumper that came almost to her knees; the sleeves were too long and she was constantly pulling them up to free her hands. And then, to make matters worse, there was the thin black scarf with silver CKs stamped all over it, burying her in even more fabric as she gathered it around her small face.
So when Meena told me I was ‘all right’ and asked me why I was Shez’s friend, I was ripe for the question.
It was a science lesson. A teacher stood in front of the whiteboard, clutching a piece of paper, holding it up close to his face as if he’d forgotten to wear his glasses. As we walked in, he looked up every now and then to say, ‘Hello, girls,’ or, ‘Good afternoon,’ in a foreign accent.
‘We got supply again,’ called Jan as she walked in.
‘Doss lesson,’ sang Sam, behind her.
He waited several minutes for silence, for everyone to look at him. When this didn’t happen, he looked embarrassed, focusing intently on his piece of paper, as if he was too busy to notice us. Smarter than some of the other supplies, he didn’t try to shout over everyone, but turned his back on us and introduced himself on the whiteboard, writing his name and the date in scrawly letters, and underneath, ‘Copy pages 128–135 of Biology 7.’
‘What do you think of him?’ Shez asked me. ‘What do you think of Mr, Mr . . .’ She narrowed her eyes, trying to read his name.
‘Mr Balthusier.’ I screwed up my nose. ‘Shez, leave the teachers alone at least.’
‘What? Teachers are men, too. Anyway, he’s not a real teacher. He’s supply.’
‘But he’s French or German or something. And he’s got a beard.’ ‘Ali’s got a beard,’ Shez pointed out, ‘and he’s cute.’
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t comment, because I’d never seen the famous Ali. Shez had tried to arrange a viewing, but I refused to take the 7.33 a.m. bus that she’d been catching for the past three months, ever since she’d discovered Ali driving it. Just for the pleasure of seeing him – she’d never even said hello to him – she came to school forty-five minutes early every day.
‘He’s coming over,’ Shez whispered, putting her head down. We both picked up our pens.
‘Good. Good girls,’ said Mr Balthusier, even though our pages were blank. ‘The other girls, they don’t want to learn, that is their problem, but you, you are good girls.’
I looked around. Apart from Saira, the refugee girl who had no friends and was scribbling away as if her life depended on it, no one else had bothered to pick up a pen, or to open a textbook to even pretend they were working. Hannah was brushing her hair, Jan was brushing her eyelashes and Meena was playing with her phone. Everyone else was talking. He leaned over and I could smell his aftershave, something fruity, mixed with nervous sweat, as he flipped the covers of our exercise books. ‘Shezma Masood and Mariah Ahmed. I will leave a note for your science teacher to say how good you two have been.’
‘Sir, it’s Maariah,’ I said. I hated it when teachers used flattery to divide and rule. And there was no point him leaving a note for our science teacher. Mr Miller had disappeared almost a month before; there were rumours that he’d had a nervous breakdown after some Year 10 girls locked him in the science cupboard for a whole day. We’d been copying pages from Biology 7 ever since, with a different supply taking us for every lesson.
‘Sir,’ said Meena, standing behind Mr Balthusier, a hand on her hip, her open mouth going round and round like a washing machine as she chewed gum.
Meena was beautiful. She’d recently dyed her hair a strange maroon colour and her eyes, that day, were green. Sometimes they were an unexpected blue or a cat- like hazel, depending on the contacts she was wearing, but they were always under the shade of her extra-long, extra-thick, mascara-coated eyelashes. Meena was different from the other Asian girls in our school. Most of us kept our heads down and our mouths shut, but not Meena. She was friends with the white girls. Shez’s cousins called her a coconut and said she pretended to be like them so as to fit in, but it seemed to me they were just jealous.
‘Sir, I need to go now.’
He turned. ‘Go? Go where?’
‘Go and pray,’ she said, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.
Mr Balthusier looked the gum-chewing, maroon- haired, short-skirted girl in front of him up and down. ‘Can you throw out the chewing gum?’ he said, irrelevantly.
‘No.’ This confused him. His eyes darted round the room, before settling on Meena again. ‘Only joking,’ she said. ‘I’ll get rid of it. In a bit, though. I only just put it in my mouth. I don’t want to waste it, do I?’ Mr Balthusier blinked. ‘Oh, do that again, sir.’
‘Do what?’ ‘Blink like that. Oh, you’ve got such lovely eyes.’ She turned to me. ‘Hasn’t he got lovely eyes?’ I nodded shyly. ‘What colour are they, sir? Ah, he’s all embarrassed now. Look how pink he’s gone. So, is it all right if I go now, sir?’
‘Go . . . to pray?’ he asked. Meena nodded slowly, with exaggerated patience. ‘Are you the Muslim?’ She nodded again. ‘What is your name?’ She didn’t even pause. ‘Saira Salim.’ The real Saira Salim looked up, opened her mouth as if she was about to say something, but then closed it again.
‘Do you have a note, perhaps, to say that you go to pray at this time?’
Meena sighed. ‘Sir! I didn’t know you would be here in- stead of our normal teacher, did I? And Mr Miller knows I have to go and pray, so why would I bring a note?’
The logic of her argument seemed to stump him. With his big blinking eyes, magnified by glasses, he looked like a trapped rabbit, caught between the natural scepticism of a teacher and the political correctness of a multiculturalist. His eyes fell on Shez and me. ‘Is it true?’ He looked at Shez, at her hijab. ‘So why are you not going also?’
‘We are, sir,’ I said. ‘We have to go too.’ I stood up. ‘Can we go now, please?’
‘What did you do that for?’ said Shez, when all three of us were outside the classroom. ‘We’re going to get into trouble now.’
‘What did you do that for? We’re going to get into trouble now,’ parodied Meena. She set off down the corridor, her narrow hips swaying in her tight skirt, which she had rolled up a few times, making her legs, in their black tights and platform shoes, even longer.
‘Can’t we go back in?’ Shez muttered, as we followed. We were supposed to be praying, I reminded her. We couldn’t go back straight away.
Meena turned suddenly. ‘So who’s Ali?’ Shez blushed. ‘Just a guy I know.’
‘Does he have nice bum then? Does he? Have you felt it?’ When Shez didn’t reply, Meena shrugged and walked off. She stopped a few minutes later to knock on a classroom door. ‘Is Kate there?’ she asked Miss Rai. ‘Mr Garner wants to talk to her.’
‘Yes, I’m sure he does,’ said Miss Rai. ‘Why aren’t you in class, Meena?’
Miss Rai had taken us for science last year. She was a nice teacher, but she did her best to hide it, especially in front of girls like Meena. When she saw Shez and me her attitude suddenly changed. ‘Oh, you two are with Meena. So she’s not making it up. Right, Kate, Mr Garner wants to speak to you. Yes, now. No, leave your things. Come back here straight afterwards or I’ll send out a search party for you.’
‘You two are useful to have around,’ said Meena, putting an arm through Kate’s and walking on.
It was a whole new world, being out of lessons. There was a different, hushed atmosphere in the school. It seemed as though only we were free, and everybody else was imprisoned in classrooms. We met other fugitives along the way and, whether they were in Year 7 or Year 10, for once it didn’t matter: we were all playing the same game. There were exchanged looks, smiles and warnings. ‘Watch out, Mr Henley’s round that corner,’ and ‘I wouldn’t go that way if I was you.’ We picked some of them up on the way, so by the time we got to the bike sheds, there were eight of us.
‘Can we go back now?’ Shez whispered to me, as some of the girls started pulling out cigarettes.
Irritated, I told her that she had no sense of adventure. She could go back if she wanted to, but I was staying. She looked at me, lips pouting, a hurt expression on her face. As I watched her walk away, tripping over the folds of her skirt, I had an urge to follow her. I was no longer sure why I was staying behind.
‘Where’s your friend gone?’ asked Meena, looking up from the phone she was playing with.
‘She’s gone back,’ I told her.
Meena looked at me, blinking a few times, her eyelashes sweeping the air, her green eyes almost hypnotic. ‘I don’t know why you hang out with her, you know.’
‘She’s not that bad. If you get to know her. Anyway,’ I said, implying that I was bound to her out of some sense of loyalty, ‘we’ve been friends for ages.’
Meena smiled and put her arm through mine. ‘Well, you’re all right.’
I tried not to show the pleasure that was reddening my face. ‘So are you,’ I said.

