Oral history interview with Abdul Momen

Momen, Abdul

Iqbal, Iftekhar


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This is 4th of June, 2011. I'm sitting with Mr. Abdul Momem at his residence in East London, in a very sunny day. Mr. Momen, could you please start by telling us little bit about your year of birth and place of birth and where you grew up, Please?
I was born in August, 1938, in a place called Basirhat, which is near Calcutta, 40 miles from Calcutta. What was the question after that?
When? Oh yeah, the year?
1938, OK. And you went to schools there?
I went to school in Basirhat. No, no, my first school was near Calcutta.
It is part of greater Calcutta, now-- Dum Dum, not the airport, the junction railways station called Dam Dam Junction. And that was my first school and my father used to -- he was a postmaster and he had a transferable job. So we used to go to different places and sometimes, in one instance, there were three transfers in one year, so I have been to various schools. So after Calcutta, my father -- we went over to Basirhat -- which was my place of birth.
And it is what they call a district of 24 Parganas. And then so I studied there in the school in Basirhat, which was predominantly Hindu. So there was serious competition, and there were a few… At Basirhat, I went to a school which was not very far from the place where we lived and what I remember of that school is, I was the only Muslim-
Please, carry on.
Boy in the school. And there was -- my brother also used to go to the same school and he was older than me by four years. I stood first, in terms of my result in, I think it was class four to five, and there was a difference of 100 marks between me and the person, boy next to me.
And I remember when that result was announced, the head teacher, the Headmaster sort of picked me up, he sort of raised me like that and he said, you know, "Look at this boy!"
So you stood first?
I stood first in that Hindu school.
OK. You were the only Muslim student in that class?
I was the only Muslim student in that class. And he sort of raised me up and said, "Look at this boy, what marvelous results he has!" I think there was a difference of 100 marks between me and the other boy. So we were there until class six, and my results were good.
Then it was the Partition happening, it was 1945-'46, Basirhat School Primary and, but towards the end of '46, there was kind of dissatisfaction among parents from the Muslim families in that predominantly Hindu school, because I think by that time just after Partition, you had to sing the National Anthem of India, 'Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he, Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā," $[diacritics] and that was the objectionable line - how could Bharat be the God? "Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā."
And so one of my uncle, was a Muslim Leaguer and he was the Deputy Mayor of Basirhat Municipality and he was very involved in Muslim League. And so they organized something, some kind of sort of campaign where all the Muslim boys from that school, where I was going to, would be withdrawn and they would start a new school.
And it is after Partition, just after Partition.
OK, after Partition.
And my father had already left Paki-, India. He was working in Kushtia as a Postmaster and he had a transferrable job, but he opted for Pakistan, rather than he could have stayed in India if he wanted to, but he did not.
And so he went. And we followed him, after one or two years. By that time, we moved to this Muslim school and I had very good result because there wasn't much competition and-
Was it attended by many other Muslim boys?
Yes! So, the whole new school was created with boys from Hindu Schools, not Hindu schools but-
Different schools.
You know, from mainstream kind of schools, where-
This was established in '46?
The new school, the Muslim school.
After the Partition?
Immediately after Partition.
So it would be '47. Soon after came the Partition. So that -- I have some memory of that event and experience. And so then, my father opted for Pakistan and so he was away, say from August '47 to 1950. He was in different places; Jessore, Kushtia.
Within East Bengal?
Within East Bengal. So he has gone to Pakistani, East Pakistan side. And so were at home, we were with my mother, my older brother, myself and a sister and a young brother. So we were four, four of us.
But this is interesting, because why was the necessity of establishing a new Muslim school, particularly after Partition?
Was it because the Muslim community was threatened, psychologically or insecure?
They felt that -- yeah, I think there was this sense of insecurity. And especially, as I said that there was this singing of that National Anthem, the Indian National Anthem was the bone of contention-- so that was the main reason.
More religious?
More religious aspect or factor. That's what decided it. So most people, I think almost 99.5 or something, I mean maybe there were one or two people who stayed on, but almost everyone left. We did not have any say in that matter, we were children at that time. I think in retrospect, if I stayed in that school, in terms of intellectually, or you know, I would have been a better person than what I am now, because there would be very tough competition
But when I went to Pakistan--
It was very easy.
