I think life generally for people that came from the colonies was quite bleak, because it didn’t matter what qualifications you had, didn’t matter what skills you had, you were still given the jobs that nobody else would do, so, I mean my father was a businessman before he left Pakistan, and when he came here he started working in a foundry in the steel works.
I think the other kind of interesting vivid memories were how much that community was also integrated in terms of different religious groups and stuff. And, you know, people still kind of saw themselves as Sikhs, or as coming from Africa or coming from, you know Punjab, but there was lots of intimacy amongst Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus, which was kind of quite amazing really in those days you know. So I grew up, some of my best friends were some Muslim boys, and we just kind of, you know, just grew up together. I can remember there was one boy called Zahid and we used to go to his house. His mum used to, she was like a mum. You know, it was just like there was no distinction. So that was a kind of very interesting kind of time, and I think that sense of togetherness, that sense really did inform my politics at a later time.
My father had bought a house and in the house there was a Sikh family, and so, , between the Sikh family and ourselves, we were sharing the house, and I’d grown up as I said in Pakistan, ... I was there in Pakistan when the war between India and Pakistan took place, and I remember my village being transformed and people beginning to dig air-raid shelters, and the hills surrounding the village suddenly had these big anti-aircraft guns because our village was very close to an oil refinery, and the oil refinery got painted, so there was a lot of nationalism, patriotism, you know, that I grew up in. India, I didn’t know what India was. All I knew was India was this horrible place, which denied our very existence as Pakistanis.
So when I arrived in England I just couldn’t understand why my father was staying with Indians and Sikhs, you know. Why this family who I had grown up to believe that these were the people who denied our existence and we were at war with, were staying with my family. So I remember having a fight with a young Sikh boy in the, you know, outside, and err, shouting all sorts of obscenities at him for being an Indian.
Everyone of us came to the same house which was 7 Arnold Place.......really....we didn’t find it strange that we didn’t have separate rooms or we didn’t have our own private spaces...it didn’t really matter with things like that...lots of us were put into a room together...we were sleeping....in...the beds...What was strange was that there were shifts on who went into beds, who slept in which bed and that was a bit odd. And also I very quickly realised that we didn’t cook like we used to cook in Pakistan, there were no women, that was the very first strange feeling....there were all men....and you know we had rats in the cellar...it was .... we cooked once....you know, if you made tea...you didn’t make tea in a cup, you made it in a great big pot. And you drank until it finished and the food was cooked and it had to be finished...it was just very very large amounts of food and we were all very poor so everybody was working...they weren’t just working for themselves...they all had lots of people to support in Pakistan.
I was born here in Birmingham... my family would have been one of the first families with children defined as a full family, my mother and me being born here, you know and becoming a part of this new community in the sixties. ... My mum had four sons. We all had long hair and we all had ribbons in our hair like girls. And I remember, in my mid-thirties actually, cleaning my mum’s attic out and finding a chest in there with an envelope with each of our names in and each envelope contained a lock of hair. And it was a significant event for my mother, cos, I mean, she still cries about it. But it was when she had to cut my hair and the hair of my brothers, because as a Sikh she had grown up, you know, in a village and never been in a situation where she ever contemplated that any of the men in her family, (she came from a particularly religious family), would ever have unshorn hair. .... So, those are early memories. And there are harsher memories like my mother going - I can remember, the markets in the early days where there were separate queues, even though there were no signs such as like South Africa and apartheid might have had. If you went to buy fruit at a market stall, the white people behind the counter or the fruit and veg boxes would always serve other white people first. And I remember as a child, you know, quite vivid memories of waiting, and waiting, until white people had been served.