I come from a generation where most Pakistani men were thinking of going abroad to make a living. My father spent most of his time away from home so the only male figure in our house was my grandfather, from my mother’s side. He looked after us in many respects: he did our shopping because my mother went out to teach. He would be with us in the morning, so he was an essential figure.
I was born post-partition but I think the memory of what actually happened in the partition was [very much] alive because we were living in an area, which was predominately [made of] shanty towns, with refugees coming from all parts of India. Karachi was, in fact, heavily populated by refugees coming from India. I don’t know what my grandfather’s position was. He would have probably been with people like Maulana Azad and others. I think he was not very happy with partition. I don’t think many people in Karachi – originally from Karachi – were very happy with partition anyway. They thought the disruption that it caused – I think it actually caused great havoc in Karachi because the population just grew manifold over a couple of years. Shanty towns grew and I think the whole environment changed, drastically.
I think my father’s early memory was that he was always either going somewhere or coming back from somewhere. He’d only spend a few weeks with us so my first memory was that he actually went to Kuwait were he worked for a few years. Then he came back from there, then he tried to do some farming in interior Sindh. That also failed. He then came to England. Struggled because he had served in the British army. That happened around say in the early 1960s, between 60 and 62. He came from Kuwait in say 61, 60. I think in Kuwait he was actually working as a labourer. Then I think he came to England in 62.
No, we didn’t come with him because my family stayed in Pakistan for another four years – until 66. I joined him in 1967 – I was just approaching 16 at that time so that’s why I had to come in 67 because otherwise I would not have been allowed to come.
I think my father was a much more traditional person and I think you don’t have differences of opinion with him. I didn’t really want to come to England in 67 and I don’t think my father was very keen to bring me here anyway because I was quite settled in Pakistan but my mother said ‘if he doesn’t come now he will never be able to come.’ So she forced him to get me here. That’s how I came.
When I came here I was not very happy. When I went to school the situation wasn’t very good because there was a lot of racism about. The kids and the teachers included. I thought I could have done a bit better in Pakistan myself, at the time, but looking back on it I think I was just being youthful and optimistic.
When I came to Britain we were actually living in Luton. We were sharing a house with a Sikh family who owned the house, we just rented a room. They was in fact another Afro-Caribbean family so there was three of us, from three different countries. My family did that – because they came in 66 and I came in 67- so they were doing that for a year.
We went to a school in Luton, which was at that time, well no-body had actually done GCSEs – or GCEs in those days (General Certificate of Education). It was really a school that was considered providing fodder for … it was a very working-class and a very deprived area of the town, which is actually Bury Park now. Today I think most people hear about it. The school was – all the staff and teacher – were all English. They were all very traditional. Their ideas of what Asians are and what Asians can do did not always match what the Asian kids wanted so our aspirations were dampened by what the teachers would say and do. I mean there was one teacher who used to teach us English and he would makes jokes about how when Pakistani kids first come to school they start playing with electric switches because they had never seen switches in their life before. He would say that in a class full of other kids who would then make fun of you. Then there were things like ‘you came from a banana-boat’, which was quite a usual thing. I didn’t really get involved in many fights but my younger brother was much more vociferous and would not put up with anything so he would always get involved in fights, and being taken to the headmaster.
To most people asking me who we were I would say we were Indians or Asians or Blacks because that’s how me mixed. Most of my friends when I was at school were all Indians and a few of them were Blacks from the Caribbean or from South America. So it was that kind of identity that defined us because the racism was also against Blacks and Asians. Although they were all calling us ‘Pakis’. You know the National Front would. But still our identity was with the people we worked, we mixed with and the people we went to school with. That remained until at least the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s.
When I came to Birmingham I made many Indian friends and I learnt Punjabi from Indian Sikhs.
My hope is that even though we are growing in this country, and we are becoming significant in this country, we will continue to remember where we come from and will bring those values here as well. I think that’s what will keep it going. I think that there is a trend, that the younger generation is much more aware of that and they are trying to keep their cultures and identities alive in that respect. I think, well I’m involved with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or Guantanamo and things like that. A lot of it is supported by young people from our communities than by the older generation. I hope they will succeed in this country but at the same time I hope they do not lose where they come from. I am optimistic about that because the young people are very resourceful, and they are not forgetting.