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Kavita Puri on the experiences of British south Asians

Kavita Puri discusses the latest series of Three Pounds in My Pocket, which tells the stories of successive generations of British south Asians, and why it's important to document ordinary lives as well as the changing political and social context

Kavita Puri
Published: April 8, 2022 at 9:10 am

Kavita Puri speaks to Rhiannon Davies about the fifth series of her Radio 4 documentary Three Pounds in My Pocket, which tells the stories of successive generations of British south Asians

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Did you expect to get so close to the present day with this series?

Never! When I started gathering testimonies nearly 10 years ago, I was thinking only about documenting the arrival of the £3 generation, because it hadn’t been done extensively before.

I wanted to put on record what those early postwar arrivals imagined Britain to be like, what it really was like when they came, and their first steps in their new country. We’re now in the fifth series, looking at the years 2002–7.

The programmes now have a huge following, particularly with younger generations of British south Asians who are eager to know their history.

In the new series you discuss the idea that the Indian subcontinent seems closer, thanks to technology. How has this affected British south Asians?

By 2002, a revolution in communication technology was under way, and speaking with family in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh became much easier and cheaper, initially thanks to phone cards.

When people first arrived in Britain during the postwar years, such calls happened at most a few times a year – they were just so expensive. For decades, communication was mostly via letters written on blue aerogrammes. That’s hard to imagine now.

One of the stories you explore is the Gate Gourmet dispute, which took place in Southall in 2005. Why did you look at that?

In the early noughties there was an economic boom during which many, particularly British Indians thrived – but not all. The Gate Gourmet dispute [involving a company making in-flight airline meals] highlighted the working lives of first generation women, often from the Indian Punjab, and predominantly Sikh.

For months the company and the workers’ union had been negotiating a change in workers’ rights. Then, in August, hundreds of employees dramatically lost their jobs after agency workers were brought in.

Gate Gourmet said they took action after the workers refused to return to their jobs. There were protests, and while some workers were eventually reinstated not all were. It’s a piece of history that has been largely overlooked and rarely seen from the women’s perspective.

What do the £3 generation make of the lives of their descendants?

For me, it’s important that these series not only mark the changing political and social context for British south Asians, but also document ordinary lives – the relationships between the generations, as well as whether they continue to feel a sense of belonging to the Indian subcontinent.

In this new series, the second generation are divorcing, having their own children. We hear of old arguments with parents being soothed, and how the second generation – who largely grew up without grandparents – wanted to make sure that their children enjoyed the precious relationship they themselves had lacked.

Three Pounds in My Pocket

Three Pounds in My Pocket documents the post-war social history of British South Asians in their own voices | Catch up on the series

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Kavita Puri is a journalist and broadcaster, and the author of Partition Voices: Untold British Stories (Bloomsbury, 2019)

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This content first appeared in the April 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine

Authors

Rhiannon DaviesSection editor, BBC History Magazine

Rhiannon Davies is section editor for BBC History Magazine and our Tudor ambassador, writing a fortnightly newsletter in which she shares the latest Tudor news, anniversaries and content with her audience. She also regularly appears on the award-winning HistoryExtra podcast.

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