I carried Meena’s words with me for weeks. Later, I wrapped them up and put them away, taking them out for reassurance every now and then. Sometimes, but not too often in case she caught me staring and thought I was weird, I glanced at Meena and if she caught my eye, she smiled. At other times, as she walked past, she called out, ‘Wassup Mariah!’
‘Am I invisible or something?’ Shez asked me on one of these occasions, as we sat in the dining hall. ‘Why does she always ignore me?’
I shrugged. ‘Maybe she doesn’t like you.’
‘That’s so mean. Why would you say that?’
It was mean. Maybe that was why I carried on, in a twisted kind of self-defence. ‘Because she said so. Kind of.’
‘When?’
‘That day we walked out of science.’
Was I referring, asked Shez, to the day she’d had to go back to the lesson on her own?
‘I didn’t make you, you wanted –’ I stopped. ‘Anyway, after you left, Meena told me I was all right.’ The words that I had treasured, that I had replayed in my head, sounded petty now, even to my ears. Shez didn’t seem suitably impressed either.
I pushed a chip round my plate. Maybe it was a way of making the fading words real again; maybe I wanted Shez to be grateful that I was her friend. ‘She said,’ I continued, ‘that she didn’t know why I hang out with you.’
‘She said that?’ I nodded. ‘What did you say?’
‘I stuck up for you, of course. But she said, if I wanted to, I could be friends with her, with them, instead.’ It might have been the next thing she said, I told myself, if Mr Mann hadn’t come out at that moment and dragged us all back into class.
Something changed in Shez’s eyes at that moment. There was respect perhaps, and something else, fear. ‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘What can I do? I’m not going to leave you on your own, am I?’

