If You Don’t Know Me By Now

When an author chooses to write a memoir, they take the risk of unveiling a plethora of secrets that otherwise (and perhaps preferably) would remain buried. And when that author is Punjabi Sikh, it is almost guaranteed that issues will be brought up that make people uncomfortable. Sanghera.jpg For our parents’ generation, secrets remain in the family and they are never discussed in public – we are raised to uphold the family izzat (honor). But at what cost do we remain quiet? A new memoir by Sathnam Sanghera, If You Don’t Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhamptom, opens up the dialogue around being raised in a working-class Punjabi immigrant family and being a child living in a family paralyzed by schizophrenia. Some of these experiences can be felt universally throughout the Panjabi community and others are more personal, but what is clear is that there is a great need in our community to dialogue about these issues.

I clutched my schoolbag tightly as I walked along with Dad, as if my life and dignity depended on its contents (which, in a way, they did), mumbled the Japji Sahib, the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib Mum had taught me, and watched Dad hum to himself – Hindi songs I didn’t recognise from Bollywood films I’d never seen – click his fingers to some beat I couldn’t hear, and smile, at people going past, at nothing in particular. [Link]

While I haven’t yet read the memoir (it is being released in March), several articles discuss his story at length. It wasn’t until he was in his twenties that Sanghera realized his father was a paranoid schizophrenic and his older sister also shared the condition. Intermingled within that tale is Sanghera’s own story of being a young Sikh boy growing up in Wolverhampton (one of the most densely populated Sikh communities in the UK).

Yet while everyone knew everyone else’s business, there were matters within the Sanghera family that were never discussed. Not until he was 24 did Sanghera discover that his father, Jagjit, and his sister, Narinder, had been diagnosed as schizophrenics. It explained a lot: why his father sat on the sofa all day watching BBC Parliament and his mother sewed full time and raised a family of four by herself. It explained the day that his sister heard voices, locked herself in a bedroom, and was eventually taken off to mental hospital. [Link]

Sanghera2.jpgWhat first drew me to this memoir was the description of Sanghera’s mother Surjit, who “isolated by language and illiteracy and focused on survival,” is clearly the matriarch of the family. Her commitment to her family and her faith in Sikhi ensured that this family would survive the violence and mental illness they experienced. In a letter written specifically to his mother, Sanghera writes,

We’ve had such different lives, Mum. By the time you were 30, you had been ripped away from the family that had brought you up, married to a violent, mentally ill man you hadn’t met until your wedding day, were providing for four children and an unemployed husband, and for support you had to rely on a family who didn’t always respect you. Meanwhile, you didn’t speak the language of your adopted country, your view of the world was informed by just four years of education in India, you had never had a conversation with a white person, had never worked alongside a man, everyone you knew was from India, and work was something everyone around you did to survive. [Link]

While our community does not seem prepared to do so, wouldn’t you agree that there is great value in talking openly about problems because more likely than not, these problems are universal? Is it possible to openly discuss these issues outside of families and at the same time exist within and be accepted by the Panjabi community?


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23 Responses to “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

  1. what's in a nam says:

    Completely moved by this post. Will definately purchase this book when released.

    Sometimes it is important to discuss issues openly but sometimes it makes life more difficult for people sufferring in such a way. When things like this become common knowledge every one wants a piece of the story. You'll find some people considerate and helpful but the majority whilst wanting to take an interest will not really want to help in anyway.

    It's important to discuss the issues I think at an impersonal level. i.e. to work out systems of support for people in such situations – but I'm not sure if revealing the personal details of one's life to the wider community is always beneficial.

    Though my experiences of life are different. I can appreciate the difficulties experienced by this family and would like to express my sympathy(without meaning to be condescending) and to praise the courage of the young man who has chosen to write about his life in such a way.

    I'm really moved.

  2. what's in a name says:

    Completely moved by this post. Will definately purchase this book when released.

    Sometimes it is important to discuss issues openly but sometimes it makes life more difficult for people sufferring in such a way. When things like this become common knowledge every one wants a piece of the story. You’ll find some people considerate and helpful but the majority whilst wanting to take an interest will not really want to help in anyway.

    It’s important to discuss the issues I think at an impersonal level. i.e. to work out systems of support for people in such situations – but I’m not sure if revealing the personal details of one’s life to the wider community is always beneficial.

    Though my experiences of life are different. I can appreciate the difficulties experienced by this family and would like to express my sympathy(without meaning to be condescending) and to praise the courage of the young man who has chosen to write about his life in such a way.