Everything was very easy, I did not have to work very hard.
Do you remember any -- what happened to other friends of yours in that school?
Did all of them or some of them, opt for -- their parent's family, like your parents and family opted for east Bengal, or they remained in that school and stayed in India? Do you remember any of your friends from there, or their family?
Not many I can remember, one family, which would be my uncle's, one of my uncle's, from my father's side. He actually did not go to Pakistan.
He was a lawyer and you know, he kept on practicing there and he was harassed, he was arrested for his kind of views, but he kind of maintained that, this is my country, this is where I was born.
He was arrested by the Government?
By the Indian Government.
For his involvement in politics or-?
I don't think he belonged to a political party, but he was very vocal in his thoughts and so on. And I remember, the last time we were, we as children, were there during the Eid festival and that was my I think last Eid festival in the Indian side of Bengal. And my uncle -- my father was away.
In East Bengal.
In East Bengal, yeah. And my uncle, you know, kind of stood up at the minaret of the mosque with the azaan and he said, "We will stay in this country, we are not going, we will not leave and we will practice our religion, you know, as we are advised to do." And so, he stayed on, but he did suffer. He suffered; he was arrested once and was kept in the Police Station and there was nothing he did. I mean he didn't do anything.
So maybe out of suspicion or something.
Out of suspicion and so on. Also because he had, kind of, also slightly had a leadership role. I mean he voiced-
He voiced for the community.
He voiced for the community and so that's what
And he stayed on, until a couple of years before he died, he didn't. Because his children and all were in Pakistan, East Pakistan and-
So he joined later?
He joined later, he was very, sort of the last person.
Yeah, the last person.
He and his wife, chachi, my aunt. And so, that was, you know -- and one thing I remember very much, which is that my father was in East Pakistan, so my mother was looking after myself and my younger brother, my older brother, my younger brother and myself and one younger brother and then a sister was just after me, before the youngest one. So there were four of us and my father was away.
Entire family moved to East Bengal.
Yeah so I am going to sort of narrate something which happened before we moved. So that was 1950 when we moved but this incident happened in 1948, which is -- became the subject of a prolonged litigation. It was called "Dum Dum Basirhat Mamla". You understand? Dum Dum Basirhat Mamla.
And that was something to do with the, you could call it, the Bolsheviks. There was an uprising, very badly planned. This group of young men, six, five-six of them drove a van from Calcutta going towards the border of East Pakistan, which goes through the place where we lived, Basirhat so-
Jessore Road?
Na, Jessore Road na. Jessore Road is-
Grand Trunk Road or-?
I think part of that could be Grand Trunk Road, but it is a road that goes from Calcutta through Basirhat, up to the border of East Pakistan, Bangladesh.
So that was the road, that this group of revolutionaries, sort of followed. And what they did on the way is, they stopped at every Police Station and they shot the policeman in guard and in one or two places they entered the Police Station-
So they were the communists?
They were the communists.
And they were heading to East Bengal?
They were heading towards East Bengal because they thought that in the East Bengal -- because of the tension which between India and Pakistan -- they would get protection there, which it was a wrong assumption. So I didn't know about this. This thing, the road that goes-
Many people were there? Many of them?
I think there were not many eight or nine people. I remember one person very much and I will not-
Who is he? OK.
I will come to that. So there was from our house to that place, it was not that far and we could hear the explosion of bombs and things like that. So I ran following the sound, and one or two sort of boys like me, I think they also ran with me. And my brother older brother, he was older by four years, he also followed us and I think he had a kind of protective role, as my father was away and he was the eldest member in the house, so he followed me.
So what happened at that time was, that a group of young people followed by I think, they were handcuffed by the police. They were brought to the Police Station. And in the meantime, when they were going in that direction, towards East Pakistan, they killed a policeman and they took some things from the station. Then they went to the treasury, they took a lot of money and they went to the border, trying to cross the border and they -- what the East Pakistan Government did, they arrested all of them and they handed them to the Indian Police, and so they were brought back to-
Hopes were shattered?
Yeah, all hopes were shattered. They were brought back to the Police Station. And what I saw, was this very tall and quite, in terms of Bangladesh standards, they are darker in color, you know in complexion than say average people, and his blood was dripping from his head.