Shez never left her pencil case at home. Every night, she packed her bag carefully, then did a check in the morning to make sure she had everything. But that day, somehow, she’d forgotten it.
‘Can I borrow a pen?’ she asked. Normally, I would have given it to her without a thought. But now, for some reason, it felt like a big deal. I rolled my eyes as I reached, in slow motion, for my pencil case and, with a sigh, held out a biro for her.
At the end of the lesson, I asked for it back. ‘I’ll just keep it for the rest of the day,’ she said, ‘so I don’t have to keep asking.’
‘No, I want my pen back,’ I said, holding out my hand. She asked to borrow it again in maths, in French, in English. Each time, she was more apologetic, and each time it was with a greater show of reluctance that I gave it to her, demanding it back at the end of every lesson. In history, I said no.
She kept her hand out, thinking I was joking. ‘What do you want me to do, beg?’ It wouldn’t make any difference I told her. She smiled. ‘Very funny. Just give it, na.’ She reached for my pencil case.
I clamped my hand over hers. ‘No, I won’t. You can’t always expect me to sort you out, Shez. What would you do if I wasn’t around?’ Her smile faded. She took her hand back. But she still waited, still expecting me to give in, to say, ‘Here you are then.’ As she waited, I watched her crumple, watched her sink deeper into her layers, losing her arms in her jumper, her head in her hijab. I watched and felt secretly thrilled.
Several minutes later, a deflated Shez put her hand up to ask Mr Thomas for a pen.
The next day I told her to buy me some chips. She didn’t have enough money, she told me, she only had a pound, barely enough for her own lunch. I shrugged. She could use that. If she had said something then, if she’d put her chin up, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Get lost,’ like the old Shez would have done, I might have stopped there. But she didn’t. She bought me chips, and after that, was buying lunch for me every day.
Over the next few weeks, I discovered parts of myself I hadn’t known existed. I found that the box I’d always lived in, assuming that I had no choice, because that was me, was not made of metal or wood, but of something softer; clay or Plasticine. I surprised even myself as I found I could push at the walls, making the box bigger, changing its shape to create new corners, edges and angles, poking a finger out here, an elbow out there.
I didn’t feel anything when, after telling her that she stank and needed to use a deodorant, I saw a tear spill from her eye and fall onto her page, causing the blue ink to spread out and create a watery black eye on her paper. I actually smiled when, after telling her that she looked like a furry little mouse and no boy, including Ali or my brother, was ever going to be interested in her, she lay her head into her folded arms on the table and refused to lift it until the end of the French lesson, emerging only when the bell went, with bloodshot eyes and her eyeliner smudged all over her swollen face. When we went swimming, I grabbed her float while she was in the deep end, telling her it was ridiculous that she couldn’t swim without it. And I watched her panic for a while; smashing the water with her arms and legs, swallowing water and sinking, before I gave it back to her.
I didn’t let her speak, cutting her off when she tried to tell me about the mela she’d gone to with her cousins at the weekend, or about the argument between her dad and her uncle. I even told her to shut up because she was giving me a headache, when she went on and on about Shahrukh Khan in a film she’d just seen.

Day by day, I watched Shez dissolve. Literally. She seemed to be drowning as her small frame shrank into her clothes, her face peeking out from all the material like a distant head bobbing in the ocean, crying for help.
‘I don’t know why you wear your hijab,’ I said one day.
‘What do you mean? It’s part of our religion.’
‘What, it says in the Koran, “Thou shalt wear a fake Calvin Klein hijab?”’
I didn’t really know about these things, had never thought about them properly. I’d just felt bad for Shez when Jan asked her if she always wore her headscarf, if she slept with it on as well, if there was mould growing in her hair. Or when Mr Thomas said, in front of everyone, looking directly at Shez, that it was a pity that some women couldn’t fight for the basic right to wear what they wanted, after all the suffragettes had done to get women the vote. Afterwards, we’d both made little drawings of Mr Thomas, exaggerating the hair that poked out from his ears and over his shirt collar.
But now, encouraged by Shez’s silence, by her wide-open eyes, the words just poured out. ‘You don’t know anything about Islam or why you’re supposed to wear it. You’re just doing it to be like your cousins. It looks silly, everyone makes fun of you. My dad says that it doesn’t even say anywhere in the Koran that women have to wear the hijab, so I don’t know why you feel so holy, so proud, as if it makes you a better Muslim or something.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with feeling proud of your religion,’ said Shez, quietly.
But the next day, she came to school wearing her long black hair in a plait, with nothing covering it. Her eyes searched mine for approval, but found none. Instead, my lips curled into a mocking smile. She had taken off her hijab because of me.
When I told her that she was too hairy, that she should get her arms and legs waxed, her eyebrows and moustache threaded, she asked her cousin to take her to Shiraz Beauty Parlour. When I told that she needed to change her uniform, to buy a new skirt and a jumper that fitted her properly, she went shopping. She looked better as a result, but the more she changed herself to please me, the more pathetic she became in my eyes.

In the middle of the spring term, I got appendicitis. For weeks there had been a dull ache in my stomach, but Dr Gupta kept sending me home, telling me it was constipation. Then the pain got worse and I could hardly breathe. In the end, I was taken to hospital in an ambulance, almost screaming, and even though the violence in my stomach was filling my brain, I enjoyed the drama of it all. When I arrived, the doctor told me that if I’d got there an hour later, my appendix might have burst.
Shez came to visit me in hospital, bringing me a box of Quality Street and a poster of Shahrukh Khan. I sat up, leaning weakly against the pillow, and told her again and again about my almost-encounter with death. She seemed suitably impressed, although by then she was impressed with everything I said. She looked depressed when I told her that I wouldn’t be back at school for at least another two weeks since I had to have full bed rest at home.
Every day, I expected her to come, but after that first time, Shez didn’t visit me again. Not even to catch a glimpse of my brother. In the past she’d often made excuses to come round, just to see him, although he hardly noticed her.
Each day of those weeks at home dragged on, with nothing to do but watch daytime television, programmes about redecorating houses, cooking and makeovers, or repeats of serials on Zee TV and PrimeTime. I lay all day on the settee downstairs, while everyone carried on their lives around me. Shakeel was always busy with his boxing or his friends. Abu came home in the morning after his taxi shift, watched television with me for a few hours, then went upstairs to sleep. Ammi was always attached to her Singer sewing machine, which sat in the living room and sang out its tune every day from eight o’clock in the morning to ten o’clock at night. Sometimes she gave me piles of belts to turn the right way round and then stuff, or skirts and trousers that had gone wrong, to unpick the stitches on. With no one to talk to, I found myself having imaginary conversations with Shez, collecting thoughts and stories to share with her when I next saw her.

