Britain’s Horrible Histories


The Viceroy’s House, a feature film by Gurinder Chadha, director of the joyous Bend it like Beckham,  is out on general release in March. It is a beautifully made, devastating expose of Churchill’s dirty tricks as India gained independence in August 1947. The country was partitioned, millions displaced, and countless murdered, as folk, who had lived peacefully, turned on each other. Ever since then our historians and film and TV programme makers have framed this  savagery in religious terms: intemperate Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims  slaughtered each other because they could not share the land. Using newly discovered documents, Chadha shows how Churchill had well set plans to scythe through India because he was worried about the influence the USSR would have in that region. Lord Mountbatten sent out there to organise British withdrawal had no idea about this dark  plan. Nor do today’s Brits, Indians or Pakistanis. This state guards its wicked deeds and noxious secrets. Always did. Always will.

Those of us who were raised in one of the many lands of the old British Empire were not only subjugated and make aware of our lowliness, but well brainwashed. The history syllabus was tightly controlled. Inscrutable inspectors in hats came in and sat at the back of classrooms to check orders were being followed. Mr Kavi, our history teacher, was often taken away and questioned sternly because he was suspected of being an ardent admirer of Gandhi and Nehru. They were right. He was subversive. After class he would sit with us in the grounds and tell us about British political cunning and the undeclared colonial strategy of divide and rule. He reminded us that nations taken over by Europeans had been great civilizations, that we weren’t congenitally weak and childlike, or irrecoverably tribal. Did his pupils believe or trust him? Not really. A few of us were budding liberationists, yet along with more pliant schoolmates, were swept away by the epic saga: Empire was a wondrous achievement – plucky small islanders took over most of the globe! Brought railways, legal systems, police forces, flushing lavatories, capitalism, Dickens and Shakespeare, Cliff Richards, Ovaltine, tinned cheese and pink blanc mange!  We yearned to please Britannia, to be her adopted children.

After independence, the whitewashed past was reassessed in previous colonies, but there were few books providing counternarratives to the great Imperial myths. In 1972, I was one of those Ugandan Asians exiled by the dictator Idi Amin. In Oxford, where I was a post-grad student, that past was still being spun. At one posh college dinner, a senior lecturer loudly proclaimed : ‘You overseas students are all the beneficiaries of the greatest empire in the world’. My children, born in London, were also, sadly, taught about British glories and victories, hardly anything about the ignoble past . I read the great post-colonialist writers and also Marxist historians, but it is only in the last decade or so, that ugly truths about British rule have been exposed. ( Over this same period ‘patriotic’ historians such as Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts have produced thunderous revisionist tomes for those who still cling to the moribund idea of the great  British empire)

Among the hidden horrible histories, is the role played by our government in the coup that led to Idi Amin gaining control of Uganda. President Obote, the first elected president of Uganda was threatening to nationalise British companies, including Barclays bank and Dunlop. Together with the US and Israel they welcomed Amin. As he started killing opponents and terrorising the people, one Foreign office bureaucrat observed: ‘we are close to Amin and are known to be close to Amin and some of the [international] odium may well rub off on us’. Richard Slater, the High Commissioner wrote in a private missive: ‘ We cannot tell him to stop murdering people…my plea is for business as usual’ And so the tyrant carried on killing and British businesses carried on making profits until the expulsions of Asians which that special relationship collapsed. In Jeremy Paxman’s candid book on Empire( Penguin,  2011)  he describes both the brutal Indian uprising against the British in 1859 and the appalling revenge of the rulers who flayed, impaled and beheaded culpable and blameless men, women and children. It was only in 2013, that Kenyan resisters, members of the Mau Mau won their case for compensation against the government. They had been subjected to torture and had their human rights violated in colonial Kenya.  So much for the civilized occupiers, so much for accuracy and truth telling.

If the nation is to free itself from delusions, it needs a more honest engagement with the past.  As Paxman writes: ‘ If only the British could bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name, they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world’.