Oh, he was one of the nine?
He was one of the nine person. And he was saying, "Inquilab Zindabad."
Revolution, yeah. Revolution Zindabad.
And I was very moved, very much with them "Inquilab Zindabad, duniya ke majbud rakho." $[Bengali, 10:00, 1070]. [laughs] I did this and my older brother, I forgot, he was next to me and he was standing next to me. He pulled me by the ear, very hard, and he said, "Enough of this nonsense, you know, come back with me immediately now!" And so he dragged me home. But I understood why he was doing that. So that was, you know, was a tremendous experience for me.
You were only a boy!
I was only a boy, I was ten, something like that.
Did you know who that person was, who was bleeding?
No I can't, I could have because that, there was this litigation or whatever you call it.
t was called Dum Dum Basirhat Mamla and that was covered in newspapers for years, because it continued you know was long.
What happened to them? They were sentenced to?
I think they were. They must have been. I don't know, I mean I don't remember that.
Maybe we can-
You can find out, that actually what happened to those people, Dum Dum Basirhat Mamla. So yeah I should have done that. So then we went over to East Pakistan and schooling was normal. I was...
Where did you land in East Pakistan?
Alamdanga, Kushtia.
OK. Its- - Yeah I know. Chuadanga.
Just in the border.
Just 2 stations.
Was it because it was close to the border of India, or you had relatives there?
No, my father was transferred.
Oh, he was already in Alamdanga?
He was already in Alamdanga, sending us money by money order.
And that was stopped, because of the partition and so things became difficult for us, us and my mother, and so father could not send any money.
Oh the money order wasn't processed because after the partition?
Few months it continued, as it was before. And then it was stopped, and so it became difficult for us to survive.
So decided to come over?
My father said, you know, you have to go.
So the entire family, your--?
Entire family, without one. My older brother, the difference between me and him -- he was 16 and I was 12 -- four years, sort of, difference. So he was in his class ten.
Matriculation or pre-matriculation. It was April or May? That we had, we used to have morning schools and there was an exam the following day in the school.
So he stayed back to appear in the exam?
We all stayed, we were all there, brother. And so, there wasn't, at that point in time, I mean although thinking -- my father was planning, but he did not decide to sort of take us to Pakistan immediately. I think he was considering accommodation and all those things
Taking time.
And something very tragic happened. [Phone rings] Sorry, could I?
So what happened was that, so there was morning school. And that would be the day when school would be closed, for it would break for summer vacations. And so around 6 o'clock we got up, my mother was cleaning the hurricane.
The kerosene?
You know the kerosene, she was cleaning the chimney. And sitting on the verandah, there was this big bedroom and there was this small room and on the verandah, my mother was cleaning the chimney and the hurricane chimney. And my older brother -- I was up and I was sort of kind of hanging around my mother, and not getting ready. I mean I was going to, but my brother has gone out of the house, to the pond, which is adjacent to the house. It's a really Bangladeshi house.
Yeah pukur. So he went to the pond, to just wash himself as people do. And he came back, from the pond to the house. And so he -- my mother was on the verandah and so he went, passed my mother and I was also standing nearby. He went straight into the bedroom, the main bedroom and there wasn't anything but within sort of a couple of minutes, and there was this kind of wailing, kind of noise, "Amma!" something, calling-
Something calling mother.
Something calling mother and there wasn't any sound after that. And so, my mother immediately rushed in the room and so, there wasn't any moment. There was this big bed and his legs were sort of on the ground and sort of half-reclined, the rest of the body lying on the pillow and there were sort of tears in his eyes.
So my mother sort of touched him and said, "What's happening? You have to go to school! What is this?" She didn't know, she didn't-
Naturally, my mother didn't understand. Then there was no response from him.
So then she was very panicked and so then, she said to me -- my uncle, he was a lawyer; there was just one wall between their house, his house, and our house, so we had one internal connecting door - and so my mother said, "Go and call, bring your uncle!" So I went, ran and sort of brought him in. And he said ,he also came with me immediately, and he used to do some kind of, you know -- a lot of people used to do that -- homeopathic practice, kind of just little bit. So he had a homeopathic box, and he brought that in and tried to put something in his tongue. And nothing stayed, everything came out because he had died by that time.