    I’m really moved.

  3. what's in a nam says:

    Also to extend a note of respect to the lady who clearly has done an excellent job in such complicated and difficult circumstances in supporting her family and raising her children. Women don't get enough recognition in society there should be an 'oscar's ceremony' to celebrate the strength and perserverence of such women.

    I can't express myself anymore.

  4. what's in a name says:

    Also to extend a note of respect to the lady who clearly has done an excellent job in such complicated and difficult circumstances in supporting her family and raising her children. Women don’t get enough recognition in society there should be an ‘oscar’s ceremony’ to celebrate the strength and perserverence of such women.

    I can’t express myself anymore.

  5. P.Singh says:

    Great post Sundari – and same goes for Johda's post.

    Really made me reflect on the strength of some of the women in my own family – particularly my grandmother and great-grandmother – with a touch of melancholy as well as regret for not having said the things I wish I could have said.

  6. P.Singh says:

    Great post Sundari – and same goes for Johda’s post.

    Really made me reflect on the strength of some of the women in my own family – particularly my grandmother and great-grandmother – with a touch of melancholy as well as regret for not having said the things I wish I could have said.

  7. what's in a nam says:

    finally read the whole article.

    whilst I can't empathise with all his choices (choices that more and more of the sikh diaspora are making these days) the act of truthfully writing his story is still commendable in my eyes.

    It's funny, all the references his story makes to life as a British Sikh are probably synonomous with the lives of many British Sikhs and it was comforting reading through. Comforting because there were sweet reminders of my own life.

    I know there will be people who judge him – but i'd like to ask if they'd be willing to put their true names against a true account of their life stories under such public scruitiny. It's hard to be judged.

  8. what's in a name says:

    finally read the whole article.

    whilst I can’t empathise with all his choices (choices that more and more of the sikh diaspora are making these days) the act of truthfully writing his story is still commendable in my eyes.

    It’s funny, all the references his story makes to life as a British Sikh are probably synonomous with the lives of many British Sikhs and it was comforting reading through. Comforting because there were sweet reminders of my own life.

    I know there will be people who judge him – but i’d like to ask if they’d be willing to put their true names against a true account of their life stories under such public scruitiny. It’s hard to be judged.

  9. what's in a nam says:

    A little sad that he's / the writer of the article has ditched 'singh' from his name – considering he makes a concentrated effort to inform the reader that he was asked not to use it when joining school.

    I'm guilty of doing the same. Not that i've ditched it but tend not to use kaur for professional correspondence – just to keep my name short.

  10. what's in a name says:

    A little sad that he’s / the writer of the article has ditched ‘singh’ from his name – considering he makes a concentrated effort to inform the reader that he was asked not to use it when joining school.

    I’m guilty of doing the same. Not that i’ve ditched it but tend not to use kaur for professional correspondence – just to keep my name short.

  11. Sundari says:

    What's in a name, I'm not sure the author has "ditched" Singh from his name just because it isn't printed as such. Most Sikhs use Singh/Kaur as a middle name and so you won't necessarily always see it written out. Nevertheless, I think the whole issue of using Kaur/Singh versus a surname is interesting but perhaps that conversation can be explored another time.

    P.Singh, I can relate with your reflection. This piece also made me think about the women in my family and the strength they showed. Often times, it is the mother who plays a large role in bringing Sikhi into the lives of their children.

  12. Sundari says:

    What’s in a name, I’m not sure the author has “ditched” Singh from his name just because it isn’t printed as such. Most Sikhs use Singh/Kaur as a middle name and so you won’t necessarily always see it written out. Nevertheless, I think the whole issue of using Kaur/Singh versus a surname is interesting but perhaps that conversation can be explored another time.

    P.Singh, I can relate with your reflection. This piece also made me think about the women in my family and the strength they showed. Often times, it is the mother who plays a large role in bringing Sikhi into the lives of their children.

  13. […] evening. He’s a business columnist at The Times and here’s a recent piece on him (via TLH): Sanghera was 14 when he divested himself of his topknot and a future turban. It has taken him […]

  14. […] The Langar Hall. In fact in some ways, it has been discussed here in various manifestations many many many […]

  15. […] and the fear of airing the family problems (we talked about this previously in regards to speaking openly about mental health issuesand how that links to izzat). We can look to similar communities in England and Canada and […]

  16. Panka says:

    Really nice article written by you

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