“Buzz off back to Africa Sanjay!” These were the words said to me in anger as I dismounted the Northern Express near Auckland University a couple of weeks ago. Apologies to the person who said this, because I am misquoting her. She used a certain word beginning with the letter F, which I am not using to maintain the prestige of our beloved Hibiscus Matters. Racists are becoming creative in their assessment of my origins. The incident happened on the busy Symonds Street where I committed the crime of standing still on the busy pavement deciding which café to choose for my morning triple shot oat-milk flat white. The lady had bumped into me in her quest to get somewhere quickly.
My immediate reaction was a loud chuckle because of the sheer inaccuracy of the racism. We were in the hub of knowledge in Auckland. AUT and Auckland University are just short walks away. The least one can do is to be accurate in their bigoted assertions. I am from Pakistan so the only place I can buzz off back to is the Indian subcontinent. Although my access to the other parts of the subcontinent, is restricted because of a tiny seventy-six-year-old grudge between India and Pakistan.
Now I am a “give the benefit-of-the-doubt” type of person. On further reflection, I assumed that she might just be a history student doing a thesis on forced colonial migration patterns of the 19th century and incorrectly identified my ancestors to be among the approximately four million Indians who were brought to Africa by the colonial powers as indentured labourers of debt to work on sugar plantations. However, in the spirit of being accurate in her racism, if she is a student of history, she should tell me to buzz off back to Africa, then to India, and then back to Africa (to be archaeologically correct with migration patterns).
Whatever might be the reasons behind what she said, it was still a shock. A usual Kiwi reaction to walking street collisions is a multitude of ‘sorrys’ by the bumper and the bumpee, no matter whose fault it is. You walk away from the incident feeling confused.
I am about to be a dad, as noted in a previous column. My child will be born in New Zealand. Whangapāraoa will be her turangawaewae, her place to stand, and Te Herenga Waka o Ōrewa will be her marae. I will endeavour to raise her as tangata tiriti, a person of the treaty, who understands whose land we live on and her responsibilities to te tiriti.
At the same time, I will endeavour to pass on my experience and knowledge of our whakapapa from India and Pakistan and raise her speaking my language, Urdu, so she doesn’t lose it. She will learn Te Reo Māori as she grows because it is the language of the land, and of course, English, for which I do not think I have to put any effort in because that will be her school and university. Hefty goals but I have to try my best.
My biggest fear is how she will react when she is told to buzz off back to Africa as she dismounts the Northern Express on Symonds street. Will she contextualise it, like her nerdy migrant dad or will it distort her sense of self? Only time will tell.