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I know your father

by Sarvat Khan

8th February 2007

Sarvat KhanMy name is Sarvat and I have Multiple Sclerosis. For the last ten years I've desperately tried to keep this information a secret, fat chance if you live in the Asian community I live in. Let me explain with an example...
One day I was struggling along with my two crutches, when in the distance I saw an old Asian man. Oh my God; panic set in. The man walking towards me is a person I have never before laid eyes on but he will, undoubtedly know my name, my fathers name and address. In this world of Asian culture they make it their business to know everything about everyone; we pride ourselves as being close-knit.

After announcing he's a long lost friend of my father he asks, "What happened to you?"

I reply uncomfortably: "Oh Uncle, it's nothing just a little pain." He is not a relative but in our community any man the same age as your dad is addressed as Uncle.

"Is the pain in the muscles or the joints, because I have pain as well?" he asks. And then, "Here. I have a special cream I bought from the village doctor in Pakistan. Use that. If it doesn't work come to the house and your Aunty will give you ginger tea. It's just this cold weather. You'll be fine".

Bless. He's only trying to help but MS is beyond the understanding of the Pakistani witch doctor!

I began telling all sorts of tall tales to guard my diagnosis when people asked, as I was not prepared for it to be common knowledge and didn't appreciate the pointless conversations.

In response to the question of me walking with a stick I started off with "oh it's a long story". That didn't particularly work as it just encouraged the snooping type: "go on then," they'd say.

I then claimed to have been in a car accident - definitely the wrong answer, as they wanted detail after gory detail.

Other excuses involved me having had an accident when standing on a three legged stool stirring curry. I would go as far as to say I am the world's 'rubbishest' liar there ever did live in fibbing folds, so I have for the last ten years hidden away from my own people instead; their finger pointing, questions and gossip. It all got too much and question after question led to lie after lie.

I figured if I were out of sight I would be out of mind. My subsequent reclusiveness worked so well that people believed me to be in London. The fact is I live in the heart of the Asian community in the Northwest of England. I hid away not only for my own sanity but to protect my parents from the Parky-style interviewing they would endure should one of my community spot me.

You see, us Asians are experts, or so we think, at heart disease and diabetes, the two most common ailments in the Asian community. Neurological disorder? Now that's alien territory.

I'll never forget the local grocer seeing me at the discount carpet place when I ventured out once - he was another friend of my dad's (aren't they all). I spun around as quickly as I could on my Clark's comfy range loafers but darn it, he had definitely seen me.

He began with a wicked impression of Dom Joly from Trigger Happy only without the phone: "Hello? HELLO?"

The faster I tried to stagger away, the louder he became. I had no choice but to respond to his questions as I now had the attention of the entire shop floor, including the manager.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

"Err," I paused. "I have nerve pain in my legs." And thus was born the most simple of all responses. The truth. It silences pretty much everyone, as only a medical type would have the gall to respond.

I finally realised there really was no way of hiding any longer so last September I 'came out' with the local newspaper and radio covering that most surprising story of a local Asian woman having MS.

Now when I see an old Asian man, I pray that he knows my father as then I can go into my Doctor/Neurologist mode. I make a point of telling people; I feel the need to educate the Asian community of a disease few have heard of. Why haven't they heard of it? That's another story for another time.

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