International Business Times, 17/2/17

Exotic England

 Exotic England Cover England may be a small country on a small island, but its inhabitants have always had a boundless curiosity about the world beyond their shoreline. From the nation’s modern origins in the Renaissance, travellers have eagerly roamed the globe and been enticed by the diversity and richness of other civilizations. And while this appetite for adventure has often been tainted by aggression or exploitation, the English have also carried within them a capacity to soak up new experiences and ideas and to weave them into every aspect of life back home, from language and literature to customs and culture. Here we trace this golden thread of otherness through five centuries of English history to reveal how it has shaped the buildings, flavoured the food, powered the economy, and created a truly diverse society.Today, when England is no longer synonymous with Britain and the English ask themselves who they are, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown paints a sumptuous and illuminating portrait of who they have been and brings a fresh, invigorating perspective on what ‘Englishness’ really means.

Refusing the Veil

  This topic divides people – and it will divide readers of this book too. Many Muslims worldwide either support or adopt religious veiling, and those who argue against it are often criticised, or worse. But, according to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the veil throws up a number of concerns, from questions of health and freedom of choice to issues of gender and personal identity. She argues that veiling conceals abuse, propagates eating disorders and restricts access to sunlight and exercise. It is imposed on babies and young girls, allows women to be shamed for not covering up, and has become associated with extremist factions. It demonises men, oppresses feminism and presents obstacles to performance and success. It even encourages racism, distorts Muslim values and strips women of autonomy and individuality. Written from a unique perspective and packed with personal experiences as well as public examples, Yasmin addresses the ultimate question of why Muslim women everywhere should refuse the veil.

Buy now at Amazon…

Beetroot Rosti

Made this for posh guests recently. Its beautiful- a lovely, life affirming red (or a bit like a circle of baked blood said one diner, who had three helpings). Hand remain horribly pink for a few days and pee too. But it is v good especially when served with Greek yoghurt with mint, red onions and chopped green chillis mixed in

6 chubby, cooked beetroots ( not with vinegar)

6 equally chubby boiled potatoes ( boile them in their skins and peel)

1 tsp cumin powder

salt, pepper and chilly flakes

4 tbsp Chilli infused olive oil- Waitrose sells this

1 tbsp plain olive oil

2 eggs beaten


Grate the beetroots and potatoes

Mix in cumin, salt, pepper and chilli flakes, mix it in well but without completely mashing the veg

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

Heat the oil in a large flat pan which can later go into the oven

Press in the mixture and faltten it with a wooden spoon. Try to get it to the edge of the pan

Cook over medium heat without touching it for 11 minutes

Brush olive oil on top and pour over the egg

Bake in the oven for a further 12 minutes or until the egg look cooked.

Serve as a starter or for lunch.



Fish and Brain

Fish, my mum always said, made Bengalis the cleverest people on earth. When school exams started , she cooked fish every day. Cod liver oil was a must too and once she actually massaged my head with this stinky stuff, trying out a theory that it would sink in through the scalp and skull go ‘straight to the brain, direct, no turning corners’. She was a quack. And I was her only regular client, plus a few mates who had never learnt to read or write. Anyway, this was one of the ways she cooked fish, in a thick sauce, eaten with bread or rice or just a spoon.  I add prawns, she never did. Too expensive.  She pounded the spices by hand. I use a food processor.  

Seafood and Fish Curry
For 6
3 lbs of chunky fish- I mix salmon, tilapia and hake, filleted and skinned, plus a few raw prawns.
½ bunch of fresh coriander leaves
3 hot green or red chillies
2 tbsp oil
1and a ½  tins chopped tomatoes
2 tins good coconut milk I use the powdered sort which you dissolve in warm water
3 tsps dried coriander and cumin powder
2 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 lime
2 tbsps desiccated coconut
2 onions.
Salt to taste

Toast the desiccated coconut in a dry frying pan over low heat, keeping an eye on it. When it starts to change to light brown, it is done.

