HISTORY MAN: Abandoning Cambridge for Oxford —Ihsan Aslam
I’m not exactly sure what British-born Pakistani means, but perhaps it’s like growing a Pakistani mango tree in Walthamstow and saying the fruit is British Pakistani. The fact is, it’s both (British and Pakistani) and neither. Hybrid? And, oh, I mean ‘hybrid’ as in ‘a fantastic fusion of all that is best in the East and West’
“Traitor!” shouted someone from across Cambridge’s cobbled Trinity Street. “How could you?” asked the angry young lady. “Listen, lass,” I began, “my move to Oxford is only temporary. Twenty odd years in this city is enough, don’t you think? Besides, the Pakistanis may take Rahmat Ali back to Lahore or somewhere, so there’s no point being here anymore, is there?” It was a feeble attempt on my part any way. “Traitor!” shouted the angry young lady.
Did someone mention the age-old Oxford-Cambridge rivalry? This is the 21st century, for goodness sake. Listen, you Oxbridge snobs, it is time to move on. Leave aside the dangerous rivalries, ditch the daft boat race, stuff the pompous Union debates, cease the stupid pranks, and let bygones be bygones. I think! Well, all right do what you like, but don’t bother me about abandoning Cambridge for Oxford.
So then, here I am in Oxford now. The place is abuzz with activity: it’s Fresher’s Week, if you’ve forgotten. Over the weekend, the Oxford Union held a Fresher’s Fair and an all-day Fresher’s Brunch. That’s right: all-day brunch (I ask you). Another thing: some of the Fresher’s didn’t look all that fresh to me. I mean, what are they on these days? “Not enough chicken tikka masala,” is what Ammi would have said. “And they need lassi, not Diet Coke.”
Ruzwana Bashir is a gorgeous northern lass studying at Oxford, but she has a vice — Diet Coke — that Ammi couldn’t forgive even in her dreams. A newspaper profile of this wicked creature goes as follows: “She is known to her friends as “Ruz”, drinks too much Diet Coke and loves meals in her favourite Japanese restaurant across from her rooms in New College. The daughter of a local businessman, she is already an aunt. Educated at Skipton Girl’s High School...”
Before I get sued by Ruzwana, I’d better clarify that I meant “wicked” in the sense of “good” and not “wicked” meaning “wicked”, if you know what I mean (I was just being “cool” — off course, not in the sense of “cool” as in mango kulfi ice-cream, but... you know what I mean). And before I get sued by Diet Pepsi, I’d like to state that I am sure “Diet Coke” is a generic term for fizzy diet drinks including Diet Mecca Coke and Diet Baghdad Cola.
In fact, I need to be careful about what I say about Ruzwana because she is the president of the Oxford Union. We don’t want trouble with the first British-born Pakistani woman to be the president of the said prestigious institution, do we? “British-born Pakistani”? Well, I’m not exactly sure what that means, but perhaps it’s like growing a Pakistani mango tree in Walthamstow and saying the fruit is British Pakistani. The fact is, it’s both (British and Pakistani) and neither. Hybrid? And, oh, I mean “hybrid” as in “a fantastic fusion of all that is best in the East and West”.
And in case that angry young lady from Cambridge shouts “traitor” again, I had better say that Parvez Akhtar was the first ethnic minority student to be the president of the Cambridge Union some months back. You’d appreciate that I haven’t given up on Cambridge altogether. The Government of Pakistan may yet leave poor Rahmat Ali alone and not take him back to the Punjab.
Besides, I have been rattling on about the various distinguished people who studied at Cambridge — Allama Iqbal, Prof ‘Patras’ Bokhari, Allama Mashriqi, Sir Fazl-i-Husein et al — and it is only fair that we cover the Oxford people as well. Oxford has produced people such as... well, let’s leave that for next time, shall we? I think I may come to love Oxford in the same way I do Cambridge. “Traitor?” How dare you!
PS: Shouldn’t it be Rizwana instead of Ruzwana? And I mean that in a nice way. Also, if you’ve thought of Benazir ‘Pinkie’ Bhutto, then let me remind you that she was the first Pakistani (not British Pakistani, although some could question this) woman president of the Oxford Union. Of course, I meant ‘Pinkie’ in a nice, loving way, too.
Ihsan Aslam is at Ruskin College, Oxford. He is interested in biography and history, and can be contacted at: email@example.com or visited at: http://www.pakistanhistory.com