Asha's story - from Assam to Burnley
The following is one of the migration stories written by pupils at Dean Trust Ardwick secondary school, which inspired Shamshad Khan's poem, 'Making Manchester' (commissioned by Olympias for the project).
My interview is about my grandmother, who I call Didima. She had twelve siblings, but two passed away. She is now in her 60s and has had three children. She’s from West Pakistan, but lived in Assam, Bangladesh.
Her life was considered to be very ordinary. As a child, she played Ludo and hopscotch. My grandmother was told stories about young children and witches. As she got older, she cooked, cleaned, sewed and knitted. Living in Bangladesh meant that it was quite hot all year round, and there were no toothbrushes, so soot was used instead. My grandmother was quite happy living there, apart from the heat, until the Bangladeshi war started.
The Bangladeshi war was one of the reasons that influenced her decision to move to England. For her, moving was a case of life or death. She travelled for two days on foot, with my grandfather and my uncle, who was still a baby, without any supplies, towards the border of India, so when they crossed it, they’d be safe. If they were seen by soldiers, they’d be shot instantly for being Hindu, due to the divide rising in the nearby countries. During that time, they never had a proper house and they had slept on the floor with no roof.
My grandfather had already moved to England, back in 1963, but came back for a while, then left again. My grandmother travelled back to Assam, from India, then to Dhaka to travel to England with my uncle and mother in 1975. At this time, she was twenty-two. She always wanted the best for her children, so she wanted to move for that reason also.
However, before moving, she had to do an interview to have the right to travel. The woman before her had come out crying because she was denied access to travel on an airplane. Thankfully, my grandmother managed to go on the airplane without many issues. Two other people, who knew my grandfather came along as well. She travelled to Heathrow and then chose to live in Burnley because it was a quiet place, and the schools there were quite good for her children. She had to live with other people for a while, because they had no money for housing, but the house owners were very kind to them, and later they managed to buy a house for themselves.
In England, my grandmother gave birth to my aunt, though she nearly died in that hospital. My grandfather worked in a cotton mill, while my grandmother sewed the hems of tea towels, so they could support themselves and their children. When learning English, she found it very hard, but she still practised every day and went to college to study English more. She can speak English quite well now and you can understand her pretty much anytime she speaks.
When interviewing her, my grandmother sounded happy talking about her childhood games and stories, and she still sometime plays Ludo with me and my brother today. She still finds England too cold and rainy.