Remona Aly
Monday 08 March 2021 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

The Family Tree

Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show

The family tree


Zoe, these days, the nostalgia keeps elbowing me in the ribs, both a little painful as well as sweet, mainly when I think about holidays – remember them? Well, growing up as a British Asian kid, you soon realise that our version of holidays are less Thomas Cook and more Family Misfortunes. Battling mosquitos during long summers in my parent’s native India, touring houses of obscure relatives while coping with a dodgy belly and having your cheek pulled by random uncles asking: “Do you remember who I am?” “Ye-es,” I’d lie. “What’s my name then?” “Erm…Uncle?”

But as my years increased, the cheek pulling decreased, and I began to appreciate my heritage and saw the trips as an opportunity to figure out where I stood in the world. At my real, not random, uncle’s home, there’s a cabinet laden with dust and memorabilia, where I spotted a rusty, antique metal letter carrier. Scrolled up inside was a large, crumbling leaf of paper, which was unfurled to reveal our family tree, written in the elegant sweep of Urdu script. While my uncle read out the names of all our fathers and forefathers, I realised something was missing: the women. There were no mothers, no grandmas, no daughters, no sisters, as if a patriarchal saw cut half the tree trunk from our history.

 Today is International Women’s Day, a day that reminds me how vital it is to write my own story, and to pay tribute to the untold stories, both near and far, that make me proud to be a woman. From my widowed aunt – a working mum who single-handedly raised two young children in a society that overlooked the miracles of her daily achievements, to the 19th century West African Muslim scholar, Nana Asma’u, who empowered thousands of poor women and girls through her framework of free education.

 “Listen for the voice of the women,” says the British Muslim spoken word poet, Sukina Pilgrim. “They are me and I am them, and I will tell their stories, and write their legacy, and make my whole life sacred poetry, in honour of them, in honour of me.”

I reckon it’s time to honour ourselves and women everywhere, because together, side by side, root by branch, we can grow a global family tree that lifts all of us up.