On my first day back, as I walked into the history class, I saw Shez sitting with Saira, the refugee girl, in the second row. I noticed that she was wearing her hijab. Both she and Saira were laughing about something. I had never seen Saira laugh, or even smile before. She usually wore a blank expression on her face, looking perpetually lost, as if she didn’t know where she was or how she had got there. I remembered how Shez and I had often imitated and laughed at the ‘Saira Face’.
‘Hi, Shez,’ I said. She didn’t reply. I sat in my usual seat in the front row, waiting for her to join me, and when she didn’t come, I turned towards her. She was still talking to Saira as if I wasn’t back at school after three weeks away. ‘Shez!’ I hissed, patting the chair next to me, but she didn’t even look at me. She was ignoring me. I glanced at Meena, sitting a few rows behind her. She was looking in my direction, but right through me, as if I was invisible. I had been gone for less than a month, and everything had changed. I turned to the front, stared straight ahead as if I didn’t care, but found myself blinking away the tears that were filling my eyes.
‘Mariah,’ said Mr Thomas loudly as he walked in. ‘Welcome back!’ He froze in mock horror as he stood in front of me and looked at Shez, then at me, then at Shez again. ‘Sitting alone?’ he said. ‘Have the two of you had a fight?’
For the rest of the lesson I burned with the embarrassment, highlighted so crushingly by Mr Thomas, of sitting alone. I refused to look behind me, using my back as a shield against Shez and the rest of the class, but I could hear Shez and Saira talking away in Urdu about the latest Hindi film Jab We Met, how they didn’t like Kareena Kapoor but thought Shahid Kapoor was so cute and couldn’t believe Kareena had left him for Saif Ali Khan.
She doesn’t care at all, I thought, as I heard her giggle. Even if she wants me to, I’ll never talk to her again.
But when a piece of lined paper, torn from an exercise book, folded and folded and folded again, until it was the size of the tip of my thumb, with Mariah Ahmed written in curls on the front, landed on my table, I was glad of the acknowledgement that I existed.
Each word was written with a different colour gel pen, in the same curly handwriting. I know that you would rather be friends with Meena and I was stopping you before, but now I have Saira, and I like her, so you don’t need to worry about me
I read it several times. Then I tore the paper up into smaller and smaller pieces, until it was a pile of confetti in front of me. Picking up my bag and my books, I went to take the empty seat next to Shez and Saira.

Extract from Tariq Mehmood’s novel ‘You’re Not Proper.’

Kiran:

‘Well, Kiran, you really are just dirt,’ I thought aloud and walked on. I don’t know how long I walked, or which direction I went in. I didn’t stop at any road junctions, just crossed. Sometimes cars screeched to a halt, other times they beeped their horns. I just kept going. My ears burnt. My head ached. I felt so cold. My stomach was tight and my throat became dry. I sat down and my breakfast came out all over the pavement. I vomited a few more times and then stood up and walked again.
My mobile rang. It was mum. I ignored her. My dad rang. I ignored him. Mum texted me. I didn’t bother opening it and walked. I kept seeing monstrous faces going round and round in front of my eyes. Shamshad laughing, jeering. Holding her mobile phone in front of me.
‘Why, Shamshad?’ I called out to her. ‘What did I do to you?’
Shamshad didn’t answer. The monstrous mouths were open, but they were not saying anything. The mobile vibrated in my hand.
A car went swerving past. A red-faced driver, his mouth wide open, saying something to me. But there was only silence.
A cold wind came from somewhere. My head began to throb. It felt as if someone had put a metal clamp on it and was tightening it. Tighter and tighter! I walked on and on.
The clouds thickened above me, but there was no rain.
My hands were wet. My shirt was wet. I felt so hot. I sat down and vomited again.
There were only birds around. I was alone somewhere. And then, out of the silence, I heard mum’s voice. She was calling me. I tried to answer, but my voice was gone. Then I saw her running towards me.
‘What are you doing here, silly girl?’ She asked.
‘Look at the fool I am, mum,’ I hugged her and cried.
When I stopped crying, I realised I was in the graveyard, sitting under the weeping willow.
‘Thank goodness you’re alright,’ mum said, wiping my face.
‘Love you mum,’ I said.
She held my hand and we went home. Mum put me to bed.

