February 17, 2005
Tip Top Topping

I’ve not been feeling too well over the last day or so. Holed up in bed with a rotten cold and only my laptop to keep me company, every so often I will push the laptop to one side, close my stinging eyes and think the things that I just don’t normally get the time to think of: my childhood.

It sometimes takes just a little thing to bring a whole bucketload of memories flooding back. The slightest of triggers that spontaneously shifts the mind’s eye to a different time - evoking recollection of good and bad things about then that seem to stick in the long-term conciousness.

Tip Top Video - triggering happy childhood memories …

There is a shop on Ealing Road called Tip Top Video. I have gazed at this shop pretty much every working day - twice a day - for the last five years from the upper deck of Route 79. For the first time the other day though - something clicked. And I was drifting into my childhood …

A childhood with relatively few exceptionally-happy times. As a second-generation immigrant Indian (Asian, South Asian - call it what you want) I was raised in two worlds. One was the world inside - and the other the world outside. Inside, it was as the growing eldest-son of Indian parents. Strangers in a foriegn land. “We arrived at Heathrow with only five pounds in our pockets!” they would constantly remind me. Over here to work hard and make a new life - and, above all, provide the very best education for me - which in turn would result in a prosperous life for all of us - forever. Culturally intact and untainted by the “bad things” that the “white people” did. Like listening to pop music, or going out with friends after school, or (God forbid) talking to girls. Life centred around the home - and family - and friends of the family. Even when we ventured outside the home as a family - our kind, kinda stuck together. Daytrips to Alton Towers in the summer holidays - when the place was all just gardens and stately home. Or to Skegness - playing rummy with my cousins as we slid around unseatbelted on the back seat of a Ford Cortina as it winded its way through the sunny Lincolnshire countryside with Indian music on C-90 cassette blaring out aloud. (They weren’t really my cousins - but that’s how we referred to them anyhow.) And, oh my; a boot-load of samosas, gobi prathas and several thermos flasks full of garam chai waiting to be devoured in the promenade car park when we got there.

Outside, was the world in which I would one day have to fend for myself - and compete with those very “white people” that our parents didn’t want us to be like. Like all those in my generation - we were torn between two essentially opposing-in-many-ways ways of life. You’ve probably heard many stories about the things that people like me have had to endure - and I don’t have the time to go through even some of those right now. But one thing is for sure - we are a unique generation. When I examine the sociology of next generation of British Asians I see a great deal of absence of the burdens that people in my generation had to bear. When I was a teenager I resented these burdens deeply - but I no longer do now. Instead we seek some confort in the the fact that we played an essential part in easing the pains associated with transition of peoples from one land into another. Easing the pains for the future generations that is. From a diaspora - to being the very fabric of it.

My generation might be confused, and many of us are. But the next generation most definitely are not. It saddens me sometimes, to think that our unique life experiences will go with us - and one day everyone will have forgotten.

On very rare, but memorable, occasions - after a traditional Indian weekday evening dinner of either daal, aloo mutter, or marrow sabji - eaten with rotis served one by one as they were made puffed up and hot straight off the thawa by my Mum - my Dad would retrieve a tin of fruit cocktail from the cupboard - open it up and serve it out into little bowls for me and my sisters. He would also get one of those half-size tins of Tip Top dessert topping and punch two holes in the top of the tin - at diametrically opposite sides. He would then pour the cream into our fruit salad bowls. I remember vividly savouring every moment of it with teaspoons in hand - engaging in childish banter with my sisters who were doing exactly the same. Right up until the very last half-cherry - which I always left until last. This is one of the happiest memories of my childhood.