You are talking about your elder brother?
The elder brother.
Elder, who -- eldest brother.
Eldest brother, he was, you know, four years older than me.
Yeah, so what happened?
No one knew and then you know, at that part of the world, at that kind of time. You know, there was a local doctor who was brought in, but he said and by the time he arrived and-
But there was no sign of any-?
No poisoning or serpent, snake bite or nothing, you know, he was absolutely fine and freshly washed. And he was very handsome, and he was not like me. He was handsome and very light complexion, very tall-
Ah, that must have been very pathetic, I mean.
Yeah, absolutely.
Your mother, must have been-
Oh, yeah. I mean, he was the eldest or oldest child, and so my father was very, very-
My father had a kind of mental sort of situation for quite a few years after that.
So it took place just before your migration?
Before our...
The family's migration
After that my father said, "No, you should come, no point of you staying there." And so went and joined him so that's-
What was his name?
Abdul Aziz.
Your brother's name?
Yeah, and another thing that happened is, I didn't know about this, I mean I forgot it. He was a very good student, and there was an exam soon after that, soon after the vacation or something. And before he died, that night, he worked till very late that night.
And he wrote on his homework book, the last, death scene of David Copperfield's mother-- Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. David Copperfield's mother, how she died and the description of that. That was in his text book and he rewrote it. And long time after that, and my father always kept it. It is now, I mean, it is hardly readable and with the Bangladeshi weather and much air was taken in...
You kept that, all the years?
My father did. And so it was in Bangladesh, and my younger brother's-
: Would you like to sit here?
: I haven't yet been able to fully read it-- it's quite, you know, with water and things. His handwriting is not bad, you see, especially good handwriting. But I intend to sort of try read it and decipher it and so on. And I would like to compare it.
So it is kind of, a short story?
It is the whole death scene of David's mother, and so he wrote on that on that night. You know, the day before he would die. It is really that kind of coincidence or whatever. So it is all that... special.
Must be very precious.
It is very precious. My father, but because of Bangladesh weather and all that it become like this.
But nowadays you can. [Abrupt skip in recording]. So could you please tell us a little bit about your time in Pakistan - when you arrived in Alamdanga, so you started a school there?
I started school there. Most of the Hindu boys were gone by that time, so the class was primarily Muslim. There were probably one or two of them, Hindu boys. And I found everything very easy, because there was not any competition.
You had gone through some competition earlier.
Yeah, and I was, you know, I got a lot of attention from teachers and I was in my class eight, and there was a school library, a small school library, and I used to borrow lots of books, specially kind of thrillers in Bengali.
And I would, sort of, take two books to the class, and by the time we would finish school, I would have read those two books and not have listened anything in the class. I don't know why the teachers spared me because they knew that in terms of result I would do OK [laughs].
So they didn't bother?
No, and they actually you know indirectly encouraged me to, sort of, carry on.
Do you remember what were the titles of those?
Mostly Niharranjan Rai, those thrillers, detective stories. So I have followed uh, some mystery, and again...
But then you went on for your university?
Then so class eight in that place, and then father went. I went to eight different schools in Matriculation. And my father -- so three times in one year he was transferred, so I went to three schools.
Difficult to cope, na?
Yeah, very difficult to cope.
And then in one school, you would, you know you could have the optional subjects, like Urdu and Arabic and Sanskrit. Sanskrit was in most of the schools in Pakistan, there wasn't any Sanskrit anymore but Urdu and Arabic. And so I took up Urdu and there was a school like in Khulna, St. Joseph's School where I wanted to go, but I couldn't because they have only Arabic, no Urdu. So anyway there were those kind of difficulties and I went to a school in a remote village, my father's post office was also in a remote village.
Near Kushtia?
No, near Khulna. By that time, he was in Khulna. And I was in, doing the last year in class ten and that was still a predominantly Hindu school and the teachers were mostly Hindus. There was only the Quran teacher in the Islamic studies. He was Muslim and apart from that, everyone was Hindu.
In Khulna?
In Khulna. And that's a tradition, that in Bengal, you know, it used to be before the partition. In every kind of sort of Hindu families, especially from upper caste Hindus, they would leave one child, one person, to teach in the local school, which probably that Zamindar family have built that school and that tradition was there. And so, I went to a school where father was posted in a post office which was two-three miles away from the school to the post office, we used to live.
