Dining across the divide: ‘There were moments when I wanted to press eject’

The Guardian - Thu Jun 23 11:30

Caroline, 63, London

Dining across the divider Caroline

Occupation Now retired, Caroline used to work as PA to a newspaper deputy editor

Voting record Conservative, since she voted, aged 20, for Margaret Thatcher. “I remember her cutting a pound note in half and saying: this is what Labour has done to your pound.” Voted leave

Amuse bouche Paraglided from Signal Hill in Cape Town

Pankhuri, 30, London

Dining across the divider Pankhuri

Occupation Immigration lawyer. Pankhuri lived, studied and worked in India until the age of 23. She has now naturalised as a British citizen

Voting record Always Labour, and remain in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche While travelling in Kenya, Pankhuri adopted an elephant called Aruba

For starters

Pankhuri She was running late and was a bit flustered. I tried my best to make her comfortable.

Caroline I was very anxious. She was gorgeous – we’ve got a lot of Indian neighbours.

Pankhuri I was a little taken aback by some parts of the conversation. Her opening line was: “Oh, you’re Indian then.” She made assumptions, in the sense that I might be British-born, my parents living here, etc.

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Caroline My parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. My mother had no money when she came here – they’d lost everything. An uncle who was already here took them in.

Pankhuri So many immigrants, particularly refugees, have to start over, and I’m sorry her family had to go through this. She knew someone in the same concentration camp as Anne Frank – that was powerful.

Dining across the dividers Pankhuri  (left) and Caroline

The big beef

Caroline I have volunteered to house Ukrainians. Pankhuri was going on about Afghanistan and Syria. I said: “This is Europe, on our doorstep.”

Pankhuri What’s happening in Ukraine is terrible, and it’s good that Ukrainian refugees are getting sympathy and support. But just a few months ago there was the Afghan crisis. She did say she had never met some of the Polish side of the family who were killed during the Holocaust, and that these people remind her of them. I could see how that would tug at your heart more.

Caroline You’ve got all these people coming over in boats – how do you know they haven’t got bombs on them, that they’re not terrorists? And why can’t they be given asylum in the countries they first land in, like Italy or Greece?

Pankhuri Putting borders up and restricting the movement of people, services and goods just creates barriers. Movement is natural, people have always migrated.

Caroline We can’t cope. It’s like me deciding to have lots of kids but not knowing how to feed or clothe them. If there are jobs going, they can come. Doctors, people like that from other countries, should be allowed in.

Dining across the dividers Pankhuri  (left) and Caroline

Sharing plate

Caroline We agreed a lot about Israel. She has recently been to Palestine, helping out. Just because I’m Jewish doesn’t mean I agree with everything Israel does. I don’t agree with settlements by ultra-Orthodox people coming from America or whatever.

Pankhuri We had moments of agreement. But then she said: “Some Arabs don’t want peace – why can’t they all get along side by side?” There have been international agreements that Israel constantly ignores.

Dining across the dividers Pankhuri  (left) and Caroline

For afters

Pankhuri She said: “I’m not going to lie – I love Boris.”

Caroline I did like him. I thought he was amazing during Covid, and getting the vaccinations rolled out. But he promised he would get rid of endless immigration.

Pankhuri I think he’s a liar. I honestly can’t see how he still has a job – it baffles me every single day. Partygate, but also before that – all the questionable things he did and said. He’s incompetent and irresponsible.

Dining across the dividers Pankhuri  (left) and Caroline


Caroline I was nervous to start with. But I’m so glad I did it. It’s better to have a discussion with someone who doesn’t agree on everything.

Pankhuri There were moments when I wanted to press eject. But then it made me reflect that no matter what side of the divide you’re on, we can all be insular. Brexit showed me how much of a bubble I was in. We didn’t agree on politics, but we had histories of displacement. We walked to the station together.

Dining across the dividers Pankhuri  (left) and Caroline

Additional reporting: Naomi Larsson

Caroline and Pankhuri ate at Camino in King’s Cross, London

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