Put this toasted coconut, coriander, chillies, all the spices, ginger, garlic and one chopped onion in the food processor. Add half a cup of water and pulp.

Chop the other onion and fry in the oil in a largeish pan until teh onions start to brown a little.

Add the pulped, spicy mix and cook for five minutes. Add the coconut milk, tomatoes and cook for another ten minutes over low heat.

Cut the fish into large pieces and carefully place in the bubbling sauce with the lime juice. Poach for five minutes. Add prawns if using and cook for another five minutes. Turn off, cover and serve after five more minutes.

A lidl venison

Sorry have been away so long- exhausted, wintered out, time and all that. But here we are. We went, like all greedy and good middle class people to Lidle which sometimes really does sell you fabulous surprises, fabulously cheap. Especially over Christmas and when some game seasons come. Some of the posh feel either very virtuous or nervous, others go in for under-the breadth sniggering- ‘Look at those fat people, buying ready cooked chicken tikka masala with all that colour and fat’ ‘See the number of crisp packets in the trolley? Do they bath in crisps?’ And so on. I once whispered into the ear of a particularly obnoxious mum from my daughter’s school, a self publicised eco warrior and animal lover, that the goose she had  just bought was from a cruel battery farm in Slovenia. It was a delicious lie. They wouldn’t take it back, obviously. We bought a venison joint the same day. Hope there are no battery deer somewhere in the old Eastern bloc. Here is the most fantastic recipe I made up for it, never having cooked it before. 

Venison either a joint or thick slices
Mixture to rub on made up of a ¼ tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, dried ginger and nutmeg powder.
½ lb each of carrots, onions, and potatoes, peel and cut into chunks
½ bottle cheap red wine
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 beef stock cube
1 lb of button mushrooms washed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pomegranate paste or syrup
3 mugs water

Rub the powder mix onto the meat on all sides
In a casserole with a lid, head the oil and cook the onions until they soften and start to brown
Add sliced garlic
Cook for a minute and add the joint turning it over a couple of times. With sliced meat do the same
Add all the other ingredients except the vegetables
Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook in the oven ( 150 degrees Celsius or gas mark 4)  for forty minutes

Take out and stir a little and add all the vegetables
Cook for another 50 minutes. Check the potatoes are cooked.
Turn off the oven and let the pot rest for half an hour
Serve with French bread and a green salad

Red to Start With

I had fourteen people to dinner on Friday and am still cleaning up, leaving my lovely man to wash fifty glasses (being a perfectionist, he won’t put them into the dishwasher) and getting back to normal. It was a fab evening with friends we haven’t brought together for too long. And it was the cheapest dish- beetroot and potato starter that got the biggest cheers and even some lines of red poetry. So here it is. Enjoy. I am sure it will cheer up the lone diner too- just the beautiful colour does it for me.
Red To Start With
For 4
4 fat beetroots cooked and grated and then mopped with kitchen towel
3 big potatoes, parboiled for six minutes, cooled and grated too.
2 onions finely chopped
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
Salt to taste
Tahini paste
Pine nuts
½ tsp garam masala – bought from any Asian food shop
Gently mix the beetroots and potatoes, salt and garam masala with a metal spoon.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a flat, wide pan which you can put into the oven
Add the seeds and cook for 3 minutes
Press the beetroot mix down as flat as possible over teh onions
Cook for two more minutes and take off the heat.
Brush the top with remaining oil and bake in a medium oven for fifteen minutes.
Spread tahini paste over the top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve with pits bread

