On Not Belonging, Then Belonging

Rema emailed us out of the blue recently and we were incredibly touched by her words. She then tweaked her email into the blog post below.

As a young girl with Indian roots, growing up in nineties Britain wasn’t actually too bad.

I didn’t experience much racism, even when at one point I was the only brown face in a school classroom of thirty. I had friends from all backgrounds and colours. And I was happy. But every now and then, pangs of emptiness would overcome me. I would feel a bit lost. In the back of my mind, I always knew I was the outsider, looking in. That sense of belonging that I thought the other kids had, seemed to evade me.

I thought I might find this on my first trip to India (well, the first trip that I could actually remember). It was an awesome experience; the sights, the sounds, people were warm and welcoming. I was ‘their guest’, but still, not one of them. And there it was again. The outsider. Feeling just as lost strolling down the beaches of Kovalam, as I did driving down the winding country lanes of Kent. I started to think I’d always feel this way. Neither here. Nor there.

The summer of 2013, and admittedly a latecomer to the mela, saw my first visit to Dishoom. Up until this point, I’d never been to Bombay (apart from several short trips, courtesy of Air Dreams, involving Shahrukh Khan wooing me with just a flash of his dimples) and so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this ‘Bombay café’. At first, everyone looked a bit like me. A bit lost, neither here, nor there – outsiders. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was an outsider among many. And our differences were connecting us.

Being different, it seemed, was welcomed here, celebrated even. Dishoom really seemed to live up to what the Irani cafés of yore claimed to have back then – an eclectic mix of people – misfits, if you like. Their philosophy of creating shared spaces; where rich and poor, young and old, black and white, could sit and break naan together, was definitely for all to see in this relaxed, yet vibrant café in the middle of Central London. People were enjoying what Dishoom had to offer, in his or her own special ways. I saw brown faces, white faces, heard different accents. Everyone was at ease and unassuming, conversing and laughing with each other. They were happy. And so was I. I guess Vandana Shiva was right when she said, “Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way.”

By no means did I expect Dishoom to be the place where I could finally be able to hold my head up high and say, “Yeah, at last, I belong somewhere.” And by no means did I feel this after I left the Dishoom walls. But what I did start to feel was a sense of it being OK to not fit in, to be a bit different. So, thank you Dishoom. It seems I, and a whole bunch of other misfits, owe a lot to you.

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