Born in Manchester but loyal to Lahore
They have embraced Western values and shunned the old traditions. But a new generation of British Asians
are still coming to terms with their complex identites. Burhan Wazir reports
For a few moments yesterday at the Marylebone Cricket Club, not long after he had finished unpacking his
picnic hamper, Ghulam Hussain, a 29-year-old software programmer from Manchester, found himself
overcome by a fiercely nationalistic Pakistani pride. He rose from his seat in the North Stand, unfurled a
large Pakistani flag and enthusiastically waved the white-crescent-and-star on a green background. “Pakistan
Zindabad! [Long live Pakistan!],” he shouted. “En-ger-land Murdabad! [Death to England].”
He grinned at his friends who sat nearby, cracking rude Punjabi jokes while chewing on freshly made
cucumber sandwiches: “Look at the atmosphere – all these Pakistanis having such a great time. There‟s a
real carnival atmosphere to it. This is the closest London ever gets to sounding like Lahore.”
Hussain has travelled down overnight by car from Manchester, buying tickets from touts outside the ground.
His car, crowded with four other friends, remained parked near the cricket ground: and the quintet slept
overnight in a rather overstated Mercedes-Benz.
Unmistakably upwardly mobile, the well-educated Hussain shares a flat with his white girlfriend in
Manchester city centre and enjoys the benefits of a salary of more than £30,000. “Not a fortune, but enough
to give me and her a decent lifestyle,” he said.
Hussain and his friends, all carrying Pakistani flags and banners while dressed in a uniform of expensive
designer clothing, make up a new social group of affluent British Asians. For many, cricket has become the
main channel for expressing their identity with pride and energy. Some observers were shocked at the recent
spate of pitch invasions, including an incident at Trent Bridge, in Nottingham, when a steward was injured
by Pakistani fans. Others have questioned the loyalty of British Asians who refuse to support the England
cricket team. But most fans are, in all senses, as Westernised as any of their white counterparts, while
selectively hankering for their parents„ rich cultural experience. In many ways, Hussain admits, it„s the
perfect twinning of two cultures.
“I have been to Pakistan a few times,” he said. “I can‟t say I‟d want to live there. Man, the poverty is
unbelievable. And to be honest, I can‟t always relate to what‟s happening out there: people are strange. I love
the cricket lifestyle, though, mainly because we don‟t have many Asian idols in this country,” he said.
“Pakistani cricketers are like rock stars when you think about it; the wild hair, cool attitudes, and women find
them sexy. My white friends at school were into The Smiths; I was into Pakistani cricketers. I guess you look
for something that makes sense in your own culture. And we don‟t have anything like that in this country.
Cricket allows me to have all the Pakistani experiences that I have missed out on, but my parents have been
Ironically the decision, if only on sporting terms, to support their parents‟ team is indicative of a creeping
Westernisation that has embedded itself in the minds of young British Asians over the past 20 years, despite
Lord Tebbit„s denunciation of those supporting the team of their parents„ homeland.
These days, with increasing numbers of religious leaders, community elders and even family members
unable to articulate, or even understand, the contradictions that an East-West upbringing plant in the minds
of people such as Hussain, a generation of twenty-somethings that has turned back to its oldest and most
popular form of cultural heritage: cricket.
“On some level, British Asian youths crave after the kind of tumultuous, era-defining experience their
parents went through,” said Mushtaq Rana, 34, a spokesman for the Muslim Youth Association, a nationwide
body that well understands the East-West extremes experienced by the British Asians.
“Their parents had to live through Pakistani and Indian independence – a hugely violent chapter in their lives
when hundreds of thousands of people died. Perhaps that‟s where this unconditional love of supporting their
parents‟ team comes from – a need to be able to relive, in some way, the emotional and joyous upheavals
they‟d never otherwise experience in this country.”
Yet, according to Hussain and many others like him, the “British Asian” tag itself is misleading: a
patronising, polyglot term that unfairly gathers together various sects of Muslims, Indians, Sikhs, Kashmiris,
Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis. Sitting in the MCC crowd, Hussain and his friends looked around the ground
for friends from Manchester. “Look,” he said. “That guy there – He‟s from the Sindh in Pakistan. I can‟t
even understand what he‟s saying most of the time – Sindhi is completely different from Punjabi. One of my
friends here is from the North-West Frontier. I can only speak to him in English. Just as there‟s Gaelic and
Cornish; well, we‟re all different as well.”
Frustration at the way the media have portrayed them has expressed itself a number of times over recent
weeks. Earlier this month in Leeds, around 100 youths gathered in Banstead Park, Harehill, in an
impassioned, occasionally violent six-hour showdown with police. Overnight, 20 cars had been torched and
six men arrested.
In the aftermath of the riots – reported purely as an explosion of British Asian rage – Leeds‟ ethnic residents
complained of racial stereotyping. The city has been home, for nearly 50 years, to 10,000 Mirpuris, while
nearby Bradford now has 40,000. Mirpuris, traditionally farmhands, originate from Mirpur in Kashmir.
“They‟re talking about us all as British Asians,” complained Shakoor Haider, 29, a local youth counsellor,
the morning after the riots. Standing at the scene of the damage, he surveyed the newspapers and added:
“You know, we‟re different here from other Muslims.
“We‟re Mirpuris – we have different principles and ideals from other Muslims. I didn‟t see any Punjabis or
Sindhis here last night. So how can they say we were all British Asians? My parents would never marry their
kids into a Punjabi or Sindhi family. In some ways. the differences are as profound as those between
Christians and Buddhists.”
Hafiz Barlas, director of the Muslim Welfare Association in London, said: “I think it‟s wonderful that British
Asian kids should be able to maintain some kind of link with their parents‟ country. Cricket, after all, has
been the sport of choice for many successive generations of Pakistanis. British Asian kids are upwardly
mobile; they pay taxes; they‟re not religious fanatics; and contribute to the national economy.
“They are, in many ways, as Westernised and as modern as their British peers. So why shouldn‟t they be
keen to hold onto supporting the Pakistani cricket team? For many, it‟s the only way to stay linked back to
their parents‟ motherland.”
By late yesterday afternoon, Ghulam Hussain stood fumbling with a bottle of red wine and an opener.
Draped in his Pakistani flag and listening to his friends chant the fiercely optimistic national anthem of
Pakistan, the irony was not lost on him.
“I don‟t have the hang-ups that my parents had,” he smiled. “My dad has spent years going on and on about
how he hates Indians for what they did to the Pakistanis after independence. I don‟t have any of those
“People nowadays mix and match from all walks of life. And if coming to cricket match helps me remember
Pakistan in some way, well, I might pass that down to my children. We‟re not getting rid of old generation
links – we‟re making new ones.” (The Observer, 24.06.01)