And, so then you did your Intermediate in where?
And further towards the very end of the year, he was again transferred to Bagerhat from Khulna, and so I did my Matriculation exam from Bagerhat and he was there. I got a First Division, and then he was transferred again. And then we went to Phultala, Khulna, and then Khulna and I went to Daulatpur College, Brajalal College, and that's where I-
Right, BL College.
BL College, that's where I did my Intermediate and my degree. I was-
Then your career started as a teacher?
Yes, just this last two bits.
In Daulatpur College, I did my Intermediate and did my degree, but I couldn't do a honors program because there wasn't, the Principal wanted me to, the Principal was whose qualification was in English, someone called Fazlur Rahman, he became DPI, Director of Public Instruction, and he was also on the Civil Service.
Yeah, Kazi Fazlur Rahman
Dr. Fazlur Rahman, he was the DPI, Director of Public Instruction, and he was on the Civil Services Board. And he wanted to -- and he said he would teach me B.A. honours, just with me, but then he was transferred. And the other place was-
There were a lot of transferring going on, in every sector.
And the other place said no, do a pass degree, you get good results because we don't have the primary resources to teach you only, as there wasn't any other student.
So were you involved in any kind of politics during those days?
Yes, I was a member and also became a Secretary in the Intermediate class with Chhatro Union, with Students Union. So thats where my politics probably started.
OK, so were connected with your family traditions. So why Student Union?
Because I thought that was much more progressive, and they had some revolutionary ideas and so on. I also sort of knew people, or knew people who knew people, who were in the underground.
Yeah, I was about to ask it was quite precarious to do Left politics in Pakistan at that time. You took the risk?
Yeah, took the risk. I was never a member of the Communist party, but my friends were, some of the friends were. And some of them were underground.
Any particular names that comes up in your mind?
No, I wouldn't say any names.
Its so long ago! It's almost 50, 40 years!
No, I better not.
OK. Abdul Haq maybe?
[Laughs] No, no not Abdul Haq. So there were people, we were underground. There was one - I have forgotten actually - he was from $[name unclear, 9:02, 1072]. Whats his name? He was in jail most of the time, most of the time, and he had, he was quite -
What was the drive for this kind of activities? Was it for the fulfillment of a promise, for the nation? Or kind of an universal quest for justice or something? What was the motive?
Yeah, well that's kind of, sort of, you know the kind of inequality, that we see, the kind of operation.
That whatever the national, sort of, resource that there is, although it may be not that much you know in a country like Bangladesh, but around that time, when it was East Pakistan when we were, I think, financially a bit better off, than after Bangladesh we-
After Independence?
After Independence, that's when I think the gap between the rich and the poor have become wider, I think, I mean-
No, I think you might be probably right.
So that has been my feeling, and so I think that sort of melodramatic event, that I told you about, Dum Dum Basirhat Mamla. I think that also had an impression on me because I would-
Inquilab Zindabad?
Inquilab Zindabad, and then I would you know, I was never sort of member of the Communist party, but I had association with lots of people within the Communist party. And later on I decided, that a particular type of communism that I think my approach has become more broader than that. And so, then I went, so I did my Intermediate, First Division Degree, not First Division, but Second in the University or something.
Then you joined Russia University right?
Yeah, so I didn't have my B.A. Honours. But I had this, I was fifth in the whole university.
So you had the credentials?
So, I got a scholarship. I went to Dhaka for studying B.A. Honours. But I gave up, no I didn't do Honours. That was not possible from the college, but my degree exam, I stood fifth in the whole university, so I got a scholarship. And I went to Dhaka, to get admission in English department, to do my Masters in English, and they accepted me. But a friend of mine who came from Khulna, and he said, "Do you know you can get a scholarship in Russia?"
Because I was within Russia University, you can get a scholarship there, so I said my father couldn't give me any money, so I would have to do private tuition to maintain myself. Although I got an offer, so I went to Russia and I was given admission and I got a scholarship, 50 Pounds $[currency], 50 Taka $[currency] and another stipend of 25 Taka, so I got 75 Taka, which was quite a lot.
So yeah, that's interesting. So where did you join for your profession, I mean, you joined university?
