We fell for each other quick and hard with­out a thought of the im­pact we were hav­ing

When Khur­rum Rah­man, a Mus­lim, and Ra­jin­der, a Sikh, fell for each other at school, they be­came pari­ahs overnight. But the dis­ap­proval, threats and even vi­o­lence only served to ce­ment a bond that has lasted 24 years

The Guardian - Family - - Front page -

The year was 1993. I was 17, and head­ing for the sixth form at a new school in Houn­slow, west London. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing it to change my life. Look­ing back, I strug­gle to re­mem­ber a white face there. It was a sea of brown, where Mus­lim, Sikh and Hindu stu­dents mixed eas­ily: it seemed a sur­pris­ingly har­mo­nious en­vi­ron­ment. Be­neath the sur­face, though, cul­tural ten­sion lurked, par­tic­u­larly be­tween the Mus­lims and the Sikhs. All I had to do was keep my head down and my mouth shut. I didn’t

want any part in the school politics.

I re­mem­ber the girls. They all seemed to wear black leather jack­ets and black plat­form shoes and they lis­tened to R&B. Ra­jin­der was dif­fer­ent. She wore flow­ing flowery skirts and a faded jean jacket with scuffed Dr Martens boots and lis­tened to Guns N’ Roses. I had never met any­one like her.

I was not one of those cool types who could ap­proach a girl and ask her out; my deep-seated fear of re­jec­tion saw to that. How­ever, peer pres­sure is a pow­er­ful thing. My friends, her friends, hounded me un­til, at 12.40pm on 11 Novem­ber, I was stand­ing in front of her, mum­bling and stum­bling my way through those six ter­ri­fy­ing words. “Will you go out with me?”

Word spread quickly. A Mus­lim boy and a Sikh girl amid the cul­tural ten­sion and con­fu­sion. First the whis­pers started, then friends we held dear dis­tanced them­selves. Even some teach­ers pulled us to one side to de­liver a warning, masked as mean­ing­ful advice. Wrapped up in each other, we shut it all out, brazenly walk­ing through the play­ground hold­ing hands. We fell for each other quick and hard with­out a thought of the im­pact we were hav­ing on our com­mu­ni­ties.

At the end of the school day, we would go our sep­a­rate ways. Ra­jin­der would rou­tinely be ig­nored on the bus and I would walk the mile home with cars slow­ing to give me the eye. I was be­ing watched care­fully. few months in, the cur­tains on the veiled threats were pulled back.

It started with phone calls. I would scram­ble to the land­line in fear of my par­ents an­swer­ing and smile my way through the threats. The “older lot”, as they were af­fec­tion­ately known, colour­ful char­ac­ters about whom I had heard many gang-re­lated sto­ries, came out of the wood­work and turned up at my house; let’s go for a walk. Rather than hav­ing my par­ents find out about my re­la­tion­ship, I would agree read­ily.

On one oc­ca­sion, I was bun­dled into a phone box, a kitchen knife touch­ing my skin, as half a dozen of the older lot queued im­pa­tiently out­side. On another mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion, hav­ing re­cently passed my driv­ing test, I was driv­ing my mum’s cherry red Nis­san. My rear wind­screen ex­ploded at a junc­tion and peo­ple with fu­ri­ous faces, armed with bats and bars, cir­cled my car. I put my foot down and led them on a merry dance around the back streets of Houn­slow, los­ing them some­where en route to the po­lice sta­tion.

I never blamed them. I never doubted their in­ten­tions. In their own mis­guided way, they were try­ing to pro­tect one of theirs from one of us.

Like a typ­i­cal teenager, I thought I was in­vin­ci­ble. I never gave in to them. She meant too much to me. We con­tin­ued in the same vein, the threats and in­tim­i­da­tion slowly dis­solv­ing as our op­posers found other bat­tles to fight.

Two years into our re­la­tion­ship, we were walk­ing aim­lessly. Ra­jin­der stopped at a bridal shop win­dow and pointed at the man­nequin wear­ing a white bridal gown. “That’s what I’ll wear,” she said, be­fore point­ing at the man­nequin wear­ing a black tuxedo. “And you can wear that.”

We had never be­fore talked about where our re­la­tion­ship was head­ing, but that seem­ingly in­nocu­ous com­ment made us face is­sues that we had long been avoid­ing.

It was time our par­ents found out. They would be un­happy. We un­der­stood that. But it turned out to be so much more. We hadn’t re­alised that the ef­fects of our ac­tions would take such an emo­tional toll on our fam­i­lies. They had dreams for our fu­ture: plans, vi­sions and hard-earned money from re­lent­less over­time set aside for a path that we would never take.

My father, a man of few words, was stoic. His si­lence ar­tic­u­lated what words never could. My mother, emo­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent, searched des­per­ately for a so­lu­tion that wasn’t there.

Her father, im­mensely proud, watched all that he held dear crum­ble around him. Her mother was strong, hon­ourable and fiercely pro­tec­tive of her fam­ily.

Each was be­hav­ing in ac­cor­dance with their be­liefs and ide­olo­gies as the crit­i­cism of our com­mu­ni­ties tight­ened around us.

It never felt like us against them. It wasn’t as ro­man­tic a no­tion as that. We fi­nally un­der­stood the im­pact we were hav­ing on those clos­est to us. “Why can’t you be happy for us?” was never go­ing to cut it. We couldn’t blame them for their think­ing, which was em­bed­ded long be­fore our ex­is­tence and which they had hoped to pass on. We never be­grudged the way they felt. Sim­ply, we had shat­tered their world.

There wasn’t any way we could mend what we had caused. It was worse for her, for the sole rea­son she was a girl. From all cor­ners she was taunted and told that she was be­ing used. That I, a Mus­lim boy, would never fully com­mit to a Sikh girl.

But I did. We did. Ra­jin­der and I mar­ried. It didn’t change a thing. We achieved noth­ing other than prov­ing a poor point. We needed our fam­i­lies. We needed their ac­cep­tance.

I can’t tell you ex­actly what changed. I think time played its part. Some­thing ad­justed and our tilted world straight­ened out. Over the years, a bond that had frac­tured was slowly mended. Through com­mit­ment and never giv­ing up on one another, our fam­i­lies be­came part of our lives again.

Through it all, my wife and I have never been apart, never con­sid­ered the al­ter­na­tive. We have been to­gether for 24 years and mar­ried for 18. As I write this, she is next to me, in­vad­ing my space on the foot­stool and snack­ing nois­ily on masala chai and low-fat crack­ers. Up­stairs, my beau­ti­ful boys, six and one, sleep soundly. They cel­e­brate Eid, Di­wali, Christ­mas and ev­ery­thing else in be­tween. They lead a cul­tur­ally en­riched life – the best of both won­der­ful worlds. Both sets of grand­par­ents dote on them. As a re­sult of our mar­riage, there may be times where they face hard­ship, but we are rais­ing them to be strong-willed, open­minded and to ques­tion ev­ery­thing.

Tonight, we are vis­it­ing my in-laws for din­ner. To­mor­row, my par­ents are com­ing to ours for Sun­day lunch. They are now fully im­mersed in our lives. The phone calls are fre­quent, the text mes­sages of­ten. Some­times it gets too much. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

A few months in, the cur­tains on the veiled threats were pulled back

East of Houn­slow by Khur­rum Rah­man (Har­lequin, £12.99). To or­der a copy for £11.04, go to guardian­book­shop.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Pho­to­graph by Graeme Robert­son for the Guardian

Khur­rum and Ra­jin­der Rah­man

Khur­rum and Ra­jin­der

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.