From Attock and Bangladesh to the land of milk and honey

I was recently invited to give a talk on the 100+ years of South Asian presence in the UK. This helped me to learn even more about the community, my community, who have made this country their home. Around the same time I recall a fellow Kashmiri saying goodbye to his home (in Kashmir) which had been visiting and was now about to return to his other home (Luton in this case). This gave rise to a discussion about ‘where are we from?’ and whether we should write our stories. 

Two sets of stories that have already been written are included here. These have helped me to get to know a little more my fellow Brits, in their own words. First up is Attock to Attock Park, ably facilitated and curated by Nabeela Ahmed. It’s a collection of stories told by the residents of Bradford Moor who reside near Attock Park. The stories cover a range of themes that include first encounters with England (for the older generation) or Pakistan or Kashmir (for the younger generations). Helpfully, the collection includes traditions that centre on death and funeral, a subject I happen to be running a workshop on in the near future so to raise awareness amongst fellow Brits who are outside the Pakistani community but who wish to be in a better position to support their Pakistani neighbours in times of sadness and loss. Other themes included in the book are: traditions around Ramzaan, Eid, food, weddings, in their villages and towns in Pakistan and Kashmir and here in Bradford Moor. They talk about racism and share humour and poetry. The participants met each week, discussed a new theme each time. 

The second set of stories are contained in the excellent book Old Wives’ Tales. Put together by Mashkura Begum and Aftab Rahman, it pays tribute to the challenges endured and sacrifices made by Bangladeshi women who have made their home in the UK. With their resilience they have laid solid foundations for their community upon which much has already been built upon. The book is sadly out of print but you can get a glimpse through this video. Like Sofina Islam, who wrote the Foreword, after reading the book I felt as if the women are my own family members. I include here just one of the stories, which typifies the grit and determination of the women included:

Kusheda Khatun is described as a women of steel. Her life was one big tragedy. She never saw her mother as she passed away when Kusheda was a baby. Her father passed away when she was young. Her mum’s sister raised her. She lost her brother.  She got married at age 12, to a husband who was already married. He was the son of her aunt who had brought her up. Upon getting married, for 30 years she lived in Bangladesh while her husband was in England. Her first child died age 6 months. She had a son who died after 28 days.

Such was her resilience that her story ends in these words: I am happy. Although I have had many ups and downs and have seen many deaths I remain grateful to God for everything he has given me.