Star rating: ****
Leicester Square Theatre
Friday 22nd January 2016
An Indian, Pakistani and two Iranians walk into a lounge. This isn’t the set up for a joke but the story of four immigrants and their journey’s to England. Inder Manocha, Peyvand Khorsandi, Ramita Navai & organiser / MC Sajeela Kershi all took to the Lounge at Leicester Square Theatre to reveal the story of their immigrant journey’s in Sajeela Kershi’s ‘Immigration Diaries.’
Sajeela opened proceedings by regaling the audience with stories of her own life, mixing it up with a fine stand up comedy set too. How, or rather after whom her father chose to name her was quite a story and must have made the mother – daughter relationship, probably even the father: daughter relationship more than a little bit awkward. She was one of three children her parent’s had together. All of them at one point had some concerns re their father’s “work” overseas so set about going to Germany to track him down and find out what was happening. The outcome was not what they expected and was quite amusing actually. From Pakistan to England to Germany and many points in between made for an interesting and entertaining story delivered via a series of well told anecdotes.
First guest up was a late change to the line up, although only in forename of the guest speaker, not in surname. Peyvand Khorsandi took to the stage. You might recognise the surname, for he is the brother of comedian Shappi Khorsandi who was due to speak. It was a pity Shappi was not performing and no reason was given for her absence which was a shame and a little bit disrespectful to the attendees, of whom many doubtless turned up expecting to see Shappi.
Peyvand was far from disappointing though. He is a journalist (writing for the Evening Standard, the Financial Times, Big Issue and Iranian.com) who like his sister was actually pretty funny and told a great story. Although seemingly a bit nervous at first, he came across as being very comfortable and confident on stage. He bantered well with the audience, Sajeela and the other speakers. This was all the more impressive considering he’d just flown in from Athens.
His journey to the UK began 40 years ago when he arrived in England from his birthplace, Iran. He recalled that the only time that he felt he was an immigrant was on the odd occasions he “felt different to other people”, occasions when it was clear he was not like everyone else in terms of their origins.
He found it odd to come across Christians in London who were half Sri-Lankan/half-Pakistani. I think being half Sri-Lankan , half-Pakistani is enough of an oddity, never mind the religious belief! Not sure why someone living in London being a Christian should be a surprise though. OK, that may not be the popular religion for Sri Lankan’s and Pakistani’s but I would suggest living in London one is exposed to alternative viewpoints that don’t get much of a look in in certain countries. He was amused by the fact, considering all he stands for, that Nigel Farage of all people had a foreign surname. It originates from France.
British-Iranian, award winning Journalist and author of City of Lies, Ramita Navai, came across extremely well in spite of her early protestations about being very nervous to be speaking publicly. That’s understandable from someone more used to reporting the news than being the story herself.
She told two neat anecdotes which best encapsulated aspects of her family’s life in Britain, including a wonderfully innocuous sounding one about a missing shoe, which had an ending to it that you would not imagine. Both storied summed up her and her families personal experience of being immigrants. Her conclusion was that Britain and the its police force treated her and her family well and just like any other citizen fully were entitled to receive in England. That was extremely heartening and uplifting to hear, moreso because you wondered where the amusing shoe story might be going.
Experienced comedian Inder Manocha concluded the evening with a superb mix of stand up and telling his immigrant story. His origins are a curious and highly unusual mix of Indian and Iranian parentage mixed with Baha’i faith.
He felt no racial guilt or suffering due to his origins. If anything, he identified more with being middle class than merely Asian. For that reason there was no particular rhythm or meaning to his set other than making the audience frequently laugh for his life story is not a particularly dramatic one. Or if it has been he didn’t share any drama’s onstage.
That actually in a way summed up the night. All speakers, except Sajeela had Iranian backgrounds and their family’s seemed to have been accepted in England, to have integrated well and established themselves and their careers in Britain. To the extent that their immigrant status was not an issue for them and in fact the only time their immigrant status became an issue or apparent even, was at times of experiencing racism.
Sajeela was raised in Surrey, whilst the rest of the panel were raised in London, so in such a large, major, multi-cultural capital city with a high Asian population their experiences were not entirely unexpected. Perhaps if there had been much older speakers or guests from smaller towns and cities with less of a multi-cultural ethnic make up the stories shared might have been somewhat more colourful, or maybe not if the microcosm of English life in London was replicated elsewhere.
England has long been a welcoming nation to immigrants. The country has actively courted immigrants going back to Windrush days of 1948 and in recent decades, as a consequence of the expansion of the European Union, the country has welcomed Eastern Europeans from countries such as Poland and Romania. I would suggest the debate now is not so much around whether England welcomes immigrants but whether the country’s infrastructure can cope with the numbers that have arrived, can take on more and whether more effort should be made by the Government and local authorities to insist on the indigenous population filling the jobs the country has created. I understand the ‘high skills shortage’ argument but where lower level, none scarce skills jobs exist has it really been necessary for these roles to be filled by overseas workers? Has an over generous benefits system been exploited by the indigenous population making them lazy and feeling that certain jobs are beneath them? Why hasn’t Britain trained its workforce to fulfil all the jobs it has, be they high, average or low skilled roles?
This is a wonderfully funny and informative show. The outstanding humour and fascinating stories shared made for a novel and heart warming show that said a lot, not just about the immigrant experience, but also about the positive way the English responded to new arrivals.
Review © Tiemo Talk of the Town
Ramita Navai photograph © Graeme Robertson