Tale of Two Nations

The Olympic flame is on its way to fantabulous London and the Queen’s Jubilee should get us all jiving in parks and eating lots of iced cake. CHANGE HERE Visitors and the loaded, devoted Royalists, sports fans and privileged politicos these are just so, so excited, can’t wait CHANGE ENDS . I come to spoil the party. The merriment feels impolitic and uncivil, callous too. Buried evidence of destitution and hopelessness crawls out from under official assurances ( and excuses) and PR spin. Calls to Mind, the mental health charity have risen by a hundred per cent and new research by the Church Urban Fund finds that in parts of Manchester and Liverpool the average life expectancy is 70 years and 65% of the children live in poverty while in parts of Surry and Berkshire folk the average is 85 and only 1% of children live in poor households. As shocking is the indifference of all of us who own homes, easily pay the bills, have savings, and who can, in hard times still have very good times.
Of course many of us are feeling a little squeezed and do moan about that incessantly, unlike the truly, provably deprived. The paralysis of poverty takes over the mind, body and soul. Few give a damn about these wasted citizens. Or their children.
Instead Alistair Darling yet again, comes out defending Fred Goodwin of RBS, that unfortunate millionaire who lost his knighthood for not doing his job well enough. And billionaire dictators dine with the Queen and news comes that the Sheikh of Qatar owns the most expensive house in Britain- 200 million pounds.

Last week I had lunch with a wealthy, intriguing, sensitive Tory in a packed, upmarket fish restaurant where the recession was further than the farthest, unseen orb. The very same day I went to a small flat where people lived in fouler conditions than I ever saw in Uganda, my birthplace. Earlier in the month I spent half a day with the phenomenal Camilla Batmanghelidj, founder of Kid’s Company, a highly professional, multidisciplinary charity trying to save thousands of children from going under. They see severe psychological and emotional problems and kids with simple physical needs, like breakfast.
Politicians of all shades have brought us to this. Reaganomics and Thatcherism instigated the shift away from social cohesion to individualism. New Labour proudly continued that ideology and the Coalition fanatically pushes it further still. In the Queen’s speech they promised they would make it easier for bosses to sack workers without all that bother of tribunals. Their benefits rearrangements are cutting down the most disadvantaged. A disabled woman, Merry Cross, whom I met last year, emails to describe the iniquities of the work capability assessments which are often so ruthless and senseless assessors must have been ordered to impose cuts without due care. Suicides among the disabled, she tells me, are rising fast.

We have become divided Victorians again but without the conscience. Pamphleteers and church leaders energetically defended the poor then. Dickens, Mrs Gaskell, Tory PM Benjamin Disraeli wrote novels explicitly to stir up national guilt and action. In Disraeli’s Sybil or the Two Nations, Walter Gerard, a working class radical, describes his country thus: ‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, are not governed by the same laws’. Disraeli detested the exploitation of workers by the laissez faire capitalist system. His political descendents want that laissez faire back and with a vengeance.

Even more outrageous is the way the dispossessed are blamed and hated by those in their localities. Large numbers of those we demean and exclude then do turn feral and beastly. The other day, walking in a tough district, teens started spitting and racially abusing me and threw some pretty scary missiles. I hated them at that moment, wished them nothing but ill and bad punishments. But no child is born that way. We must remember that and compel our elected representatives to understand that we don’t want planned economic apartheid.

The geographer Danny Dorling writes in his book, Injustice : ‘Social inequality within rich countries persists because of a continued belief in the tenets of injustice, and it can be a shock for people to realise that there might be something wrong with much of the ideological fabric of the society we live in.’ Slave owners, he argues, believed there was no alternative to slavery; others argued female suffrage was ‘unnatural’ and so it is with the modern capitalist model. Too many believe or are made to believe it is part of the ‘landscape of normality’.

There is nothing normal or good about living in such a dreadfully cleaved nation. The Victorians understood that better than we modern Elizabethans. Goodwin is in the list of the sixty most influential Britons of this horrible age, thus confirming that the establishment is determined to carry on sucking up to the rich and crushing the poor. One has to ask if Team GB is fast losing its claim to be either civilized or an advanced nation.