The first time I woke up, there was a glass of water on the desk near my bed. I was in my nightclothes. The door was open. Mum and dad were talking downstairs. They were arguing.
Mum screamed, ‘It was because of you.’ It was a scream I had not heard for a long, long time. I was terrified. It would be back in our house.
‘It was an accident,’ dad said. ‘I wish I gave you a boy.’
‘I said I didn’t want to,’ mum said, ‘didn’t I?’
‘Let it go Sharon.’
‘You.You.You.’
‘I know you wanted a boy mum,’ I said lifting my head off the pillow. It was too heavy, it slumped back. ‘Please don’t fight over me. I’m sorry for being an accident. Don’t fight. Please.’
I forced myself to sit up in bed. I was going to go down stairs and beg them to stop fighting over me. The front door opened and slammed shut. My throat was dry. It hurt. I drank the water and slumped back on the bed. Behind my closed eyes, open mouths jeered at me. Big bulging eyes stared at me. The noises, they are the ones that really frightened me. They jeered and asked me so many questions: They wanted a boy, not you. What are you? Who are you? Where are you from? You thought you were White? White? Black? Coloured? Asian? Pakistani? Christian? Muslim? What are you? I kept waking up. I was telling mum about Shamshad. How she tormented me. How she hated me. Mum just stared back at me. Silently. Sadly.
I heard someone calling my name and woke. Mum was sitting beside my bed. She smiled a thankgoodnessyou’realright kind of smile. Dad was standing in the doorway, one of his lovely, hairy arms dangling by his side, the other behind his back. His loose, white vest rolled over his bulging stomach.
‘Nice to have you back,’ he smiled, ‘Karen, Kiran or Karey? Whoever you are today?’
I sat up in my bed. You’re really one for words, dad, I thought.
‘It’s Kiran dad,’ I said. ‘It’ll always be Kiran.’
Mum threw a daggerish look at dad. She kissed me on the forehead and left the room.
‘And you really are one,’ dad said, looking at a ray of sunlight coming through the window.
‘What?’ I leaned up and looked out of the window.
Twigs, leaves and broken branches littered the pavement. Some dustbins were on their sides. Mr and Mrs Mason from next door were surveying the damage from the storm. George was clearing rubbish from his garden, his dog watching him from a short distance.
Dad cleared his throat and said, nodding to the light, ‘Kiran. It means a ray of light,’ he said.
Suddenly I was filled with rage and snapped at him, ‘You’ve taught me nothing, dad, nothing! I want to be a proper Muslim,’ I cried, ‘Proper something!’
Dad kept quiet. He put one of his feet on top of the other. He was in deep thought.
‘Can you teach me, dad?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I’ll teach you…’
Mum came back with a glass of hot milk and gave it to me. I held the cup in both my hands and asked, ‘Dad, do you actually know anything, about being a Muslim?’
‘I do.’
Mum coughed a pulltheotherone type of a cough.
‘I know a lot more than you think I know,’ he said to mum, but avoided eye contact with her.
‘Like fasting?’ mum asked.
Dad curled his big, fat lips, held them up to his nose, and breathed out.
‘And praying?’ mum said.
Dad interrupted mum with a protesting sigh, and said to me, ‘I can teach you what you need to know, whenever you are ready.’
I blew into the milk and drank a big mouthful, and then said, ‘I’m ready now, dad.’
He smiled, and said as he was leaving, ‘OK, but get better first.’
I finished off the milk and handed mum the empty cup. She said, taking it from me, ‘Let’s talk about it if you want.’
I nodded. I wasn’t going to let her talk me out of it.
After mum left, I went back to sleep. It was a deep, deep sleep, without monsters. I woke up in the afternoon. I was feeling sticky but really good with myself. I was going to be a new me. Gone was Karey. Gone was Karen. The WTM were dead. Here’s to Kiran, I thought!
I was going to surprise them all. The first thing that Kiran did, which Karen would never have done and Karey wouldn’t have thought about, was to change the sheets and pillow cases on her bed. After putting the dirty ones in the wash, I had a shower and went downstairs.
As I was going down, I heard the hiss of a beer can opening. Well, it is Saturday, I thought.
I checked my mobile. There was a text from mum: If you want anything from the shops, ring me on my mobile.
I went to the kitchen at the back of our house, poured some orange juice into a large glass and walked towards the front room. The door was ajar. Dad was sitting close to the television. The sound was low. I sneaked into the room and peeped at him from behind a large shelf. He was watching an Islam channel. An Imam was giving a talk to some youngsters on the proper way of praying. Dad was puffing away on a cigarette.

