To be or not to be? Part 1

From the start I knew I was different from the rest of the fold; I would dig in and become immovable, extremely sensitive and unable to fit in. Much of my childhood was miserable but now I see that my artistic temperament was already squirming inside ready to break out. With a burning need to create something out of nothing in an attempt to make sense of the world: I have found that unless I am actively writing my creative energy turns within with destructive vigour. Through my work I have struggled a great deal and grown not only as an artist but also as a human being.

My decision to be an artist met with great opposition: not to the same degree of hostility the Haitian freedom fighters that Edwige Danticat writes about in her essay Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work faced but more than I had ever encountered or expected at sixteen. The first scuffle began in 1984 when I had to choose what A-levels exams I would take two years later. I lost the first bout and was enrolled to study History, English and I don’t even remember what the last course was because I really couldn’t have cared less. The arts was strictly prohibited by my science-bound British Indian family full of doctors, dentists, chemists, nurses and teachers. I was warned it didn’t pay and had little prospect of financial stability and they were right; it doesn’t pay. I have scrambled all my life but it has been worth it because wealth must not be measured by money alone.

Two very difficult months took its toll, I was disinterested and it showed; my resentment grew as my average plummeted. One day I happened to notice Mum in school and followed to see what she was doing. I listened at the door of the Principal’s office as Mum was told that I was either disruptive or nonresponsive in class and she replied that she would sort it out. I walked out of school and fumed all the way to the local station. How could Mum just turn up like that? What gave her the right to plan my future? It was my life. When I reached Birmingham New Street Station instead of heading to my usual platform change I crossed to other side; where a fast cross-country train had just stopped. I hopped on and found a seat with no idea where I would end up. It was good training for my future because as an artist one never knows where your practice will lead you. The train sped down South to its final destination London Euston. I ventured around the grand capital wandering about wide-eyed without a penny to my name- not sure where to go or what to do but wishing I were more like the punks who didn’t seem to have a care in the world; sporting tall green mohawks and safety-pins piercing both nostrils. When it got dark I took refuge in a bus-shelter. That’s when I began rethinking my hasty departure. I sat and brooded, smoked and brooded some more and when I was close to laying an egg, a man entered the bus shelter. Bus after bus passed and I twiddled my thumbs, getting more scared about facing the night alone on the streets. My angst must have shown because the stranger asked where I was going but I ignored him. I didn’t speak to strangers especially white males: the only interaction I’d ever had with them was as authority figures or mad knock-your-block-off racists or nutters. He spoke very kindly to me and guessed that I was a runaway. He asked where I was spending the night and did I have some place to go? I shook my head. He offered his sofa and from my reaction he continued to say that he wouldn’t trust him either and had I heard of Centre Point? I shook my head again and he proceeded to fill me in. This kind young stranger hailed a Hackney Cab, paid the driver in full and sent me to the safety of Centre Point: a shelter for homeless teenagers where I spent the night in a dormitory full of Glaswegian girls who had run away en masse. Their boyfriends were in another dorm on the other side of an adjoining door and in the middle of the night they broke through the door so they could accost their willing girlfriends. One lone straggler thought he could make out with me but he tumbled off my cot pretty quick when my knee found his groin. I stayed in London for three days roaming around and reveling in Her Majesty’s sprawling parks with my adoptive Scottish clan until it was my time to see the youth counselor who couldn’t contain her surprise that I had run away simply because I wanted to be an artist. She called my poor mother who had pulled out half her hair by then and Mum agreed that I could leave Kings Norton Girls School in favour of the arts.