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BRADFORD: Breathless in Bradistan

Amna Kaleem writes about her experiences living in a place that is as desi as Daska but is her home away from home nevertheless.

When moving abroad one takes along an excess baggage of emotions, hopes and fears. There is the sad realisation of leaving your best friends behind, comforts of domestic help, your job, and the sense of belonging.

However, the sorrow is balanced with the joy of knowing that you will be in a place where people do not judge you for what you wear, eat, drink, breathe and think. You can’t help feeling relieved that you can walk out in your favourite pair of jeans and even in your night suit when you’re feeling too lazy to change.

By the time you are airborne, you quite happily relinquish the social formalities, which are part and parcel of the Pakistani lifestyle –– no uninvited guests, boring dinner parties and mindless gossip. You’re a free bird and off you go. However, if your chosen destination is Bradford, the ultimate desi hub of England, then you are in for a big-unpleasant-reeking-of-curry-surprise.

It would be wrong on my part to say that I didn’t see it coming. I was given a fair amount of warning from all quarters. I was told Bradford can be mistaken for Lahore. But, the description is quite inaccurate. Bradford does not look like Lahore, heck no, Lahore is way too modern and, dare I say, ‘western’.

Bradistan is as desi as Daska. Living in this city is nothing short of an experience where you travel back in time –– 1960’s to be precise. The Pakistanis who migrated here to fuel the industrial boom seem to be in a time warp; in terms of their thinking and ideas they are very much in the decade when they left their homeland.

Preservation of your culture is a given, but to obstinately resist integration is quite irrational. The narrow mindedness and double standards that plague Pakistani society exist here in abundance.

A large chunk of the older generation refuses to learn English, it’s funny because they do not mind enjoying the benefits offered in this country, but when it comes to learning the language, even if it’s for the sake of integration, their desi sensibilities get offended. I was warned that lingual affiliations are so strong here that one is deemed too ‘modern’ if found conversing in Urdu –– the vernacular being Mirpuri, Brahvi and other regional languages.

It is needless to say if found speaking English, you’re dismissed as a pariah. So do not be surprised if you step in a taxi and are greeted by Noorjahan or Attaullah Essa Khelvi singing their lungs out of the music player; and if your taxi driver is not into music, then there’s a good chance you might end up listening to tilawat or dars.

The fashion is as ancient as the ideas which Bradford desis live by. With 80 per cent of women in burqas and naqaab, you can feel like a fish out of water if dressed in western attire and have old women glare at you. Those who do not wear burqas wear shalwar kameez, which prompt you to say ‘hey 1980s called, they want the hemlines back’. I am not a very fashion savvy person, but such blatant violations of fashion can irk anyone with even the remotest idea of what the current trends are.

Cinemas are yet another place where the eccentric fashion sense comes on display. On weekends, women put on every bling item they have in their wardrobe, we’re talking gold, diamante encrusted sandals, organza shalwar kameez (no exaggerations here) and chandelier earrings. With boutiques like ‘Laadli’ and ‘Dulhan ka Raaj’ in abundance, the bling-brigade is never out of supplies.

However, having excessively ranted about the city, it would be unfair on my part to ignore the positive aspects, which I benefit from immensely and to some extent facilitated my adjustment. Take, for instance, the easy availability of desi foodstuff; with Dial-a-roti nearby, I can enjoy my chicken curry with tandoori naans anytime of the day; I have to just step out of my house to get the entire range of Shan masalas, lentils, Rooh Afza, and all the other complicated condiments which go into making ultimate Pakistani cuisine; and whenever I miss Karachi, I can hop to the Kashmir Bakery and get my choice of samosas, sweetmeat, chaat and pani puri.

At the end of the day, despite all its eccentric characteristics, Bradford is a home away from home. The city has been the closest thing to Pakistan I could have here and has saved me from being homesick. So I guess, for the initial adjustment phase, a place like Bradford is not bad, however, you can get an overdose of your own medicine if you stay here for too long.

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