I Gotta Feelin’
It’s been a while since I wrote a proper article; the ones where I just put down what I’m thinking onto ‘paper’ and release it to the world (read bits of Birmingham) for people to read. Thats why I started this blogging malarkey in the first place, so it’s nice when I come up with a decent topic to write about, rather than a quick post about some movie that I like. Believe it or not, those long 2000 word posts are my most popular ones – so thanks to all readers, regular and new, whether you read every word or just the first paragraph.
You may not know this but I, along with most of my circle of friends, and most probably you too, are part of a revolution. Not one where we wage a war and fight to death, but a quiet revolution. One that you may not even know that you’re a part of. One where much sacrifice has been made and the fruits of labour have not yet been seized. What am I on about?
If, like me, your parents came over from ‘back home’, wherever in the world that is, having given up the world they knew to start afresh and give their children hope, then you’re a part of this revolution. For twenty odd years, my parents have set this up and now it’s my turn, our turn, to take the baton and lead the way.
How often do we think about it? It sounds soppy and kind of airy fairy; maybe I am over dramatising it, but take a step back. Look at our history. What were we? Where are we now? Where does this road go?
Let me share my story briefly and then maybe you’ll appreciate what I could’ve been and now what I can be.
My dad had come to the UK in his teens. He came with his father and settled up north in Hyde, where he enrolled into secondary school without knowing a word of English. Not having any money, he had to work from the age of 14 up to even now, slogging away in order to make ends meet. And of course, the only thing he knew how to do was make Indian food. That’s when his restaurant career started. He worked when he wasn’t at school and when he was at school, he waited to go to work.
I don’t think he got many qualifications but what he did get was an excellent English teacher. Imagine, back in those days where there was a sudden influx of immigrants who just about knew the English for ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ coming into the country with their foreign culture and greasy hair. This teacher, an elderly lady (I forget her name, but my dad remembers it), God bless her, instead of wasting time by neglecting these foreign folks, taught my dad how to speak basic English and how to read and write it. (FYI, my dads handwriting is the best I’ve seen… Anywhere).
I think about it and I couldn’t have done what he did. In his early teens, he gave up everything he knew, all his friends, most of his family, and his environment and came to a foreign land; without knowing the language and without a return ticket home. It was permanent. He boarded the plane and that was it. There was no going back, come hell or high water. I couldn’t do it even now at the age of 22, God knows how these folks did it – all on the premise of making more money in order to feed the family back home.
Dad worked for many years here and when he turned 21, my grandad decided it was time for him to marry. They saved up enough money to buy the tickets home and for a decent wedding and off they went where it was arranged that my dad would marry my mum, who was only 19! Without going into the intricacies of Asian arranged marriages, needless to say, part of the parcel was that my mum got a ‘British’ husband – someone who can provide for her, and in return, my father married into a good family who were high up in the Bangladeshi community.
Dad must’ve returned and soon after, managed to fill out the paperwork and find the funds to bring mum over. So far, this is pretty much the standard story of Bangladeshi immigrants who came to settle in this country.
Mum, although from a good family and with many brothers who worked in high places, never really stayed in education back home. I think she must’ve left education as soon as she finished today’s equivalent of primary school. For a Bengali woman, her education came from her mother – not about ABCs but about how to cook curry and keep the house tidy and raise children. If you haven’t figured out by now, she never knew a word of English either.
Together, both in their mid-20s (my age as I write this), they moved everything to Birmingham and settled here. Dad had more restaurants to work at and mum had me and my sister. I think about my childhood and I can still remember dad working more or less 7 days a week and mum staying at home making sure the family (including her brothers and sisters in law) were all fed.
With little grasp of the language, and with little knowhow of how the UK worked, my parents have managed to sustain us and give us a good life. That’s not to say the UK government hasn’t helped – free education is still a luxury in today’s world, remember that before you start bashing the UK for its policies.
Fast forward from humble beginnings to me sitting in my room on my laptop writing this article; what has happened? My parents have sacrificed every penny they have ever had for their kids. When we cried for bikes and computers, they sold their jewellery and worked extra hours to make sure we had what we wanted. But that’s not what I’m most thankful for. What I’m most thankful for is the opportunity they gave me, the opportunity for a better life than they had.
Without one qualification to their names, my mum and dad, much like your parents, always told us to keep our heads down at school. It didn’t matter what we were studying (although Medicine is an obvious preference) so long as we did our homework, revised when we could and got decent grades.
For people without the luxury of education to get them through life, they understood better than most that the safest way to guarantee food on the plate was to make use of the free education we had; not to waste it smoking weed behind the sports hall or skipping school when it rained a little heavy. Come rain or shine, mum always had us in our uniform and took us to school on time; and when it thundered and hailed, she woke dad up (who’d come in around 2am from work) to drive us down the road to school in his sky blue Nissan Sunny.
It didn’t matter whether or not they knew what we were learning, that wasn’t the point. It only mattered that we were learning. I bet you today that my mum doesn’t know about half the shit year 6s learn, but as long as she knew we were in school, that’s all that she cared about. Dad made sure we had books, pens and paper. I didn’t get loads of toys to play with, instead I got books to read, stuff like ‘My first Atlas’ and the like (the exact one is in the pic above).
Moreover, dad loved watching documentaries and he (sometimes to our annoyance) made us watch these with him. He loved the animal stuff, like Steve Irwin with snakes and crocodiles. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our childhood – we had a great one. But learning new stuff, whatever it was, was mostly part of our day, whether in school, at home, by books or TV. And that’s how it’s always been till this very day. Again, thanks mum and dad.
The son of an illiterate mother and a father who can just about manage to string a sentence together, I went to school, got decent GCSEs, went to college, got decent A Levels and then went to uni and got a decent degree. A few days before starting my first ever real job, as a trainee accountant at one of the worlds largest firms, I cant help but look back at what I could’ve been and where I am today.
I could’ve been a boy in a lunghi (google that if you don’t know what it is) cultivating paddy fields to make a living. But because of the decisions my grandparents and parents have made, I can say that I’m about to start a professional career. Thank God that it is this way.
When I look back, I can say to myself that I took up the opportunity and actually made use of my free education. That’s more than some kids in my area these days. Guys, you don’t know how lucky you are. But that’s not even half the story.
Right now, as I’m in my room, thinking about my story, on the eve of my first day at the office, I have a slight butterfly in my stomach. I’m excited about my first day but more so about my life ahead. I have it easy because of the hard work my parents put in and the sacrifices they made. My potential is limitless; I can be who I want to be.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to say I paid my parents back by doing them proud. Will you? Continue the revolution and reap the fruits of your parents’ labour. When you can’t be arsed to get out of bed to go to school or when you’d rather join the JSA queue than get a job, remember what mum and dad did for you. Remember what they prayed for, what they worked for and what they sacrificed for. I don’t intend on letting my mum and dad down; who knows, maybe one day I’ll pick up a knighthood (lol, I can wish) and I can say “Thanks mum and dad, even the Queen recognised your work”… I’ve just got that feeling…