No the day my results were out in English, I stood first in the department. Not got a First Class, but a Second Class first. And I got President of Pakistan's Cash Award of Rs. 1100 in 1959, which was a lot of money.
Wow, of course. Your mother, father must have been proud of you!
And I used that for my sister's dowry, because you have to-
You had to pay dowry for your sister?
Yeah. I mean, it didn't come as a- that time my brother-in-laws said to my mother and father, you should give some things, otherwise they will be sad. And therefore, since I was the eldest son.
So in the, throughout '50s, you were in Russia? Just to making a little jump here.
No in Russia, I was '57 to '59. I was in Russia.
And '52, where were you?
'52 to '57 - Daulatpur College, '53.
So what brought you to, what did you teach in Russia?
What did I teach in -- no I taught in Daulatpur College in Khulna. And my first…
What did you teach?
English, English literature.
Then what brought you to England?
OK, so after Daulatpur College, from Daulatpur College I came to England. I got a British Council scholarship for one year and-
In the mid '50s?
Uh, '64-'65, I was in England for one year, British Council scholarship. And I studied at Leeds, and I was told by the Head of the Department, Professor Norman Jeffares, very well known.
: Jeffares. And he said, "Stay on." He was on the scholarship board of the British Council. So I had to finish my M.A., and if possible continue till PhD. And so I said, "No, sorry, thank you very much, because my father wants me to get back and look after them." So I went.
So after your Master's you went back to Bangladesh?
No. Master's I did from Bangladesh. Then I got a Postgraduate Diploma in Leeds, in English literature. [Abrupt end] College, Daulatpur College, so I, in '65, I went back, so '66-'67 so up to '67, academic year, I was in Daulatpur College. And then Professor Mohammad Ali from Chittagong University, he was head of the department of English, he sent me a telegram and said, "Come and join us, join us as a Senior English Lecturer" so I went to Chittagong University.
And so '67 to '69, I was there and I sort of, was quite well-liked by students and so on. I was sort of given all sorts of perks.
Yeah, you were still involved in politics?
Yeah, let me tell you about this bit. So I was also made Proctor at the University, in Chittagong. Procter is quite sort of responsible post, and during that times in '67-
Yes, Proctoring must be a difficult job!
It was a difficult thing and I was given all sorts of things. I had a free house, beautiful house in Chittagong-- every lecturer had one. And I was given a jeep with a driver, and there was a $[word unclear] who used to carry my bags.
Not much like a Professor, it's like an administrator.
[Laughs] But teaching is there, parallel to that, you know. But there was lot of student agitation going on, and one day I received a call from the Cantonment, some major or someone, and said, "Proctor, I heard you are supporting the students."
Must be a Pakistani Major.
Oh yeah, and he said, "I warn you, I don't want to hear this again."
And then I said, "Why are you saying all this to me? I mean, talk to the Vice-Chancellor. He is responsible for everything." He said, "Yeah, that I will." But so their Vice-Chancellor supported me.
Who was the Vice Chancellor then?
Dr. Mollik.
A.R. Mallik?
A.R. Mallik. So Dr. Malik, he was very fond of me, because his younger brother was a colleague of mine in college and I used to go to Dr. Mallik's house.
He was very, very kind. And so, a colleague of mine, I mean in Russia University - I have forgotten his name now - he was killed by the Military when he was a Proctor. And he all he went to do, was sort of kind of arbitrate, between the students and the army and they shot him dead, you know. And so you know my mother said, $[bengali] baad de. But then I got scholarship in '69, so '67-'69, two years I was the Senior Lecturer in the Chittagong University in the Department of English. And English was my subject, at that time, and so I got a scholarship, went to Leeds University in '69 and when I sort of arrived in Leeds there was already a lot of agitation among-
But then you were far away from the scene but-
I was far away from the scene.
Came back to Leeds.
Yeah, I came back to Leeds. Second time, first time in '64-'65 Post Graduate Diploma in English Studies. '67-'69, I came back to do a-
And then you followed the development in Bangladesh?
Very much, so got involved in that.
Now, yeah. I was also a bit curious about your, I mean, the way you brought your ideas with you, of Left leaning ideas, and then you started working for the community here. What were the conditions of the Bengali community, in England, when you came? What is your relationship with the Bengali Workers Association?
