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~Why write about yourself?~
I often wonder about the sort of people who feel driven to write autobiographies. Undoubtedly some are just self-indulgent show-offs, others are driven by the opportunity to make a lot of money before their fifteen minutes of fame are past and some feel the need to record the 'truth' behind some historically important things that happened in their lives. Some achieve greatness, some hang out with the rich and famous and others get away with recounting the details of a fairly ordinary life by writing it up in a really entertaining way.
If you are a fairly ordinary person who hasn't hung out with stars or politicians, hasn't been caught up in momentous events and hasn't slept with a premier league footballer, and you want to write an autobiography then you'd better hope you're either very funny or very interesting. If you haven't got an 'angle' you might want to think again about writing your story - or stick to vanity publishing and print a few copies for your grandchildren but don't bother with general distribution. Sadly - and I say it with a true sense of disappointment - Imran Ahmad is neither funny enough nor interesting enough to justify 280 pages on his life up to the age of 28 and I hope he's not planning a sequel. I suspect in the flesh he's a rather lovely man, but lovely doesn't justify the hours I spent reading a book in which very little really happens and there aren't enough laughs to compensate for that lack of action.
~A very ordinary life~
Regular readers of my reviews may know that I've got a fascination bordering on obsession with all things relating to the Indian sub-continent. This extends to wanting to read not only about those countries but also about the immigrant experience of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in the UK or USA. I've maxed out on autobiographies of UK-born or bred writers of Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi origin but 'Unimagined' is by far the least commendable of those on my shelf. Put simply, despite his charm, wit and excellent historical attention to detail, Imran Ahmad only held my attention up to the age of about 14 or 15. After that age his moaning and beating himself up about the meaning of religion and his pursuit of a girl who just wasn't interested in him got as annoying and repetitive as his breakdowns in his Renault 5.
Imran Ahmad's story is one of disappointment. He learned about disappointment early in his life when he was robbed of first place in the Karachi 'Bonnie Baby' contest by the child of one of the organisers, hence recognising that life really isn't 'fair' and that corruption runs deep - two handy lessons, indeed. When the British government of the early 1960s encouraged economic migration from the Commonwealth his parents uprooted the family and moved to the UK in search of better prospects. Of course they discovered in the process that the streets of London weren't paved with gold but that it didn't matter too much because a decent job at Heathrow Airport had plenty of fringe benefits.
Despite a tough start in a dodgy sub-let bed-sit, this isn't a tale of poverty and underprivileged sacrifice. If you're looking for an Angela's Ashes style 'My s**t life' story, look elsewhere because there's no pretence to a life of poverty. Ahmad's family do well in their new country and are soon buying into all the trappings of the British middle class; a nice television, the first video player in the street and some 'keeping up with the Joneses' cars. He goes to a good school and gets along pretty well. Yes, there are incidents of childish racism and bullying, issues of religious confusion and mental torment over what life's all about, but I don't think any of that's particularly restricted to one particular religious group. He wants to do the 'right thing' by his family and become a doctor because nice Pakistani boys don't study the classics or social sciences but not everything goes quite to plan.
We're taken through Imran's childhood, schooldays, student life and eventually on to his first employment. The problem is (and I hate to say this) that it's just not very interesting. His early years have far more funny incidents which perhaps suggests that his parents who may have told him these stories might just be a lot funnier than he is. I loved some of the early chapters and some of the little vignettes of every day life. As an example, he has been taught to say 'No' if offered pork when visiting school friends' houses but it's not until he's eight years old that he finds out why. Turning down sausages at a friend's house, the friend's mother explains to her son that it's because of his religion. Imran writes "Oh so that's why I don't eat pork! It's because of my religion". This is an autobiography of someone who just doesn't seem to realise that he's not as smart as he thinks he is.
~Why I won't be writing my life story~
College life is a bit of a mess and all the mooning around over girls who weren't interested, exploiting his status as a young man with an unreliable car and a generous heart who can therefore drive girls around even if they are way out of his league all rang true in a way that I doubt the author intended. I remember those boys from my student days and he reminded me of so many of the 'losers' who naively failed to spot that their generosity was being exploited by those in need of transport.
One of the most disturbing things for me was realising that after university, Imran took a very similar career path as me, targeting Unilever as the company he wanted to join and leading a peripatetic lifestyle for his first few years in the job. Why disturbing? Because I realised he was really boring and guessed I was probably just as boring myself when caught up in that whole corporate trainee whirl. I made a mental 'note to self' saying "Don't ever write about your life".
Unimagined, Imran Ahmed