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Ancestral Memories

My son and daughter were rolling around the floor of the lounge playing with their toy cars, trucks and buses. Meri, my four year old daughter, had a big, red fire engine.

“Nee naw, nee naw!” went the fire engine under my daughter’s less than careful driving.


I stopped for a moment. Something was wrong and I took a few seconds to reflect. Then it struck me: police cars, fire engines and ambulances don’t go “nee-naw” any more. They go “woo, woo”- the old horn sirens having been replaced by electronic ones.

It is very unlikely that my daughter or son at the tender ages of 4 and 6 have ever heard an old style “nee-naw” siren but here they were making exactly that noise for a racing fire engine.
I was puzzled. Despite hearing the modern sirens almost every day, they were making a historical, anachronistic noise. Clearly, ignoring all the evidence of the real world, they had picked up the noise that we, aged adults, remembering our youth in the seventies and eighties, make when playing with toys. It made me think about the huge influence we have on our children, not only could we over-ride the evidence of their own ears but we were instilling in them ancestral memories without even being aware of it.

My ancestors are from India, many generations back. As I may have said before, despite all my heirs and graces I come from a proud tradition of peanut farming. I remind my daughter at every turn that she is not a princess, she’s a peasant girl and she too is now proud of this heritage. My side of the family brings a huge amount of ancestral memory: language, culture, food, religion, history that is so very different to the experiences my children will have. My wife and I have always taken the view that we want our children to have as much exposure to different cultures as possible. We are firmly of the view that this will not dilute their cultural heritage but will enrich it. I want them to celebrate Chinese new year, Eid, Hanukah and Diwali as well as Christmas.

However, like Nigel Farage, I don’t want a great big melting pot of different cultures turning the experiences of my children into some homogenous gloop (just like I hate fusion cuisine). Unlike Nigel Farage, I want them to experience these different cultures vibrant and proud standing next to one another with mutual respect and admiration and I do worry that this magnificent kaleidoscope might get lost somewhere.

Later that day, during bath time, my daughter was in reflective mood.

“I understand everything that Nan and Granddad say, “she said. “But I don’t understand what you and granny sometimes say to each other.” She thought for a minute, “But I do know a few words.”

“Granny would love to teach you more words of Gujerati,” I said. “Would you like that?”

She just nodded and got on with her important playing in the bath.


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