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Journey from Pakistan to England 1961

My late uncle Mukhtar Ahmed Malik, at the age of 30 years, was the first member of our family to migrate to England in 1961. Shortly after he was joined by his younger brother, my father Mumtaz Ahmad Malik

They were pioneers and the first generation that took the brave step to leave their homeland Pakistan, to start a new and challenging life in a foreign environment and culture.

The brothers were born in Dulmial Village, The Salt Range, Punjab and later moved to Wah Cantt.

My great grandfather and grandfather were members of the British Indian army participating in World War 1 and 2 respectively.

Mukhtar and Mumtaz were fortunately well educated, hard working and able to speak English.

Vintage PIA aircraft

They arrived in a very cold, wet London after obtaining work visas. They had one suitcase and £5 each. They initially rented a room in London before moving to Nottingham.  Their aim like many others at that time was only to stay a few years and then return back to Pakistan. It was not unusual for the newly arrived men to share bedrooms with one person working day shifts and the other nights.

The small number of Pakistanis developed friendship groups and were quite close. This is how the Asian areas in many UK cities developed over the years eg. in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford. This community still passionately supports the Pakistan cricket team when they are on tour here. (We certainly fail the Norman Tebbit cricket ‘test’ of integration. In 1990 the English MP suggested that British Asians should support the England cricket team if they were fully integrated!)

Adjusting to England was difficult, as everything was so different to Pakistan. The very cold weather, long dark nights, lack of family network and loneliness. For relatives in Pakistan ‘the grass may have appeared greener on the other side’ but life abroad was tough.

There was also a backdrop of racial discrimination as some landlords and employers didn’t allow black and Asian people to apply for rooms or jobs. England was not multicultural in the early 1960s, it was very much a ‘white’ country. However England needed to enhance its labour force and encouraged people from abroad to come and work there. Many people also came over from the West Indies.

Some English people had worked in the Indian Subcontinent and were sympathetic and helpful to the new Asian arrivals. Others were more hostile and were against the immigration policies. Member of Parliament, Enoch Powell was particularly upset at the increased immigration and expressed his concerns in the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Over the decades some English cities have seen a number of riots related to racial tensions.

For the newcomers to England diet was another issue, halal meat was difficult to obtain and the locals didn’t like the smell of Asian cooking. Soon the entrepreneurial Pakistanis successfully set up halal meat shops together with selling Asian products.

Interestingly now the number one dish in England is chicken tikka masala!

A few years later Mukhtar and Mumtaz called their immediate family over from Pakistan and further roots were set in England. They purchased their own houses and obtained regular employment.

They travelled back to Pakistan very occasionally after many years. The only form of communication with their extended family was by letter, that took weeks to arrive. The ‘telegram’ was a faster form of messaging. Compare that to how we keep in contact constantly with friends and family nowadays via smart phones and the internet! The world is a much smaller place now.

Being many thousands of miles from their parents and other siblings must have been difficult. Unable to enjoy the happy times and not be able to support family during the sad times.

Mukhtar was initially employed as a bus conductor, being promoted to driver and then inspector in the Nottingham City transport. He also was very active in the local community and became a local Magistrate (Justice of the Peace) in 1980. At that time this was a great achievement for a person coming from Pakistan. He was also the first president of our Muslim faith group and started up a Nottingham Pakistani Friend’s Association. He and his family even made a journey back to Pakistan by road which took 2 weeks. He would always tell us stories of that epic holiday travelling through Europe, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to reach northern Pakistan. He returned back in the same car!

Uncle Mukhtar with myself and the Vauxhall car he drove from England to Pakistan and back again in 1969.

He unfortunately passed away prematurely at the age of 53 years in 1984, it was his father’s wish that he be buried in Dulmial Village, Pakistan.

My father Mumtaz, worked for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Old Dalby, Leicestershire from 1963 before retiring in 1996. From 1992 he became president of our Muslim faith group and set up a regular prayers area at a local community centre. He still continues to be actively involved in community work.

Now we are on the 3rd generation of family members whose relatives migrated to England over 50 years ago. We have adopted the good values of the British society at the same time keeping our culture and religion. As you can see in many English cities we are part of a thriving multicultural society.

The key to success for the original migrating brothers was honesty, hard work and perseverance. It is hard to imagine the problems that they faced arriving in England in the early 1960s, however they always speak positively about the experience. They always maintained a sentimental attachment to Pakistan, closely following events there. However the dream of returning back to settle in Pakistan never happened for many.

The immense struggle of the 1st generation migrants pays off in the long run. Their children and grandchildren have an easier time as they have been born and brought up in the host country. We are fortunate that we are able to take the positive values of the British and Pakistani society and continue to work for our local communities.

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