Well I’m of Kashmiri, Pakistani origin. I came into Britain, I think it was in 1970, I was about 11 years old. Currently I live on the south side of Birmingham in Selly Oak, which is round the corner from where we are sitting at the moment. I am currently working with Birmingham city council.
Well I think my first memory was probably back when I was a child in Kashmir, back home in Pakistan. I would probably be around five or six years old. Obviously there are a lot of things from that period which do come back all the time. I think the main thing would be it’s the life, the village life, living in a large extended family house, a lot of other relatives, and a lot of other children.
My father actually came to Britain, I think it was 1960, and at that time, I probably was only a year old. Probably the first memory of him would be in the late 60’s when he went back to Pakistan, that’s before we came. And I can remember actually, one of the presents he gave me was a suit at that time. I was only probably 10 years old at that time, but he did say to me that this is something which I can wear when we go back to England, to Britain. But I think it’s unfortunate, when I was growing up I hardly saw my father. So I don’t have a great deal of memories of that period.
His life, when I look back at it, it was a life of struggle. Economic struggle to a large extent. So in 1960 when he came over here, he came over as an economic migrant really. And I suppose I got to know him when I came here in 1970 when I saw him first hand. And again the life he led in this country struck me, and left an impact in the sense that it was a life of struggle, he worked in a foundry, worked for long hours. I can remember, when we came here, the house we lived in, there was already something like ten or fifteen people already living in the house, an overcrowded place. It was basically a three bedroom house, two up and three down or three up and two down, and it was overcrowded. Most of those were economic migrants. He worked very long hours, struggled quite a lot.
When we came in 1970, there was a couple of years where I did get the opportunity to get to know him, and it was actually a good relationship. I was happy to have the opportunity to find a bit more out about him to develop that relationship to develop that understanding. But unfortunately, after a couple of years, both my mum and my dad decided to go back to Pakistan. And I was left with my elder brother, and they were in Pakistan and I was here. And for the next ten years, my father used to stay there and he used to come back for maybe five or six months, maximum probably stay here for a year. And then went back and lived there for a year or a couple of years or three years; so he was spending most of his time back in Pakistan, back home, rather than this country.
I got to know him really well when I went back to Pakistan in 1985. We were a working class family, we came from a peasant background, came here. My father worked in a foundry all his life, worked really hard. My elder brother probably had to go through the same routine. He had to get a job to work. I was the first one in many ways to go to university and get a university education. And when I completed that, there were quite a lot of expectations from the family in terms of getting a professional job and helping the family.
Because of those early years in Britain and seeing my father and seeing my brother and seeing my uncle and seeing other members of my family what they were going through, I became very socially and very politically conscious as well. As a result of that, from a very early age when I was at school, certainly in my latter years in school, when I was in the fifth and sixth year, fourth and fifth year, in particular when I was in sixth form, I became extremely politically conscious. This was also a period where there was a huge amount of racism in society, a huge amount of racism in education, in schools. It was a period when Paki-bashing was going on, particularly in schools. There was a lot of fights, a lot of attacks. And that was a period when I became very quickly politically conscious and a political activist. It was also a period when the National Front became a phenomenon in the late 70’s in Britain, mid to late 70’s.
I actually quite enjoy living in Birmingham I think that it is truly a pluralist, multicultural place to be. In many ways it is quite fun to be here. It is a beautiful concrete jungle actually, but apart from that, it is a fun place to be. My apprehensions really, my concerns and worries are mainly from the point of view that I think for the vast majority of people in Birmingham, and that extends actually to the vast majority of people in Britain, life under the present socio-political structure and system is something which is a daily struggle. Despite the fact that there is enormous wealth which is created in the country, but that wealth is increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Siphoned off and is rotting in banks or off-shore banks. It is basically a city or a country of haves and have nots. Have nots make up something like 90% of the population. And the people who don’t have excess are increasingly being squeezed more and more and more.
So my main concern, in terms of for my own daughter, or in terms of children who are growing up within the city and within the country is what future are they going to have in terms of education in terms of jobs, in terms of living standards. And that is something which I have concerns in this sense that the situation needs to improve, otherwise the conflicts will increase. Where there is conflict there is contradiction, where there is contradiction there is eruption, and those eruptions can have an adverse impact as well.