Mum, who usually brought the shopping home from Asda on her way back from work, was taking a long time at the shops. I texted her: Where are you mum?
Mum replied almost instantly: Done in 15 mins. Are you OK?
Me: Fine. Dad glued 2 TV.
Mum: What’s new? Tell him to pick me up.
As I was about to send my reply to mum, dad shouted, ‘Kiran, I’m going to pick your mum up. Text her. Tell her I’ll be a bit late.’
He was out of the door before I had a chance to reply.
I sent my reply to mum, Ur taxi’ll b a bit late. Lol, and went into the living room.
The living room stank of cigarettes and beer. I opened the windows. A cold wind lapped up the staleness. I sat on the sofa and flicked on the television. The news was on. A helicopter was broadcasting pictures of a mansion surrounded by woods. Breaking News: Islamic Terror Attack Foiled. I turned the television off. All of a sudden, I felt exhausted and dozed off. I was in an empty, white room. Without doors. Without windows. ‘Karey?’ someone called. And then, ‘Karen?’ And then, ‘Kiran?’
I woke up, with saliva dribbling out of my mouth, when mum and dad came back. By the time I got off the sofa they had already taken the shopping into the kitchen and mum was putting it away.
I sleepily walked in, wiping my mouth with a tissue. Mum gave me a great, big, you’llbealright kind of a look, and dad shoved tins into a cupboard. He was in a hurry, and I guessed it was getting nearer to the match. A tin can rolled out and fell on his toe. He yelled.
‘Serves you right, Lucky,’ mum laughed, looking at dad who was holding his foot. ‘Put them in properly.’
Dad didn’t bother saying anything back and blew his nose on his handkerchief. His weekly lottery ticket fell out of his pocket. I bent down, picked it up and put it on the table, thinking, ‘There’s nothing lucky about my dad.’
Mum picked up the lottery ticket and said, ‘Lucky, stop wasting money.’
‘You won’t say that when I win the jackpot,’ dad said, making a face of exaggerated pain.
‘You’re the only person I know who has never even won a tenner,’ mum said.
Yep. ‘There’s nothing lucky about my dad,’ I thought, and asked, ‘shall I get you a cold compress, dad?’
‘He needs an ambulance,’ mum said, as dad put his foot back down and adjusted the tins inside the cupboard, ‘don’t you Lucky?’
I suddenly felt really angry with mum and said, ‘His name’s not Lucky, is it? It’s Liaqat.’
Mum gave me an icy stare. Dad took a deep breath, and said, ‘No, Kiran, it’s not.’
Mum wiped the kitchen table, went over to the sink, and washed the dishes, which had already been washed – every now and again looking at me in the reflection in the window.
When she had finished, she looked around the kitchen to make sure everything was where it should be.
‘Don’t hate me mum,’ I said. I was determined not to cry. ‘But I can’t go to church with you any more. Your Jesus is white. Your Holy Mother is white. And The Father has to be white as well. And look at me! Just look at me!’
Mum whispered, ‘It’s not like that.’
‘I know you hate me,’ I said, holding back my tears.
‘It’s not like that,’ mum repeated, walking up to me.
‘You can be what you like, Kiran,’ dad stood up and put his hand on my head.
Mum and dad exchanged looks that sent shivers down my spine.
I sat down on a chair, put my head in my hands and wept. Mum got me a glass of water. I drank it.
Mum leaned over to an unpacked bag, picked it up and put it on the table. Pushing it towards me, she said, ‘Here I bought these for you.’
Dad picked something out from under a pile of empty bags and hid it behind his back. A big grin ran across his face.
The bag mum gave me had a green hijab and a long-sleeved, white kurta along with some books and a DVD in it. There were small books called Qaidas and there was the Holy Quran. There was a book on the prophet, a book on Islamic history, and a book about fasting. The DVD was called The Messenger. I felt so ashamed of myself that I stood up, kissed mum on the cheeks and hugged her.
‘What’ve you got for her, Lucky?’ mum asked, in a knowing kind of a tone.
Dad walked out of the kitchen backwards, hiding something behind his back.
‘Come on, dad, what you got for me, eh?’
‘I’ll give it to you tomorrow,’ he said, trying to get away.
‘Let’s see it, dad.’
‘Show her, Lucky,’ mum said.
‘Liaqat, mum!’
‘He’ll always be Lucky to me,’ mum replied.
Dad brought his hand round to the front slowly. He was holding a book as well: Islam for Dummies.
We had a really good laugh, and then I said, ‘Dad, you can teach me how to pray, can’t you?’
‘Course I can.’
Mum sniggered.
‘Can you teach me to read the Quran, dad?’
‘Yep. I read it all, twice, in Pakistan when I was a boy,’ dad said, ‘but don’t expect me to start believing in all that stuff.’
Mum went silent. Her eyes drifted off for a moment into one those worlds that no one could get into, but then she came back all of a sudden, and said, ‘Lucky, go into the living room with Kiran and start teaching her what you know. Let me get the dinner on.’
‘I can teach her, you know,’ dad said.
‘Go on then,’ mum said.
Dad rubbed his hand on his stomach and then on his head, and said, ‘I will.’ Turning to me, he said, ‘Come on Kiran, let’s start right now. We’ll start with the Qaida, and you can learn it just like I did. And then I’ll teach you to how to pray.’
Mum sniggered again. I went to the front living room with dad carrying the books. Dad cleared the coffee table and sat down on the sofa. I sat down next to him.
‘Do you mind if I just check on the score before we start?’ dad asked, holding the TV remote.
I smiled and shook my head. He flicked through a few screens and then turned the television off. He opened the first page of the Qaida, pointed to the first letter, and said, ‘Alif.’
‘Alif,’ I repeated.
‘Bey,’ he said, pointing to the next letter.
I repeated as he went along. I was so happy to be sitting with my dad learning Arabic letters that I must have been the happiest girl in the world. I couldn’t remember any other time we had sat together for so long, me and my dad. As we were going over the letters for a second or third time, mum came into the room and moaned, ‘Lucky! Don’t smoke a cigarette next to Kiran, and not while you’re trying to teach her to read the Quran!’
Dad quickly stubbed out the one he was smoking, blowing the smoke away from me.
‘I think you’ve done enough for today on the reading,’ dad said.
‘You’re going to teach me how to pray?’
‘Course I am,’ he said, walking out of the room. Mum smiled at me a sort of I’dliketosee kind of a look and followed dad out. I put the Qaida away and went to the kitchen to help mum. I heard dad stomping down the stairs calling me back into the living room. Mum followed me.
Dad was looking all around the room a bit puzzled. He said, ‘I just can’t remember which way the Kabah is.’
‘Mum nodded towards the television corner. Dad looked up at the ceiling for a moment, and said, ‘Yes. You’re absolutely right.’
‘I bet you’d have said that whatever mum said,’ I thought.
‘You haven’t got a prayer mat,’ mum said.
‘I have,’ he said, spreading a big, red towel in the space in front of the television. It was a Manchester United towel, with a picture of Alex Ferguson on it.
‘I’m not praying on that…’
Dad picked the towel up, turned it over and spread it out on the floor. It had a picture of Rooney on the other side.
‘Oh dad!’
He stepped onto the towel, raised his hands to his ears, and said, ‘First you do this, and you say ‘Allah O Akbar,’ bending down towards his knees, he said, ‘and then you do this and,’ he stood upright, and said, ‘then you do this…’
Mum interrupted, ‘For god’s sake Lucky, you’re drinking beer and teaching Kiran how to pray!’
Handing a half-drunk can of beer he was holding in his hand to mum, he said, ‘You’re right about that.’
‘You’d better take this girl to the mosque or something, Lucky,’ mum said, ‘She wants to learn it properly.’

Extract from Tariq Mehmood’s novel ‘You’re not Proper.’

Shamshad:

