We can’t choose where and when we are born and grow up, or how we spend those teenage years where we are told everything should be possible, but rarely turns out to be so.
I was born in the old St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner in 1961, into a ‘mixed race’ family, which was then a fairly rare home set-up. My father, an Indian Muslim from Trinidad, had arrived six years earlier aboard the SS Colombie, a former World War Two troop carrier. His forebears had been indentured labourers, transported by the British empire from Calcutta to the Caribbean to work the sugar cane fields in the period following the abolition of slavery. My mother was white working class, but like many ‘white’ Londoners, had foreign ancestors, in her case Jewish and Greek.
My parents met, courted, got married and got a mortgage on a house in Earlsfield, south-west London, before moving to suburban Worcester Park, near Kingston-Upon-Thames, to raise their family. They had twelve children, of whom I am the second eldest. I was taught Qur’an by the Pakistani family up the road, and one of my earliest memories is going with my father to the Shah Jahan mosque in Woking, Surrey. In those days, it didn’t matter if you were Sunni or Ahmadiyya, you prayed in the same mosque.