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Adventures of the Mind

Author: Lubna Kerr
Year: Adventure

I grew up reading Enid Blyton books, The Famous Five and the Secret Seven. Fantasising about their adventures and wishing I could have one just like them. I was always amazed that their parents never told them off. My parents, Pakistani migrants, would have had something to say if we had sailed away and not told anyone, or chased some criminals.

I used to dream of being part of the group that could tackle problems which seemed too big for children to manage. No such luck. The only adventure I had was coming to Glasgow from Pakistan.

Can the love of adventure be in the blood? Is it something genetically passed down via generations?

Thinking of adventures is like comedy: it’s very subjective. Somebody might like Billy Connolly and another person might like Michael McIntyre. But no one is wrong, just different.

My parents’ adventures started when they had to leave India as a result of the partition. The British, after not being invited to India, stripping it of its jewels and precious items, decided to get up one day and leave after 200 years. Just like that.

Their parting shot was to make more mayhem by creating new countries; West Pakistan and East Pakistan – which later became Bangladesh.

The reasoning, was to put all the Muslims into another region. And so began the unholy movement of millions of people from all sides of the borders. Thousands were killed and maimed, and relations between Pakistan and India have been strained since then. Families were broken up, land and houses lost, mayhem and pain endured.

Both my parents took part in this adventure, a far sight from the ones that the Famous Five had. It is something they didn’t want to revisit or talk about and who can blame them. Bloodshed and violence that was seen along the way would have been too much for any adult, never mind children. Did they get counselling? Did they get help? Did they know where they were going to live?

Despite this, my parents had a good childhood, growing up in different parts of Lahore until meeting at university. They decided to continue their love of adventure by coming to Glasgow in the 1960s when my father was offered a scholarships to do a PhD in chemistry from Strathclyde University.

My first adventure was going to school where no-one spoke Urdu and ate food with no spices in it – I still can’t face the thought of mince and tatties! As my parents grew more comfortable with their surroundings, I was allowed to walk to school and buy an apple from the greengrocer on the way. I’m sure that is where my love of shopping came from. This wasn’t just your regular greengrocer who only sold fruit, vegetables and, very occasionally, flowers. This was a special greengrocer. It also sold delicious homemade cakes. My eyes always went to the gingerbread cake but, as a good obedient Pakistani girl, I did as I was instructed and only bought an apple. One day when I was in with my mum, the shopkeeper praised me and said how good I was to buy an apple every day. My mum patted me on the head and agreed with him, but inside I was dying. If only they knew that I really wanted a gingerbread cake. To this day I still love a gingerbread cake with icing on it.

I remember at school reading Ladybird Janet and John books, names I struggled with as they seemed foreign to me. They were not the Ashraf’s or Amina’s that I was used to. The teacher, who took my struggle to read in English as a sign that I stuttered, referred me to the speech and language therapist. I remember going there with my mum and doing these silly exercises. Looking back, I never had a stutter but found it difficult to read and speak a language that I only ever heard at school (no TV for us in those days). It was only in my adult life, when I had children that I realised, I never had a stutter but that I was struggling to learn two languages.

Those who know me will be surprised that I speak of a stutter as they know I can talk for Scotland. My brother, who was also born in Pakistan, was also sent to speech and language therapy, but my sister, who is our Glaswegian, was not.

After initially living in Govan, we moved onto Pollokshields. A new school, a new teacher: a new adventure. Meeting new friends, meeting new religions was a new adventure. I went from living in a protestant area in Govan, to an area, at the time, where the Irish were the minority. We had a chapel round our block and families with six children living in a two-bedroom flat. I learned the tradition of a "scramble" at a wedding. The children gathered outside the wedding car waiting for the groom to throw out a whole load of money, that we as children could scramble and fight for. I remember a boy we were all scared of, Steven Armstrong. If I saw him in the street I would cross the road and hide behind cars to avoid meeting him. I wonder what he is doing now and if I would be brave enough to meet him face to face?

Those adventures I dreamt about were really only in my mind.

I might have wanted to be part of the Secret Seven but really the only place I ever wanted to be was home.