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Farida Begh

Question:  Tell me a bit about where you were before 1971.  How did you come to Birmingham.

Answer:  Before 1971 I was in Birmingham.  I came to England in 1965.  I was married when I was 16 and came to join my husband after 7 months.  I came to Birmingham and since then I’ve been settled in Birmingham.


Question:  How was your journey from 1965 to 1971? 

Answer:  It was a big country, England.  It was a very different country at that time.  I was shocked and nervous about coming to a new country; the weather and everything were different.  My husband was a very good person, he helped me a lot to settle down.  He introduced me to quite a few families, like university students’ wives and some of his family members, so I was able to easily settle down.  He took me to the shopping malls, then I used to go on my own.  So I got to know about this country and learned things.  I went to English classes in the evenings to learn the language, I was 17 by that time.  That’s what I did for 7 months, I think it was more than enough. 


Question:  Did you miss your country at that time?  Was culture, and religion important to you?

Answer:  It was very important.  First of all, was the weather, it was very cold.  Although I came in May, it was very cold, I didn’t see any sun, and it was very miserable.  The only things I saw when I traveled along the motorway to Birmingham were people washing outside.  That was a big thing for me. I thought I can wash my clothes.  People were talking only in English, the culture was different. I had lived in Ajimpur Colony - it was open fields. Here it was just staying in your house, so obviously these things were different here.  Mainly the language barrier made it difficult, until you spoke the language it was very difficult.



Question:  It was East Pakistan at the time.  You came as an East Pakistani to the UK.  Were you concerned about what was happening between East Pakistan and West Pakistan? 


Answer:  I went to Bangladesh in 1969, with my 2 year old daughter and I came back in 1970.  At that time I went to Ajimpur Colony, where my mum and dad were living.  I used to see the processions go through in front of our house, from the graveyard to the university hall.  So at that time, something was bubbling, and we felt something was going to happen.  I came back in 1970. Then on 25th March suddenly, one of my friend’s husband says to watch the news there is a civil war.  I didn’t understand at the time what civil war was, or what was going on. He told me about a war between East and West Pakistan.  At that time, I more or less fainted because my whole family was in Ajimpur, and that (place) was a target.  I can’t explain, I had no contact with my family for about 6/7 months.  No letter or anything.  It wasn’t just me it was everybody.  Everybody was concerned and scared about what was going to happen.  It is very difficult to explain.  It was horror, anger, anxious, every feeling was there.


Question:  How did you communicate with your family?  Was it by phone, by letter?

Answer:  At that time, my only brother, 16-year-old brother, went to India to join the Mukthi Judha (freedom fighter).  So he was only 16, and somehow he used to send us letters from India.  Maybe he used to have direct contact with Bangladesh (East Pakistan) but we didn’t have direct contact to East Pakistan from here.  Everybody was worried about their families.  There were very few women here, all the Bangladeshi men were worried about their families.  They used to put money from their weekly salary into the fund, to raise money to help save Bangladesh.


Question:  When the 25th March happened, when somebody asked you to watch the news?  How did you feel?  Did you feel it was going to be a new country?  Did you worry about what was going to happen next?

Answer:  At that time I did not have that kind of thinking, if it was going to be a new country or not.  I was only worried about our families, my husband’s family and my family.  We were really worried, we didn’t know what was going to happen to them.


Question:  You mentioned fundraising, about campaigning.

Answer:   Campaigning – I had a call from Badrun Nessa Pasha.  She got my number through one of the university student’s wives.  She asked why don’t you come and join us.  She lived about five minutes away (drive) from our house.  I used to live in Sparkbrook, and she lived in Small Heath.  So I went there for the first time, it wasn’t the 28th March event.  No, I didn’t attend that event. Since then I got involved.  Mrs. Pasha formed a Bangladeshi Women’s Association.  Before that, I was involved with only the Women’s Association (East Pakistan and West Pakistan).  So since then, I got involved with whatever was going on, campaigns, processions, cricket grounds - when the players were coming.


Question:  So you went to Edgbaston Cricket Grounds for the procession?

Answer:  Yes, my 4 year old was daughter holding the banner as well.  That was quite a long walk from Small Heath to Edgbaston to protest against the cricket team (Pakistani).  That was my first involvement - in the procession, before that I didn’t go anywhere.  I was quite involved with the university, their fundraising etc.


Question:  Tell me about your university-related activities.  What was it? Who else was there? How did you get involved?

Answer:  At University my husband was a member of the staff there.  Mostly the commonwealth students came to Birmingham University.  There were 7 of them, and five of them had their families here.  So I was involved with them, with whatever they were doing: fundraising, meetings, campaigning.  That was my initial involvement and secondly, I joined the Bangladeshi Women’s Association.  

Question:  Did you go to London for any events?  Lots of things were happening in London. 

Answer:  No I didn’t because my daughter was quite small.   My husband was busy as well with work, and could not get time off. Also, I was not that involved initially.


