As I see it: Reflect, reminisce and rejoice along the memory lane

CB Patel Thursday 26th October 2023 03:26 EDT

British Indians, like their brethren everywhere, have continuous celebrations to participate in and enjoy. The Navratri festival is nearing its completion, and by the time you read this article, you will have experienced some wonderful experiences, awaiting Diwali. On Sunday 22 October, I attended a community event and as I stood there, I couldn't help but reflect on the journey that led me into the world of community celebrations. During my earlier days in the print media, Navratri Garba in Brent, Harrow and other parts of the UK in the late 70s, were somehow the stepping stone for my involvement.

The strife of women workers

I recollect the day when I visited Brent Indian Association in 1977 and had the opportunity to meet Jack Dromey who was running the Brent Law Centre at that time. Jack was a trade unionist who served as a Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington from 2010 until his death in 2022. As secretary of the local Trades Council, he played a crucial role in providing support for the strike at the Grunwick film processing laboratory, a strike that extended from 1976 to 1978. The trade union came to the aid of Indian women, primarily Gujaratis, and predominantly Kutchis, who were working under extremely difficult, if not atrocious conditions at the processing plant.
When I talk about the strife of mainly women workers, I must also mention Jayaben Desai, Kaushalya Desai and many other women as well as some men who had arrived from East Africa recently. They needed support and sought acceptance within the trade union. Jack Dromey was the towering figure who came to their aid.
But I remember the day, where I saw Jack Dromey, Subhash Patel and others at the Brent Indian Association in the Ealing Road, Wembley. A young lady, maybe in her late 20s was talking to people, listening to them, giving them thoughtful comments. What I was most impressed with was that she was very polite, mature, courteous, civilized and beautiful. I looked at her as if she was my own sister. People now know her as Harriet Harman, the  “Mother of the House” who announced her retirement in 2021 after having served for almost 41 years.  She is the longest-serving member of the House of Commons.
British politician and qualified solicitor, Harriet Harman was the daughter of a Harley Street Doctor and a barrister. Dromey was the son of Irish immigrant parents, a labourer and a cleaner. They both met in 1977 at the Brent Law Centre where Harman was providing legal advice to strikers at the Grunwick photo processing plant. Her care and concern compelled her to address the issues faced by the women at Grunwick. They both got married and it is believed to be one of the strongest marriages in British Politics in my observations.
Harriet announced her decision in December 2021 that this would be her final term in Parliament. In 1982, at the age of 32, she was elected as the MP in a by-election. She dedicated herself to tireless work and campaigned for numerous issues. When she entered the House of Commons, there were only 19 female MPs and now there are 223. Her campaign for gender equality or equality in the House of Commons has been very successful, like her other campaigns like the Low Pay Commission, the New Deal for Lone Parents, the 2010 Equality Act and several others described in an article published in Sunday Times by Decca Aitkenhead (her third interview with Harriet Harman). Harriet and Jack have got three grown-up children. Last year, when 73-year-old, Jack Dromey died of a heart attack at his Birmingham constituency flat, I was shocked and deeply saddened.

We have come so far

As I reflect on nearly six decades of my life in Britain, I remember when I arrived with a British Citizenship passport from Tanzania. There is so much change for better in almost all walks of life. Of course, there are still some issues about which we can talk, but we should also be very rational that compared to many other countries the British political, social, economic and cultural transformation is unique and inspiring.
Credit is due to the many individuals from diverse backgrounds who have made substantial contributions and continue to do so. Harriet Harman was to me the best female Prime Minister UK could have. But the Labour Party has yet to follow the Conservatives who had 3 female Prime Ministers. During her last profile, She was Chairing the Privilege Committee. On June 23rd, the committee finalised its inquiry into whether Boris Johnson provided false information to Parliament regarding the Downing Street lockdown gatherings. The report revealed that he had not only intentionally provided false information to the House but had also played a vital role in a campaign to harass and intimidate the MPs who were investigating him. He stepped down as a Member of Parliament, expressing his anger and frustration towards Harman. But Harman maintained her dignity and grace. She did not make any hasty comment or otherwise.  Recently, Harman has been elected to serve as the Chair of the Committee on Standards. And I am sure she will do a sterling job.

