The following is a preview of themes I will shortly be writing about.
What makes us happy, or content? Are happiness and contentment synonymous? Are we grasping at shadows, pursuing what is ever-elusive? This a topic to which I have given some thought previously, but never thought enough to write about it. But now a friend has asked me to offer my thoughts on this topic and I have decided I may be able to contribute something.
2) A brief History of Alum Rock
This idea was, in a sense, inspired by a television program I saw last night, in which Michael Portillo takes a tour of Scotland by rail. Portillo’s mother was Scottish, and this relation between his mother and her country appeared to give him a sense of his own past. In turn, this caused me to think about programmes such as ‘Who do you think you are?’, in which celebrities delve into the past to discover their roots. Thinking about people who can say where they belong, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of personal sadness. Where do I come from, where do I belong? The answer is that I don’t know where I truly belong because in the cultural setting I come from in South Asia, there was never any tradition of record-keeping. All four of my grandparents are still alive, but if you ask them a question as simple as ‘how old are you?’ they can only give, at best, an approximate answer- this is not because they are senile, but because birth-dates weren’t considered an important item of information. Life was lived, not recorded. All I have are a cluster of memories- some good and others bad- which bind me to a past that I yearn to know.
Beyond that, if I attempt to trace my roots into that particular past I would only ever find myself swallowed into a void. However, having lived most of my life in Alum Rock, I can say that I have a sense of belonging to this place- a sort of surrogate belonging though. What I want to do, therefore, is to research and write a history of this place, from its earliest beginnings. I think I have set myself a not insignificant task, but it will, I hope, give me a sense of where I belong- and why so many of us from the same small districts in Pakistan, many thousands of miles away, came to belong here.
It will be a history, firstly from an objective perspective, of what and who Alum Rock consisted of, and how it changed. Secondly, it will be a history of my own experience, from the moment a 5 year old boy and his shiny new boots set foot on English earth.