‘I forgot to bring a rock today so I raided one from my mum,’ said Anjana Khatwa to a multi-ethnic group in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on 24 July. We had come together through the inspiration of Geeta Ludhra’s Dadima’s walks. The event was to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, and to hear stories and share ideas, with south Asians and others who are united by a love of the countryside and nature. This was my second Dadima’s walk, I wrote about my first one here.
Anjana, an eminent earth-scientist, is a storyteller of rocks (see here). Geeta had invited her to talk to us as we sat on the flower-rich chalk hillside of the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve in Oxfordshire. Anjana likes to have a rock in her hand when she speaks. But she had travelled from her home in Dorset to stay with her parents in Slough and had forgotten to bring a rock. Her mother provided her with one which she held up for us to see.
She explained that she asked the rock where it came from. It said it came from Slough, but she knew it didn’t really. So she asked it again and it admitted that it had come from Wales where her mother found it. But that was not good enough. ‘Where are you really from?’ she asked it. The rock was getting pretty fed up with answering the question by now, but it conceded that it had come from deep in the earth.
This is the kind of questioning which people of colour often have to endure. When asked by white people where they come from, and the answer is a location in this country, they are then asked ‘But where are you really from?’—an impertinence which would not be tolerated by a white person, and one of which I have no doubt been guilty at some time. Anjana’s subtext was powerful. This article expresses it well.
Back to the rock: it was granite which had formed as a plume of semi-liquid rock (magma), moving in convection currents three to four hundred million years ago. It met the earth’s crust and stopped there, taking two million years to cool. The indication that it took a long time to cool is the long crystals of orthoclase feldspar, alongside mica, quartz, and hornblende. It was probably then broken into a fragment by ice and carried by water.
Anjana describes the rock’s formation simply yet vivaciously, no clinical science from her. Every rock has a story. In telling us how they were formed, and shaped our landscape, she imbues a sense of belonging and stability. Every schoolchild should have the chance to listen to her.