The beauty of multiculturalism

Reminiscing further, I used to attend several Navratri garba celebrations in various parts of London, Leicester, Birmingham, Preston and elsewhere in those days. Sometimes I would attend 30-40 such celebrations over 10 or 15 days, which is not possible for me now, at this young age of 87. On Thursday 19 October, I attended a Navratri celebration at the famous Dhamecha Lohana Centre in South Harrow: excellent venue, huge gathering, warm hospitality and the vibrant view of the participants dancing to the tunes of Garba. I met so many people, some of whom I met almost 45 years ago. The venue was mainly crowded with youngsters, including children. A large number of youngsters now attend Navratri everywhere.
(Event coverage on pg. 17)
The Karamsad Samaj Navratri celebration of last Friday 20 October was very different. It was organised in a banquet hall called Nakshatra, with a car parking facility for hundreds of cars. I think there were around 800 participants in the event, predominantly women and girls, with a considerable number of children present. Perhaps proportionately more children attend now than in those days, all beautifully dressed in traditional attire for Navratri. I can't put into words the feeling I had when I saw people enjoying themselves; it brought tears to my eyes. Then I saw another girl whom I knew as a toddler from the day she was born, granddaughter of Mr I. K Patel and daughter of Harish and Geetaben. I addressed her as Pooja, she said “No dada, I am Janki, Poojan is my brother”. These young individuals are remarkably forgiving, allowing this man to make such mistakes.
More importantly, I met 3 ladies during another event on Friday. When I saw these 3 ladies dancing, I requested to speak with them, one was Meenakshiben and the others were Charuben and her sister. I addressed Meenakshiben as Meena and more stupidly the name of mother Sarojben, I gave it to Charuben. They were young girls, almost teenagers possibly when they used to come to our own garba in the basement of Chiswick High Road shop. I must describe, there was no music nor any other modern facilities. Just women who sang and went around garba which would later on develop into Ras but without any musicians or singers.
It was a large basement and around 70 people, mainly women would assemble every day from the first day of Navaratri till Sharad Paurnami. Rasikbhai Patel my close friend and business partner, Natubhai and his children used to take care of the hospitality arrangements. In those days, there was no parking problem and you could easily park your car but still, most of the people used public transport then. What I am trying to draw is that today, Charuben, her sister and some other girls are grandmothers. Their offspring and relatives are settled in the UK, USA, Middle East, India, and Australia. But there is something almost unique especially in us as Indians. I met some Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus, we all are Sanatani and we all participate in celebrating our diverse cultural traditions.

The contribution of the Indian diaspora

I am very positive and clear whatever our contribution, wherever we live, we are more focused on education, professions, skills, entrepreneurship and many more things, without any barriers and, by and large, law-abiding. Wherever Indians reside, whether Gujaratis, Punjabis, Tamils, or others, they are accorded a unique level of respect. We are accepted, respected and given due credit with jobs and positions to commensurate with our qualifications.

A personal disaster averted

I also want to share with you about an incident that happened to me on Tuesday evening of 17 October. Around 10 pm, I went to the first-floor bedroom and as usual, I had a mobile in one hand and a thermos flask in the other. I have climbed these steps like this for the past one and half years since we started living here,  perhaps 4 to 5 times every day. But on Tuesday while going from the 12th to the 13th step, I was distracted to look at the curtain of the guest bedroom. I just bend over and oh, this 70-kilo bundle hit the floor rolling the stairs. Only with blessings of the Providence and your prayers, I had no serious injury except a small crack in my heel. I failed 100% on my prudence. Even with that, I was able to attend several events.
I am exposing my stupidity and negligence to alert everybody. 80% or more serious injuries even death of elderly people occur in their own homes. I have to remember that every step I take even on the same floor, I should be very careful. Not only if something happens, if I tip over, I hurt myself, I will suffer but also make my family members go through the trauma and other problems.
All I want to say is, that in every step we take, may we find grace, wisdom, and the continued ability to dance through life's celebrations and challenges.

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