I had gone to the graveyard with my friend Laila to see the new headstone on my granddad’s grave. May the Almighty grant him a place in Heaven. It was made of royal white marble, with the Kalma carved into it, running around its flowery edge. Someone had written ‘EDL’ on the last one. We were sitting on a bench under one of the new CCTV cameras, which covered our graveyard, when Karen Malik came flying over the fence and landed on her bum not far from us.
What else can you do but laugh at someone whose behind is stuck up in the air and whose knickers have gone up their bum?
‘There’s nothing worst then someone like her,’ I said loudly to Laila, making sure Karen heard me. ‘Especially when she’s sucking up to her gora gang.’
‘Oh, Shami,’ Laila protested, squeezing my hand, ‘lets not let her spoil it.’
I nodded letting out a sigh of relief, but still couldn’t help thinking about how her gang had made me feel so bad, so often, how they had humiliated me because I am a Muslim, especially that Donna.
‘You know Laila, once when I went past her gang, Donna started singing, “God made little, brown people. He made ’em in the night. He made ’em in a hurry and forgot to paint ’em white.”’
‘It’s stupid,’ Laila laughed.
‘It is a bit, but then I didn’t think it was, funny, you know. But what really got under my nose was the way Karen laughed with them.’
‘What a cow,’ Laila said.
‘Isn’t she just.’
After Karen went to see her gang, Laila and I strolled up the path to see what she was going to get up to.
I didn’t see them coming. They jumped up from behind us. Donna pushed Laila through the hedge. She held my wrists so tightly in her fat hand it hurt. I wish I had said nothing to her, just punched her in the face when she ripped my hijab off, but ended up saying the most stupid thing in the world, ‘Me dad’ll kill me!’
I don’t know why, but when that Chole was waving my hijab in front of my face, pretending somehow I talked like that, made me think about her seventh birthday party. She was so excited she just couldn’t blow the candles out and I blew them out for her and she gave me a great big hug and kissed me on my cheek.
What made me really, really mad was the way Karen joined in laughing at me. It’s one thing leaving Islam for her mum’s religion, but it’s another ganging up with her WTM posse and insulting mine. It’s just as well they ran off when I came back with the girls.
On the way back home, I said to Laila, ‘I’m going to teach that Karen a lesson tomorrow, she will never ever forget.’
On the way home I prayed inside my head, ‘Ya Allah, give me strength to get my own back on her.’
That night when I went to sleep, even then I couldn’t keep Karen out of my dreams. I dreamed I was going to a special assembly at school. Everyone was there. There was only one chair left empty. It was in the front of the hall. Everyone was looking at me. Karen was standing next to me, her eye on the chair. I ran for the chair. Everyone cheered. She ran for the same chair. I grabbed her hand, to pull her back but she snatched it free and beat me to the chair. The teachers were praising her. Everyone was clapping for her and laughing at me. My mother stood at the back of the hall. Stone-faced, as ever. I ran to her, crying. I held my arms out for mum to hug me. She folded her arms. I ran past her and just as I got outside the Assembly Hall, there was Karen and her mother. Her white mother was combing Karen’s hair.
The next morning, I put a pair of scissors in my bag and caught the bus to school early to wait for Karen.

21st of June Program

Literary Activism
Saturday 21 June 2 – 6.30pm
Manchester City College, 372 -376a Dickenson Road, Longsight, Manchester, M13 0WQ
Changing Racisms: The representation of the ‘other’ in literature today, in particular of Muslims and Islam.
Creative Rendering and Resistance: A history of literary resistance: from secular left to religious resistance. What can we learn from the past? What is needed today?

Talks:
Hamja Ahsan – The Talha Ahsan campaign. Hamja Ahsan is the brother of Talha Ahsan who was extradited to the US.
Nisha Kapoor: Extra-ordinary Extradition Nisha Kapoor is an academic and campaigner with the Talha Ahsan campaign
Ken Fero: Poetry of the Image Ken Fero is a multiple award winning filmmaker.
Anandi Ramamurthy: Slogans as Poetry of Resistance Anandi Ramamurthy is an academic and campaigner, author of Kala Tara, A History of the Asian Youth Movements.
Kavita Bhanot: Reading Racism Kavita Bhanot is a writer, editor, teacher.
Tariq Mehmood: Writing & Resistance Tariq Mehmood is a writer, campaigner and a former defendant from the Bradford 12.

Exhibition: Bradford Twelve, all day

Performances:
Abo Gaabi singing a medley in Arabic of poems from South Africa, Palestine and Algeria.
Mishaal Mehmood singing in English
Peter Kalu: POW: Ecclesiastical Public Relations Agency. A Performance Peter Kalu is an award-winning writer and storyteller
Virinder Kalra: Performance of the Revolutionary Poetry of The Ghadar Movement Virinder Singh Kalra is an academic and campaigner, he writes about popular culture, the South Asian diaspora and racism in Britain.
Performance of resistance literature throughout the day

Free to attend. Limited spaces. For more information or to confirm attendance email:
racism.writing.resistance@gmail.com

‘Prevent’ing Education: Anti-Muslim racism and the War on Terror

Since the events of the 2001 riots, 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, we have witnessed in Western Europe an ‘end of multiculturalism’ and a policy debate on integration of Muslim communities within a heightened security context. These policy debates on racialised minority groups have coincided with the emergence and popular appeal of a ‘new British fascism’ in the form of English Defence League and more recently a rise in popular right wing political parties such as UKIP. These trends paradoxically take place with a backdrop of a wider debate on post-racism in public discourse despite the fundamental disconnect between the racial rhetoric of the state and the experiences of many racialised minorities.
The increasing Muslim presence in Europe, together with the growing security concerns about Muslim communities, has given rise to this discursive framing of the Muslim problematic, often labelled as anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia. The concept of anti-Muslim racism, which builds upon colonial and orientalist schemata, is best used to explain the phenomenon of ‘new racism’ in this current context, as a term that focuses less on the hostility against Islam and more on the aggression and prejudice against Muslims – that is to say, anti-Muslim prejudice focuses on the ‘lives of Muslims’ in the West. Anti-Muslim racism in its present form sees the current portrayal of the Muslim problematic arising from a transition from anti-Asian racism, revolving around the essentialised ‘Paki’, to anti-Muslim racism – with the objective of the hate being transferred from race to culture.
The national debate on the ‘War on Terror’ on the Muslim problematic has often been associated with the on-going military campaign led by the USA, the United Kingdom and their allies. The intense effects of these campaigns on the Muslim conditions in the West have direct consequences for racial experiences of schooling for Muslim pupils, where the rhetoric used to extend the war on terror is often used as a repertoire of abuse in the classroom. In fact interviews carried out with 15-year-old Muslim boys attending a secondary school in the North West of England, exemplify how international events shape the way in which Muslims are ‘treated’ and also ‘excluded’ from particular activities in schools. The following observation shows how micro-level racial aggression is a daily experience for some but a key feature of schooling for all minorities racial groups.
“The big stereotypical view of us Muslims in school put it plain and simple is that we’re terrorist. The white students think we’re terrorist, but I also think the teachers also think the same. We know that the white teachers and the kids don’t like us. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that you know… For example we’ll be in class, like the other day we were talking about something in history and this white guy said something and said something which I did not agree with him so I told him I think you wrong. And suddenly he jumped up and said OK you’re right otherwise YOUR GONNA BLOW ME UP’>. Or, I’ll give you another example, it will be like, you’ll be walking down the corridor in school, you know minding your own business, and a group of white students would say ‘tick tick tick tick’ – like a bomb going off.”