Question:  Was it your plan to go back to Bangladesh and not to stay in Birmingham?  Or did you feel like this was going to be a new identity as a British Bangladeshi?  How did you feel about your family, about your daughter?

Answer:  I felt very proud.  This was a new country.  This was our own country.  We are Bengali because it is Bangladesh.  It’s a nice name as well.  When I first came to England, I did want to go back.  But my husband got quite good job offers, and he did not want to move back.  Slowly we started to settle down.  After 12/13 years it became difficult to go back and settle there.  Our relationship with Bangladesh is very good.  I still go there.  I used to go back only once every four years, because of financial issues and children’s education.  Now we go every year, twice a year, and stay for 3 to 4 months.  Bangladesh is still our country too, they are progressing as well.


Question:  We heard you were involved with the media; you were doing lots of work, lots of training.  How did you feel?  Did you feel you had to be updated and know the language, and that you had to work in society and contribute to society?


Answer:  My first job was as an interpreter.  I used to go to the clinic, where there were Pakistani ladies too.  I could speak Urdu as well.  There was a mixture of women (Pakistani & Bangladeshi).  That’s how I started.  They offered me a full-time job, but I couldn’t take the full-time job because I just had my son.  When my son was two years old, I got a call from the High Commissioner asking me to apply for a job that they had vacant.  I told them I didn’t have that qualification for that job.  He said they were looking for somebody who knew the Bengali culture, who could speak good English, good Bengali, and obviously Sylheti, so I applied.  There were 5 people on the panel, somehow I got the job.  I asked the people why they chose me, they said because I sat on the floor and engaged with the women, whereas most of the other candidates sat on the chair.  I worked there for 12 years. I helped develop the Bengali community.  My aim was the female and the girl’s education.  I worked very closely with the High Commissioner because of cases with immigration issues, passport issues, etc


Question:  We learned you worked with the BBC.

Answer:  I started in Sathi House in 1976. And in 1989 I started to work with the BBC. It was a similar surprise for me, Anita Bala said, Farida we put your name down as the Bengali presenter.  I was shocked. They said we are requesting you to join.  So I got the job there as a freelance Bengali presenter.  The main program was community-based and some music.  We covered lots of things in the program:  health, lifestyle, doctors, nurses, school teachers, social services.


Question:  You’ve had lots of different experiences in different areas, being a mum, and raising your family.  You are part of Birmingham, it is your home.  How do you feel about being a Bangladeshi, moving here, and equipping yourself? how proud are you to call this your home now?


Answer:  Before I moved I saw my father, he was an accountant, so he had to go to different places.   His initial home was in Dhaka.  When I moved here I realised this was my life, it was the man I married.  My mum told me when you are married don’t think about anything else other than your own family, your in-laws.  So I left everything behind and came with my husband.  So that was my plan to protect my family.  Looking back, I don’t know how much I did, but I am a happy mum.  My daughter is a chartered accountant, she qualified as a first Bangladeshi girl.  My family is my priority.  If you can’t control your own family, you can’t look after the community.  That’s what I call community work.  You have to set an example, I’m a career person but my family comes first.


Question:  When Bangladesh got independence, do you remember how this message came to you?  How did you feel about it?


Answer:  Most of the news came from the TV.  I can’t remember when I received the first news, but it was a big event.  We used to have one television between many households at that time.  I remember in my house, there were about 20 men, and I was the only female.  I was shocked when all the men jumped (in rejoicing);  this was the reaction.  Nobody knew what was going to happen in the future, but at that time they were very, very happy.  And obviously, my job was to make them tea, and cook for them; kisuri, dahl, and dim bhuna.


Question:  Tell me how you feel now.  You have seen the community grow.  You have seen so many things happen, good and bad.  You have settled in Birmingham.  You are a Brummie.  How do you feel now about what you did for the community at that time? 

Answer:  At that time, Bangladeshi men were single in this country, my main job was to try and explain to the men to bring their families over (from Bangladesh).  When I started work there were only 13 families finally we ended up with 3000 families.  We then targeted the children going to school to get them a good education.  Some of them are Barristers, and some doctors.  When I look back it makes me feel happy that at least I did something to help.  Birmingham is a multicultural city, Hindu, Muslim, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani.  I have a very good relationship with everybody because you have to live here with everybody.  This is me as a person.  It doesn’t matter about their background.  I’m a person who likes people.

Question:  What’s your plan for the future?  You have been through 1971, you have raised your family, and now you are free, what would you like to do?

Answer:  Now I am flying everywhere.  First 10 days with friends, then with my family – on a family holiday, then we will go to Bangladesh for 3 months - as long as my health allows.  But settling in Bangladesh, will be very difficult because I have grandchildren; one is 29 and the youngest is 12.  I am lucky all my children live in Birmingham, I am here too.  I can go visit (Bangladesh) but this is my home.

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