Ayesha Kazmi

My First Paki

In The Personal on 18/04/2011 at 22:21

I’ll never forget the first time I got called ‘Paki’. I was five years old, and the sun was smiling down on me and my family as we made our way to a country fair, not far from home.
We were the only brown people in the village. My parents had left their big Indian city (population three hundred and seventy thousand) to settle in a little English village in Kent (population circa two thousand), in the late 60s, early 70s. And now here I was, obliviously on my way to a minor epiphany that would spark the question to my own sense of belonging.
As the promise of sheer joy lay out before me in the form of bouncy castles and other inflatable contraptions, I selected my first conquest, scrambling to the top of an enormous slide. There I found a young white boy, not more than seven or eight years old, who watched me as I took my place to descend.
“Hurry up, you Paki!” he smirked. It struck a nerve. I became incensed – the first time I had ever felt real injustice in my five years upon this earth, and by this skinny little prat!
“I’m NOT a Paki” I snapped. “I’m INDIAN!” The idiot got his geography wrong. But even then, deep down, I knew it wasn’t just a location slight. It also wasn’t the first time I was made aware of being different. Even at school, some of the kids would taunt me, but being called ‘Milky Way’ wasn’t exactly a trauma to exorcise with a therapist. When I was called a Paki, though, it made me feel…hurt.
I realised I was the outsider, in the very place I was born. Even when I visited India to see my relatives, I was called ‘Angrez’ or ‘English’ and never fully accepted as ‘one of them’. An outsider where I was born, and an outsider in the country I was told to go back to – stuck in a rut or what! I was caught between two identities, but felt like I was being denied both.
Yet I don’t want it to sound all doom and gloom. You know how it is, even if you have fifty sugar-coated memories, you’re more likely to recall the one that was most sour. But that sort of negativity would get us nowhere. I must admit, some of the random name calling actually made me chuckle – especially the ‘Bud bud, ding dings’. It dawned on me that the best way to deal with a thing is to laugh at it. It took away the pain, and helped me build my own confidence along the way – about who I was and where I belong. In turn, the insults died down to virtual extinction.
Urban Dictionary describes ‘Paki’ thus: “A paki is a word used to describe a person from South Asia. Usually works for T-Mobile or in a call centre of some kind…eventually progressing to the goal of self employed Kebab shop owner. Paki phones usually carry PDF version of holy Qur’an on them, some have even branched out and have iPhone SDK developer programs in which they created their own app called.. “iExplode” unfortunately for the pakis it was rejected by Apple…”
I’ve heard British Indians and Pakistanis call each other ‘Paki’ in a social move to mock the very prejudice it propounded. South Asians have effectively stripped the racists of their abuse by laughing at the term and using it in their own dialogue.
I’m not saying it hasn’t been hard being called a Paki by intolerant individuals. I’m not saying it’s not difficult to feel like you belong when you hear comments such as ‘Go back to your own country’. It has been a struggle…But what I am saying is that the way I, and many others, have dealt with it, has produced its own little victory. I am comfortable, certain, proud even of my multiple identities: a Muslim, British, Indian.
This little ‘Paki’ is staying put. Right where I belong.

 

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