Remona AlyTuesday 22 October 2019 BBC Radio 2
Zoe, for most normal people, the word “holiday” might conjure up sandy beaches, adventure, or an escape to where no one knows your name. Not me.
Growing up as a British Asian girl meant trips to India, where I was carted around living rooms to meet relatives five times removed, who’d pull my cheek and ask me to guess who they were. All this, while I suffered from Delhi belly, and was attacked by hordes of mosquitoes. “They like your sweet foreign blood,” teased my Indian cousins.
But of course, there were beautiful memories too. Like the time I stayed in a village deep in the Indian countryside. One night, we sat under the stars in a crumbling courtyard around the glow of an open fire. The wood crackled and the smoke danced around us, as grey-haired elders sipped cups of chai and talked of the good old days.
I glanced into the distance and could just make out the figure of a farmer walking into a field, slowly disappearing into the darkness. He had no torch, nothing to guide him, and I wondered how he could find his way home in the pitch black? “He’ll be fine,” said my aunt. “He’ll always know his way home.”
Home. Home has been a little tricky for me – as a second generation British Indian Muslim woman. Having more than one identity has been an interesting ride. It’s like when you have each foot on two separate carriages on a bendy bus or train. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they make you go in different directions.
My 13th century mentor, the Persian Muslim poet, Rumi, also hailed from more than one place – Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan claim him as theirs, and he’s even gone beyond national and religious boundaries to have universal appeal.
I’d like to think his multiple identities played a part. It gives me courage. Especially now, as I feel I’m at a crossroads in life, trying to figure who I really am and what way I’m going next.
Perhaps there are many who feel the same, and I’d give them the same comforting words as I’d give myself from Rumi, who says, “Although the road is never ending, take a step and keep walking. Do not look fearfully into the distance. On this path let the heart be your guide.”