This post was written for Optimus Education and appears on their website
Extract from ‘Dear Birmingham’ by Karamat Iqbal
After a year’s break, I decided to have another go at stewarding at the Moseley Folk festival. Where else can you be useful to your community, meet friends and neighbours and experience some excellent music as a part of the bargain? And all this for free when you are a steward. Not bad at all!
By Sunday, I had done my two shifts of duty so I could just enjoy the programme. But then, I remembered that I had wanted to go to the Eid Mela taking place the same afternoon. So, I decided to take a detour and first pop down to Canon Hill Park with thousands of other local people. I then managed to get to Moseley Park just in time for one of my favourites from two years ago, Scott Matthews.
Although, the two events were taking place in different parts of our lovely community, they seemed to be worlds apart.
Having spent many years locally, I have become used to feeling at home in a multiracial environment. So, what struck me above all was that the crowd at the mela were almost wholly Asian, possibly Pakistani. There was a complete lack of any white faces with the exception of a few women who had married out of their community and, of course, some of the people who were staffing the display from organisations such as HSBC, Ford and Aston Villa Football Club who were there as a part of their outreach programme. And then later, at the folk festival, the crowd was slightly more multi-racial, predominantly white, with the occasional black or Asian face.
It reminded me of the phrase ‘parallel lives’ coined after the 90s riots in a number of Northern towns. At the time, it appeared to imply that it was the Pakistani community which was the guilty party, now I wasn’t sure who was to blame or indeed whether there was anything wrong with communities participating in distinct cultural events.
Surely, the main point is that people are free to choose what they want to do, on their Sunday afternoon. It could be having a pint of Mad Goose and listening to some up and coming folk artist with their friends and family or, a couple of hundred yards down the road, listening to Pakistani music also with friends and family but without the ale.
I did wonder, however, whether we will come to a time when we will stop having separate cultural events; perhaps a better option would be for both the events, and others like them, to have a more diverse audience.
- Unity FM: pre-publication phone interview, 12 March 2013
- BBC Asian Network, Massala Show: pre-publication interview 17 March 2013
- Unity FM – post publication studio interview and discussion 30 March 2013
- Radio WM, The Carl Chin Show: studio interview 2 June 2013
- Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre: launch 11 June 2013
- Jericho Foundation: launch 26 June 2013
- GEM magazine: ‘Little GEMs’ June 2013
- GEM magazine: full feature July 2013
- House of Commons: Seminar September 2013
To be confirmed
- Newman University: Seminar
- North Birmingham school: Seminar
- Sunday Mercury feature
- Birmingham Hospital Radio Network
My first words were written on a takhti. This was a wooden board, about A4 size. We used to cover it in local clay. When it dried, it created a light surface for us to write on. We would use a bamboo pen, dipped in ink. Then, when the teacher had seen the work, I would wash the takhti in the dirty water of the pond that was there just in front of the school. I also had a slate, again about A4 size. This was used for working out the sums. For this we used chalk, bought from the village shop.
All this seems a long time ago. So much has happened since. I seem to have travelled a great deal of distance since those days when I sat on the dusty floor of the school. We used to look forward to rain because it would mean ‘no school’; the floor was too muddy to sit on.
The school had just the one teacher for my first three years there. He would start the lesson with each class and then hand it over to the monitor. Although, I did not formally become a teacher until I was twenty five, in reality I began my training almost on the first day of my primary education. I had a reputation for my love of learning and my sense of responsibility. By the time I reached class 4, we had another teacher. This seemed to be his first teaching job.
After five years there, I went to secondary school. This was even further to walk; about an hour each way. Here, we sat on benches and had more teachers and a wider choice of subjects, including English, Arabic, Farsi alongside Urdu and Maths. We now wrote in note books, known as kaapies. I was still recognised as a responsible and hard working student. During my three years there, only once I was caned. This was when a few of us were questioning some of the school rules which was seen as inappropriate behaviour. So, they tried to teach us a lesson.
Then, I came to the UK. During my couple of years of schooling, once I won a prize for writing an essay. Outside of school, I also won an Urdu story writing competition. Before I left school, I had my first article published, in Urdu, in Saltley News. This was a bilingual community newspaper, edited by my mentor, Sultan Mahmood Hashmi. He was famous for starting Urdu journalism in the UK and had established the first weekly newspaper, Mashriq.
My interest in writing was to continue. Soon after leaving school, I had a long short story published, also in Saltley News. I also had a number of my letters published in the national Urdu papers such as the Daily Jang and Akhbar-e-Watan. The subjects ranged from importance of teaching Urdu in Britain, opposing the presence of Pakistani political parties in the UK and supporting the rights of Pakistani women, especially education of girls. A few years later, I began to write in English. This felt such an achievement; to see my English to be good enough for publication.
And now, some quarter of a century later, I have just published my first book, Dear Birmingham. I write, I tweet, I blog. I don’t any longer write on paper, let alone a takhti. All my writing is on my dear Ipad 3.
What a privilege to have another group of young people choosing to be in a writing group with me and to describe it as “great and fantastic opportunity”, “golden opportunity” , “amazing course”, “lifetime opportunity”, “perfect chance” “honour” and as a blessing. One student even got carried away to say “if I do get chosen I may have a higher chance of winning the Nobel Prize”.
In making a case to be included in the group they said:
- “My target is to reach my full potential and release the writer within me”
- My top priorities are:
- Being the best I can be
- The writing workshop “will hopefully open my imagination to help me think outside the box”
- “Reading is one of the things that make my life great. When I am reading, I lose myself so much into the book that I am not aware of what’s going on around me”
- The writing workshop “will benefit me not only in my reading and writing in English but also boost my level of confidence”
- The writing workshop “will inspire me to become a better writer”
- “I have never been lucky to have a chance to apply for a place on a course like this”
- “No matter how brilliant your work is, I believe there is always room for improvement”
- The writing of authors such as JK Rowling and John Steinbeck “is almost addictive to read as it’s wild and interesting”
- “I am willing to give a hundred and ten percent”
I just hope I can live up to their expectations.