No, really, where are you from?

December 9 2017

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan eloquently and succinctly answered the question of his home-ness when asked by a BBC presenter this week. It’s a question that has mildly irritated virtually every second generation immigrant at some point.

But what if people really want to know…

cool looking map of the British Empire

So where are you from?


Oh. But where are your parents from?

Ah, well, I’m glad you asked.

To understand this, we must really begin with the Indus Valley at around 2000 BCE. There was an ancient civilisation living here, in the area now covering parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and North West India (affectionately known in the region as North Weezy). They were a happy and thriving bunch, with all sorts of drains and toys.

Then, at around 1500 BCE — as with all great civilisations — they started declining. My memory is hazy as to why, but some blame climate change and the lack of rain.

At some point, a group of people called Aryans entered the region (not to be confused with Arjuns). Whether they migrated, invaded or were always there is apparently a source of controversy that only Time can shed light on. The Indo-Aryans were responsible for bringing the Sanskrit language (along with the whole tree), and effectively founding Hinduism in the Vedic Period (1500–500 BCE).

The Vedas are considered the oldest spiritual text of Hinduism. The first of these — the Rigveda — contains the beginnings of the caste system that still exists in a bastardised form today. Initially there were four castes:

So my peeps were a community of Kshatriyas called Lohanas. This is where mythology and history get a bit cozy, but apparently they started off somewhere in Iran/Afghanistan, worshipped the Sun, allegedly descended from the Hindu deity Rama, and eventually migrated down through Punjab, Sindh in Pakistan and ended up in an area called Saurashtra in Gujarat some 800 years ago.

East India Tea

Fastforward a few hundred years. The Mughal Empire is declining, and the British East India Company begins to take a foothold of the country. Say what you will about the ethics of Google, Amazon, Facebook et al — but at least they don’t have literal armies and countries at their behest (yet)! Eventually, the British Government took over, and the company hung around solely to trade tea.

The British Empire loved tea. They also loved trains. So in the late 1800s, a bunch of Indian people were taken over to East Africa to make a railway. Some of them even hung around afterwards, and formed a little community of brown peeps.

My family weren’t super into making trains. But in 1928, a dude named Motilal Gadhia thought, “Hmm, these brown peeps are doing pretty well for themselves down in Africa. Maybe I’ll join them.” And he did. He started a textile shop. Motilal is the son of Devchand Gadhia — my great grandfather. Fun fact about Devchand: he was a lawyer, and one of his brothers was an actual real life bandit. Can you imagine the capers they must have had!!

Meanwhile, Motilal’s younger brother Nagardas (my grandfather) was jamming in Nageshree, Gujarat trying to find a wife. His search took him to a small town called Bamnasa some 180km away (for the record, Tinder has a max distance of 161km) where he “met” my grandmother Gulab (Rose). I put “met” in air-quotes because they only saw each other once and didn’t speak. And then straight up got married.

map of distance my grandad travelled for love
I’m barely willing to travel into London for a date.

So they got married in 1941, hung out in Mumbai for a couple of years. At this stage, they would have been considered British Subjects. And eventually in 1946 (a year before India’s independence from British rule), they made their way over to Kampala, Uganda on a nine day voyage across the seas.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have any close* family left in Gujarat now. (*close family = descendants of my great great great grandparents).

Modern day Gujaratis had diverged somewhat from their warrior ancestors, and are now known for their shrewd business sense and/or mad software development skillz. By the time my grandparents came to Kampala, there was already a large Gadhia clan there. All selling textiles of some sort. My grandfather’s spin-off store was called “Gadhia Emporium” which was legit the coolest name. Emporiums are the best. Then, in 1952, my Dad was born. And my Mom. In Kampala. Separately. They grew up there, went to school (sort of). Then in the 1970s things started getting a bit cray, just as Idi Amin was coming into power. But being part of the British empire does have its perks — in particular a British passport. So they started leaving for the safety of London with whatever money they could scramble together. My Dad and his brother had already migrated to London in January 1970. My Mum and her family left in February 1972, just a few months before all the Asians were expelled.

So…yeah. Don’t have any family in Uganda either.

Apparently the road my dad used to live on

And that brings us to the final destination — Harrow.

Well, my Dad initially did a whirlwind tour of the UK, from Birmingham to Balham, before settling down in Harrow. My Mum and her family spent some time living in South Ealing, Southall (obviously) and Greenford before her marriage.

Fun fact: my dad once got stabbed when visiting his in-laws in Greenford (not by the in-laws). His compensation was exactly £1370.

Injury compensation letter

Over the years, these two barely educated immigrants had to work their way up to be able to support a family. Mom worked various jobs before marriage, mostly involving greeting cards and something top secret I’m not supposed to know. Her hobbies from her CV are listed below.

my moms hobbies on her CV

Dad worked at a radio factory for a few months before becoming an Insurance clerk. He now works for British Airways doing something or other. They both met to get married in 1981. No air quotes this time — they only met once, but my Dad took her out for a solid 15 minute drive before deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. So they got hitched in October that year, and have lived in Harrow ever since.

Personally I agree with this dude. It’s a real pain in the ass shopping at Tesco when everyone at the tills knows your mom.

Fast forward 8 years to Northwick Park hospital and boom. There I was. Baby Arjun. British Citizen.

Right, cool. So you're Indian then.

Nah, Home is North Weezy mate.