Shamim Miah

EXTRADITION by Talha Ahsan

Five years ago they brought me to a cell
and ever since a waiting game plays here.
As they decide on sending me away,
my parents grow so grey and sad at home.

How will they manage visiting me there
or must they wait until the end of time?

Ma, hear my oath, by him whose hand is time,
bars stand in worship with me in this cell.
So even if I’m extradited there
and taken from my humble parents here,
then tell them paradise is our true home
whose gardens years will never fade away.

To Florence prison I’ll be sent away
It doesn’t matter what will be my time.
No prison ever can be called my home,
how ever long they put me in a cell.
A higher power occupies me here
who’s closer to me even over there.

Perhaps they’ll clean their hands of me once there.
And then my country feels I’m wiped away.
Though germs stay always floating from me here:
these particles will gather born in time,
a culture breeding from a tiny cell,
to carry on infecting every home.

Theresa May, a minister at home
though feeble servant to her masters there;
a solitary torture chamber cell,
To put me in, she’ll simply say, ‘Away!’
So let me while I can devote my time
to work for my own justice over here.

I pitch a tent for battle waiting here.
And in this heart of mine you’ll find a home,
free from the crumbling effects of time
or any rotting thoughts of being there.
It is a sin for me to run away
As patience brings my glory to this cell.

For time will be a brief sojourning here,
and there, or anywhere I make a home –
Away! A caravan escapes my cell.

(C) Talha Ahsan, HMP Long Lartin, 19 July 2011

Extraordinary Extradition: Racial Injustice in Britain

In 2003 a new Extradition Act was fast-tracked into UK legislation without formal consultative parliamentary process, scrutiny or debate. The Act made provisions for a unilateral agreement between the US and the UK whereby the UK would be expected to extradite any individual to the US on request without the need for the US to provide prima facie evidence, (but to just invoke reasonable suspicion), and thus without allowing the individual called to challenge any evidence provided by the US in a British Court of Law. In contrast, for any requests made by the UK for extradition of subjects from the US, UK authorities are expected to provide enough evidence to demonstrate ‘probable cause’. Accordingly, since its inception the US-UK Treaty has been the centre of much controversy most notably because it has made explicit the hegemonic position of the US in Anglo-American relations and brought to popular attention the limits of UK national sovereignty.
A backbench debate on the issue of extradition took place in December 2011, where after initial reluctance the cases of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan were incorporated. Here there was clear opposition against the Treaty with MPs of all political persuasions arguing that the legislation was completely at odds with the liberal principles of the British justice system and greatly eroded ‘the liberty of our citizens’. In his introduction to the discussion Dominic Raab, Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, argued that what was under threat was the ‘cornerstone of British justice, innocent until proven guilty’, asserting that ‘in taking the fight to the terrorists and the serious criminals after 9/11, the pendulum [had] swung too far the other way’ (House of Commons Debate, 2011, c82). Of ultimate concern was how a legal process stripped of all intent to due process, designed for targeting ‘the terrorist’, could also encompass the (white) British citizen. The consequence was to call for adjustment to legislation that was being delivered in a ‘one size fits all’ manner so that it could better distinguish between the two. The legitimacy of extradition was thus determinant on its ability to racially distinguish, to invoke racism– racial division and stratification – to regulate the distribution of death (social and real). The House of Commons debate made clear that the extradition process was unfair because the distinction being made between those who must live and those who must die appeared racially incoherent.
However, of the numerous violations which the state carries out at its discretion, it is interesting that extradition is one of the few acts which has prompted largescale upset and dissent. Between 2004 and July 2011, 73 UK nationals or dual nationals were surrendered from the UK to the US (Baker et al, 2011), not all on terror-related offences. In this process it has become apparent that there have been quite different responses to the indictments for Muslims accused of terrorism compared with the White British citizens being requested on other charges. It is the more widespread use of extradition which has brought the issue so much attention, prompting national debate and calls for significant reform. As David Davis MP remarked:
We should keep in mind that the rather draconian process that we have, which was put in place to defend us against terrorism, does not appear to have had much impact in that respect. In practice, the outcome is much more mundane. The truth of the matter is that we will have far more Gary McKinnons extradited than Osama bin Ladens (House of Commons Debate, 2011, c91).
When the European Court ruled in 2012 that the proposed prospect of 80-100 years in solitary confinement was not tantamount to torture and that consequently five Muslim men accused of terrorism-related charges could be extradited to the US, the decision received national public approval. This was in stark contrast to the public support for halting the extradition of Gary McKinnon, a campaign that was led by the Daily Mail. In October 2012, ten days following the extradition of the Muslim men, when the Home Secretary ruled that McKinnon would not be extradited it was viewed as a victory for British Justice. But the short sightedness of these celebrations meant that the populace failed to recognise the connections between the repeal of the human rights of those accused of terrorism and the repeal of their own human rights.

Nisha Kapoor, from The State of Race (Palgrave-Macmillan 2013)
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