The Freedom Fighter

My Muslim, eighty-year-old father, was without a shadow of a doubt, the most progressive person I had ever known.

Being a freedom fighter in his youth, he did it all, from being jailed at fourteen for fighting for the civil rights of his people to demonstrating against the Vietnam war alongside Vanessa Redgrave and John Lennon.

“John was in a band, apparently,” dad had once said nonchalantly, shrugging as though it was a trivial fact that was barely worth mentioning. “Something to do with insects.”


At the time, I had remembered gaping unattractively at him when he said it but in hindsight, my father had never really paid much attention to celebrity or the superficial. He knew Gandhi and didn’t like him, couldn’t tell you anything about contemporary culture and was so disparaging about the shallowness of social functions that my mother, frankly, had to stop taking him out with her for fear of losing all her friends.

My dad’s rampant feminism also wasn’t a big hit back then. He often cited men as the cause of all the problems on the planet (much to the chagrin of all the other men in the room), loudly scoffed at the other Asian parents who sympathised with him for not having sons and never for a moment thought I couldn’t achieve anything I wanted to.

If anything, my father worried about the inequality my sister and I would face because of other people; people who might judge us for our lack of wealth, our sex or even the colour of our skin.

He talked about racism to us at a young age, something I had laughed off because I had been born in possibly the most multi-cultural part of London and had never experienced it.

“Racism doesn’t exist in this day and age, Abbu,” I had countered countless times, young and stupid and convinced I knew more than he did.

I changed my mind when I received my first sneer of “Paki,” at twelve, however.

(I also promptly chased the little shit who said it until he squeaked and bolted himself inside his house but I digress.)

It made me think of my dad as a young student in the sixties, clever enough to attend Oxford and become a Professor but too dark to be an acceptable tenant to the landlords in the area, who would put up signs that clearly stipulated, ‘No dogs. No Indians. No Irishmen’.

The progress that has been made since those years is so staggering that I honestly can’t fathom what it must have been like back then.

I used to wonder just how my father stood for it, being the smartest man in the room and still maligned for his differences. I soon realised, however, that it was because he was different that he was so dogged in his convictions, being the loudest voice in the room even – especially – if people didn’t want to hear what he was saying.

The above was the last photo I took of my father before he died of heart failure in 2012, an event that was the single worst moment of my life. It also made me truly appreciate all the many life lessons I learned from him, the main one being never to think less of myself, even if society might have.

The funny-sounding name I loathed in school is now one I appreciate for being memorable. The skin I always worried about being too dark is an all year tan without the hassle.

So here I am. An Asian girl who was born in a poor area, now doing a job I never thought a person like me could ever get.

And I know whom I have to thank for that.

So thank you, Abbu. For everything.

Until we meet again.


As a Senior Creative Design Manager and Content Lead for Tumblr, Tasnim has overseen a large number of campaigns, most recently for the BBC and Tumblr/Yahoo. With sixteen years experience in the industry, she primarily works as an advisor for good content practice for brands as well as being a Visual Producer and Art Director. Her clients include Google, Warner Bros, Disney, Amazon, Clinique, Diet Coke and more.

My tumblr blog

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