Ayesha Kazmi

5 Years a Paki

In The Personal on 19/03/2011 at 00:50

I’ve seen Bend It Like Beckham. In fact, if I were to be brutally honest, I’ve seen it so many times I’ve lost count. Just before I got married in 2005, I watched it non-stop.

I lived in Boston, MA just before moving to London in the winter of 2005. Boston is where I was born and raised. I went to Brookline public schools as a kid, then onto a private high school in Chestnut Hill on account of being one of the bad kids – incidentally where I picked up smoking.

It was in my junior year of college that I met my soon to be husband and we got engaged the next year when I was a senior. For all of you wondering how it was that I ended up in London – it was because the man I was about to marry is British.

To be fair – I was given a choice. According to Pakistani custom, the woman is usually expected to uproot herself when she gets married. My fiancé gave me the choice. Living as a disillusioned Muslim in the post 9/11 United States, I snatched the first opportunity I had to become an ex-pat. I was proud of the decision. So many Americans were doing the same thing around the same time. Conscientiously objecting to American foreign policy, packing it in, then giving American policy makers the finger at the border while they got onto a one way international flight. I felt like Johnny Depp. Only, I was moving to London.

The only people who hadn’t previously given me a choice were my parents. Before I met my (former) husband, the idea of moving to London had occurred to me on more than one occasion. I rather liked the idea of completing a MA there. My mother’s simple response was to tell me over her dead body. My mother tends to be on the traditional side of things – that coupled with her intense tendency to worry. Her logic wasn’t bad though – with so many universities in Boston, why travel abroad and pay so much money?

So, when I was given my first opportunity to leave. I took it – not entirely informed about what I was just about to get myself into.

Looking back at it, using Bend it Like Beckham to get myself well versed on British society wasn’t wholly idiotic. It is, however, a comedy and makes light of things that many living in British society, especially people who look like me, find debilitating at worst.

Looking back at it, the scenes where Jesminder is called a ‘Paki’ on the football field never entirely registered to me. Perhaps it was because I was caught up in the romanticism of my upcoming marriage, the idea of moving to Europe – the world’s hub of fine cuisine, art, culture, and thought – and being around that accent all the time.

Retrospectively, I feel a bit silly. On the surface, I did understand the magnitude of the impending nuptials, the commitment it involved, and a move to a different country, and the distance I was placing between myself, my home, and the people who would put their lives on the line to protect me. What I didn’t understand fully was the extent to my being a Pakistani – an often light and complementary accompaniment to my American identity – would come to affect my entire world.

In the winter of 2005 I left the United States a newly married American woman and walked off the plane in Britain as a Paki. My whole worldview was about to turn upside down. I had not a clue what was coming my way.

I have now lived in Britain for just over 5 years. This is my story.

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