In 1980s London being sent to school with pakoras was a still a serious social faux pas. During her first year in the city, Sajeela Kershi's school prepared for the harvest festival and expected parents not to send in such bizarre objects. Kershi tells Londonist:
"We didn't understand what the festival was and my Mum thought it was some kind of bring-a-dish party so she made pakoras for it. Teachers were bemused as to where to put them on the stage with the other tins... kids were mean about the weird poo-looking things — I begged Mum for a tin of bins next year."
Kershi is a comedian, writer and also creator of Immigrant Diaries, which now returns for an evening of shared stories from a special line-up of broadcasters and entertainers. The event forms part of Southbank Centre's Changing Britain festival — a programme inspired by historian David Kynaston's Tales Of The New Jerusalem books, which rely on diaries as a primary source. As much as a pakora was a transgression of the school yard code back then, food is an interesting area and barometer of how attitudes and London has changed over the years:
"Recently my sister, who has two little girls, had a school function where the teacher specifically asked her to make some Indian savoury snacks. We're now a nation that don't bat an eye-lid no matter what kids have in their lunch box and our palette has become more adventurous."
Perhaps it's fortunate that Kershi's harvest festival problems were felt as the normal embarrassment kids feel towards their parents. Yet that's not to say there wasn't a more malign strand of disapproval underneath. She says, "Initially I never noticed any racism. But when it happened it could be ugly and violent and a very dehumanising experience. I started to feel ashamed of everything Asian and, even when friends accepted me as British, I suspected my parents were like 'the others' they disapproved of."
There's a bittersweet continuation of this in the next Kershi generation: "Fast forward some years and I caught my own son tearing up a BNP flyer. When I asked him what he was doing, he said in a posh Surrey accent, 'I'm sorry Mummy, I really didn't want you to be seeing that. If the BNP get into power you might have to be leaving the country'. When I reassured him he'd be coming with me he shook his head, 'oh Mummy, but I'm British, I don't have to leave.'"
Immigrant Diaries will be full of such complex but celebratory stories with much wit and warmth. Guests include broadcaster Niki Bedi, TV presenter Kristiane Backer, comedian and writer Dave Cohen, former Stone Roses guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, comedy actor Daniel Taylor and comedian Inder Manocha, all with their own tales to tell.
Immigrant Diaries runs at Southbank Centre on Fri, 24 April, tickets £10.