Posted by jag at February 17, 2005 03:47 PM
Great post Jag, although some of it is quite worrying - I hope the attitudes of yore have changed! Hope you're feeling better soon. Posted by: Vicky on February 17, 2005 06:18 PM
One of the best posts that I have ever read. Seriously. Every generation - rite from the one that arrives in a new country to the current one will have a unique experience. It is not only the fact that the family becomes more and more open as time passes, it is also because time changes, the society changes, "the other people" changes, the world changes. The earliest generation that arrives will face the most difficulties, difficulties that they would rather not expose to the world; hence they end up being a close knit, very close knit, commmunity. It is, as you said, only slowly that they open out; and the process happens slowly, just like evolution. Nowadays, it is India that is getting acclimatised to the world - there is more influence of foriegn culture than ever before. And now, it would probably take lesser time to get mixed with the external world, if we ever emigrate. This is because things which were considered taboo before, are becoming more commonplace now. My best memories - hanging out with a group of cousins - about 8 of them, all of them in the same age group, playing cards, going to the local ice-cream parlour, or the latest movie, or to the beach, watching movies, eating out; and lots more. I miss those times. Would give anything to go back, and enjoy them more, with the fullest satisfaction, and knowing that such times would never come again. Posted by: sat on February 17, 2005 06:22 PM
Vicky: thanks. The attitudes have indeed changed over the years - in fact it didn't take many years at all. Being the eldest child - I bore the brunt of the tensions - whilst younger siblings had it a lot easier. The parents of our generation learned to adapt at every significant stage of the elder child's progress. They became a lot more mellow quickly. If anything - throughout the 1980s - many of the first generation immigrants became "gentrified" - and as best integrated as they could be - e.g. bringing along savoury Indian snacks to the local village fete etc. Sat: Thanks! And you are absolutely right: time brings about change. And how true about India having become more receptive to changes over the last decade or so - I remember the "ideals" that my parents generation tried to uphold here in UK - only for them to be completely shocked at witnessing how such ideals had been lost whenever they went back to India! This became very marked in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. This really hit home once a few years ago when my Mum came back from India and told me that one of her best friends from her teenage years - who had lived all of her life in Punjab - had never stepped out of India - was more "westernised" than she was! Looking back on old times Sat: this can sometimes be really hard emotionally - in the sense that you describe: there's never going to be a going back to those days. They are for memories only. Posted by: Jag on February 17, 2005 07:47 PM
Wonderful. Absolutely bare-bones vulnerable. Thanks Jag! With this you helped not forgetting it. Posted by: Snappy on February 17, 2005 10:09 PM
Interesting post. Isn't it funny how the small things trigger off the really deep meaningful recollections. I guess it's because it's sometimes the little things that matter. Superb! Posted by: Brom-man on February 19, 2005 09:14 AM
I hope you are better and that ms79 made you yellow dhall when you were poorly. Loved the post reminded me of arguments with my brother and sister over who had the most cherries. Tescoes state on their fruit salad tins that they have improved them by adding more cherries and grapes. Spoilsports, don't they believe in sibling rivalry? Posted by: stroppycow on February 20, 2005 08:46 AM
Snappy: You got a point. Thanks! Brom-man: Cheers. I agree 100% - it's always the littlest of things that make the biggest differences - no matter what dimension you look at things from. Strop: Thanks for asking - actually I am better now - but not 100% - whatever it was (some nasty virus) it had me completely WIPED OUT since Wednesday. I have hardly ventured out of my bed since then - and have been terribly weak etc. I don't think it was full-blown flu - but it was really quite debilitating. I am only just now beginning to catch up with life. And yes - Ms79 did indeed make some yellow dhal - and this is what I have been living on for last few days! I'm so impressed that you remember that! Your point about fruit salad tins and sibling rivalry really made me laugh! It is *so* true though. I'm sure there only used to be two or three cherry pieces when I was a kid - so it's a shame that there are more nowadays - spoilsports I agree! Posted by: Jag on February 20, 2005 08:57 AM
Man, you're giving one the shivers with posts like that! Ever considered writing a book? I'm serious... And now for something completely different - I came across your blog while searching for an American Diner in London and two weeks ago I ventured out to Perivale to visit "Starvin Marvin's"! Amazing... that place is giving you the shivers as well... :-) Cheers, Marco Posted by: Marco on February 20, 2005 12:15 PM
That's quite a trip down memory lane. Congratulations at putting it into words so wonderfully. What I also find interesting is that recounting experiences like this often contains something very specific (like your family's history) and yet very universal at the same time (adapting to new impulses; the burdens each generation has to bear). It's wonderful how well communication works at times. Posted by: David on February 21, 2005 08:04 AM
Wonderful Jag... very aptly put. From time to time, whenever the question of "when to return" arises, I do think about the state of mind of the second generation Indian kids in this country and you have given a good picture in nice words. What you say about the "moving along with our kinda" people is so very true.. unable to accept the culture of "white" ppl and at the same time the neccessity to compete with them... its one of the life's ironies and telling moments. Posted by: Chakra on February 21, 2005 02:56 PM
Interesting insights into a life experience far removed from mine. When I think about the wealth Old Great Britain made from India I would like to see people like yourself walk into Buckingham palace sit at some large desk, put your feet up and have the Queen fetch you a hot cuppa tea. Posted by: Fritz on February 21, 2005 03:25 PM
That is really the most adorable childhood memory I have ever heard (read, in this case).. its so surreal, and beautiful! I can really see the three little kids savoring the dessert.. it captured the essence of everything in one frozen timeless moment. Beautiful, simple and beautiful! Bravo! Hope you feel better soon.. Posted by: Purple on February 23, 2005 05:42 AM
Excellent post! - although the last bit weirded me out somewhat. My mum was always a big fan of giving us the fruit cocktail dessert with Tip Top and I always used to religiously save a half-cherry for last, as well... Posted by: Scattergun on February 23, 2005 01:57 PM
Marco: thank you for your comment. Glad you found Starvin' Marvin's interesting. I have yet to visit it myself! But I do intend to at some point. Flattered by your comment - but I have to say that I really don;t have time to write a book as such; this blog will have to do instead I suppose ... :-) David: Thanks. Yes - I couldn't agree more. I think all of us share very similar experiences - whatever background and whatever generation. Memories have no discrimination towards colour, creed or life history - they can so often be universal in sentiment. Chakra: Thank you. You are so right - the irony can be a defining point of life itself. Fritz: Made me laugh! Strangely (but true) the Queen hosts "garden tea parties" regularly to recognise "ordinary" people of the contributions they make to society - many of whom are from the Commonwealth that the British people nurtured during their conquests around the world during the days of the "empire". Purple: I'm better now. And thnak you so much for such a kind and heart-warming comment! You don't know how much I appreciate it! Scattergun: You are most definitely not alone - I have ceased to surprised at how many there are like us who shared such joys! Posted by: Jag on February 23, 2005 11:31 PM
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