Published in The Independent

Asian Grooming Gangs

Let me make three vital points first. These depraved men, most of them Pakistani, would never have been tried and convicted had it not been for Nazir Afzal, appointed the North West’s Chief prosecutor who is a Muslim and I guess of Pakistani origin . Way back in 2008, a young white girl, seriously abused by the gang rapists in Manchester told her harrowing story to law enforcers and prosecutors who simply disregarded her testimony. To them too, she was worthless ‘trash’. Afzal overturned that decision. It is also important to remember that most men who groom and rape young girls in Britain are white. And thirdly when one of the ring leaders tore off his shirt and claimed he was the victim of racism, he was behaving no better than the BNP and EDL who use race and ethnicity for their own devilish purposes. When these cases happen, as an Muslim Asian woman I am warned not to write on them because it encourages racism against us. Black Britons are similarly enraged when some of their bad men are exposed. Well damn such injunctions. Keeping the lid on dreadful crimes committed by Britons of colour only increases the numbers of racists in this country, maybe even turns good people who try hard not to be prejudiced.

These young lives matter much more than any sensitivities about racism.
We will never know how many girls were victimised and what the effect will be on their lives. Many lived in troubled families and were easy to lure with pathetic ‘treats’ and other enticements. Blame for this cannot be planted on to their families, however dysfunctional they may be. The rapists may convince themselves and others that their victims were ‘trash’ Their own daughters, one could say, are also growing up in difficult households. I know how much physical abuse goes on behind the closed doors of such families, how many girls from ‘good Muslim families’ are married off when too young, raped within marriage and treated as things. White girls are of no value at all- except when they bring in money serving men. The appalling thing is that in the enclaves and families where these men came from families will be blaming the abused teenagers, the ‘devils’ as one man described them.

The rapists are all probably considered very good Muslims, praying and fasting in the daytime, then prowling and preying at night on girls they think of as barely human. I remember once writing a story on bounty hunters in Bradford, men who were capturing Asian girls and women who had fled to refuges and getting paid thousands of pounds by the families. In one taxi a young chap, born in Britain but of Kashmiri heritage. He had a tasbi ( Islamic rosary) hanging on the mirror. Yet he was a proud pimp. As we drove around I was reminded of the murderous morality of the anti-hero in the film Taxi Driver. He was furious about young Asian girls on the streets and wanted them to be kept indoors and he believed he was a good man because in his ‘business’ he only used white women, ‘cheap and easy will go with anyone’ he informed me, ‘not like us’.

These men- and there are many of them- are filled with fear and hatred of females, only understand coerced sex and are convinced that white women in particular deserve no respect and can be used with impunity. Sexism and racism courses through their veins. One can but imagine what they actually did to the traumatised and drunk children. Prison will make no difference to their sick minds and hearts. Or to those many others out there.

Published in The Independent

Making a Spice Box

Just a little bit of advice today. In Wembley and Brick Lane in London and other Asian areas across Britain you can find really useful stainless steel spice tins with small little cups – usually 8. Indian cookery is much easier, much faster, much better and ‘proper’ as my mum would want it to be. You fill each cup with different powdered or whole spices and seeds that are used to make various dishes. Then as you cook you have them all in front of you, you can adjust the quantities and feel like an artist with her/his palate.

I made one up and took it with me on Saturday night as a present to the fantastic journalist and even more fantastic cook, Zoe Williams who had invited us to dinner. I put in the following:

Turmeric, crushed chillies, cumin, mustard and fenugreek seeds, a mix of ground coriander and cumin powder- half and half- and in a separate cup, garam masala, and finally, some whole cloves, cardamom and cinnamon sticks. It looked beautiful. The boxes can be bought for under a tenner. I also have a second one for rarer spices like mango powder, fennel, powdered pomegranate, citrus acid and other strange and mysterious stuff. But really, for most curries you only really need the basics. You can make your own with a biscuit tin and little pots if you like. Having all you need in one container will transform the way you cook Indian. And it will make you feel like a pro.