In the background, the sun sets over the Himalayan mountains framing the intricately drawn villages of the Kashmir valley, where Sabba Khan’s family are from. In the foreground, though, Khan is walking with her mother through Queen’s Market, in east London. It’s a telling juxtaposition, central to Khan’s moving graphic memoir The Roles We Play, the end of a chapter which starts with her asking: “Where is home, Mamma?”
It’s a question that is as much rhetorical and symbolic as it is literal. Two thirds of today’s British Pakistani diaspora can trace their origins back to Mirpur in Azad Kashmir (on the Pakistan side), a place that suffered mass displacement after the Mangla Dam was built in the 1960s, submerging homes, lands and livelihoods.
Khan’s parents came to England shortly afterwards, “doing jobs that the whites thought themselves above”. It was in London that Khan was born, the youngest of five children growing up dealing with ancestral ties and racial tension, the trauma of migration and the soothing – yet sometimes suffocating – balm of the family home.