Home Secretary ladies and gentlemen, can I just first thank Sanjeev Bhaskar for those incredibly kind words about my birthday, how you remembered I can’t imagine.
But perhaps it’s appropriate, when you think about it, that I was very nearly conceived in 1947 and I was born on the birthday of Mr. Nehru. The nearest I’ve ever been to an Asian wedding is I hate to tell you through watching ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and all I can say is it looked incredibly jolly. So at least we’re able to have you all "round to this place for an 'English'", as it were!
As we mark the 60th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s Independence - an event of the greatest historical and political significance - I wanted to gather you together with a very simple purpose in mind. Over the past sixty years, nearly two million people of South Asian origin have made Britain their home and have raised their children and grand children in this country.
So much has been written, and so much said, about the way that this remarkable shift of population has shaped modern Britain. We hear a great deal about the difficulties such migration can cause. But rarely, if ever, do we seem to find a moment to recognize the remarkable contribution which it has made to the social and economic fabric of this country. The spotlight always seems to fall elsewhere...
That is why I was so keen to invite you to Windsor this evening: to shine a light on the diversity and quality of the skills present in this room and the still larger pool of talent that you represent; to celebrate the ways in which you have enriched Britain, in every sense; and to celebrate the fact that the groundswell of achievement of the South Asian community in this country seems splendidly unstoppable – to our great benefit!
Now I, for one, am enormously proud of the way that Britain has incorporated cultural influences from the sub-Continent. This process, of course, began long before India and Pakistan emerged as independent countries. Britons have long been fascinated by the depth and timeless beauty of South Asian culture. We see the sub-Continent's influence along just about every street - and not just the one which houses the Kumars at Number 42! We see it in the textiles which furnish our homes and in the clothes we wear.
If, as the saying goes, the way to our hearts is through our stomachs then here, too, Asian culture has triumphed: I am told that chicken tikka marsala is now the most widely eaten dish in Britain. And whether it be that veritable British institution, 'the corner shop’, or some of our leading companies, the Asian community is making its economic contribution to this country. All this exemplifies the community’s remarkable knack for getting on with life quietly and industriously. It is something from which we can all learn a great deal.
The process of integration is, of course, a dynamic one, evolving with each successive generation. To be successful - to deliver a truly harmonious society in which everyone's talent can be recognized and developed on its own merits - we have to find the right ways to derive strength and unity from our diversity. As inhabitants of this country we all have a role to play, in our homes and among our friends, in shaping our society on the basis of tolerance and understanding. Just as the country's identity is constantly evolving, so is our own personal identity.
This is not always easy and, as I know from my visits across the length and breadth of Britain – and, indeed, by talking to other parents - it can pose dilemmas for younger people of all ethnic backgrounds as they try to work out just where they fit in. As ever, art has held a mirror to reality and we have seen the way this issue affects the Asian and White communities explored in thought-provoking films like 'East is East' and 'Bend it like Beckham'. It is not for me to offer any sort of prescription but what I have learned from my travels is that by listening at least as much as we speak, and by trying to understand before we act, we perhaps stand a better chance of coming up with the right answers...
I must say I am constantly struck by the fact the Britons of every origin in fact share more in common than they think. Indeed, if there is one thing at which modern Britain excels, it is an ability to laugh at itself. It thus comes as absolutely no surprise that shows like “Goodness Gracious Me” are exported worldwide, using humour as the perfect vehicle to convey both some of the problems and some of the possible solutions. The sharing of language is a further case in point. The most well-known examples are probably “bungalow”, “verandah” and, indeed, “shampoo”. And more recently, “chuddies” seemed to crept into the English language – if that is the correct way to put it.
Music, ladies and gentleman, provides another strong bond both within our Asian-origin community, and between it and other communities. The traditions of the sub-Continent - songs sung in ‘the Darbar’ - are a case in point. They blend Hindu traditions with Mughal influences to create one of the richest musical traditions the World has ever heard. Even today, musicians of great repute cut across political and geographical borders, as they appeal to millions in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and, indeed, the rest of the World. They are united and defined by the shared pride in the age-old cultural tradition they uphold. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that Arshad Malik - a Briton with his family roots in Pakistan - has agreed to entertain us with some of this traditional music a little later on.
Ladies and Gentlemen, some of you may have realised by now that I am one of those people who cannot resist the temptation to act rather than just talk.
So earlier this year I founded my British Asian Trust which seeks to support community projects in the United Kingdom and organizations promoting sustainable development in South Asia. The Trust will focus on creating new opportunities through training, skills and jobs and ensuring the development of urban and rural communities through the use of appropriate technologies.
And it is my sincere hope that the British Asian Trust will build upon the links between the United Kingdom and South Asia and ultimately help strengthen both communities. In this regard I can only say that it will be the best possible day-after-my-birthday present if I could count on your support in this endeavour.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention the contribution which our Asian-origin community has made to Sport over recent years. The Worlds of football and boxing are represented here tonight but perhaps the most vivid example of British Asian sporting success lies with the English Cricket Team. I am delighted that, with my British Asian Trust, the Indian and Pakistani Cricket Boards are seeing if it might be possible to hold a series of matches in the Summer of 2009 here in Britain. Incidentally the match we arranged this summer fell victim to the West of Scotland monsoon.
But, at the end of the day, there can be few better examples to young sports fans across the United Kingdom of how multiculturalism really can work than an England team which over time has been made up of Christians, Hindus, Muslims and, currently, a very bouncy Sikh!
This enables the rest of us to say with great pride, on the occasion of an England ‘One Day Series’ win, that our Indians and Pakistanis are the best there are.