That's quite a bit of history, it will take a little time to sort of cover that [Disturbance] eita je ki kore $[bengali - 1074, 4:47] Why from my degree, from my qualification and practice in English literature, teaching, how I became a community worker and you know, then I again went back to teaching. I mean now I teach but I teach community work and youth work in London Metropolitan University.
London Metropolitan University.
Yeah, that's where I work now. Yeah, so where were we? So things happening in Bangladesh, you know.
Yeah, when you were in Leeds.
And then I came in Leeds, and very soon, got involved in the kind of, Students Union politics.
And there was lot of news coming back from Bangladesh, and that what was happening and also, letters from parents for everything. And we got, within, Students Union in Leeds University, we formed a group of Bangladeshi, you know, East Pakistani at that time, sort of group. And we were, sort of, going and talking to the Teachers Club, the University staff room and saying, "This is what is happening." And we were able, and I had quite a big part in it, able to sort of, you know, impress on a sort of group of University lecturers, to sort of, support the concept of Bangladesh.
And there was one person who, someone I think, he was very interested in Bangladesh and you know what was happening in Bangladesh -- Professor Trevor Leen -- he died quite a few years ago. I became very close to him and he gave just the day after the crackdown, you know, gave quite a very impressive talk on radio Leeds about Bangladesh and the atrocity of the Pakistani army.
And so he was, I was raising money -- organizing concerts in Students Union and raised a lot money, you know, from one sort of function and there were people who I used to work in Chittagong, they were stranded in Calcutta, I was sending money to them and to the Bangladesh Fund. And also offered my services to the Bangladeshi Army but no one called me [laughs]. All that. I would go and talk to the Young Conservative Party and sort of various political groups, anarchist also did-
You had some anarchist here in England, to join hands with?
Yeah. In Leeds. Well-
OK. Anybody well known from there, you remember any friends?
I can see him, his beard, this person. He was an amazing person. You will probably have to say, "Mr. X" or something. I mean, I can't remember the name-- my memory.
He is an English?
He is an Englishman, he is or was, I don't know. I have not been in touch with him for a very long time.
So you found some socialist counterpart in England?
Lot. Yeah socialist, and some of them anarchist, and some of them disciples of Guru Maharaj Ji. So they were spiritualist. There were all sorts of people.
Guru Maharaj-?
Yeah, Guru Maharaj Ji and he was this idiotic English [laughs].
I came across a few of his disciples and they said he used to say that no one has seen this guru eating anything so he never eats. And I asked, "How is that possible?" and he is such a fat--
So he was based in Leeds?
He was based in London, I think, but there were lots of followers.
He was from India?
No, no. English person.
OK, Guru Maharaj Ji! Interesting. OK, so he was an anarchist?
Guru Maharaj Ji.
Guru Maharaj Ji was not. I had some anarchist friends. And there is one of this anarchist friend -- I mean, I was friendly with them for various reasons and he one day, I saw him in the park and was coming from the opposite direction. He said, "What's happening with this Bangladesh thing?" So I said, "Very bad." And there are lots of [phone rings] [abrupt skip in recording].
Apnar somai thakle bolun. $[bengali - 1075, 4:57]
Bangladesh movement suru holo jokhon toh cloche taar pore jokhon crackdown holo eei somosto r pore toh amra onek organize kori Leeds e mane ami toh ooi khan thike jeta amar community work er haate kori ooi leed s e aar kit oh ooi khane mota muti ekta besh significant number of Bangladeshi ache ebong leeds
era se pase aar kit oh aami tokhon toh proteyk sohor thike turkey thikeo sob bojhai kore lok London e ashto birat public meeting hoto tokhon kaar amole officer choudhury aslem America r thike and eshe Bangladesh High Commission e declare korlen je aajke rate ekhon Bangladesh established holo toh amra ooi meeting e aami organize kore tar pore ooikhane ekta Bengali Workers Association ooikhane ami establish kori Leeds e aar besh kichu kichu porei $[bengali - 1076].
Bengali workers means, those migrants?
Eer onektai.
Working class people.
Onek population ache toh ora ooi local factories eei somosto jaigai kaaj korto tokhon eto beshi Bangaldesh students to chilo na sei khane o kaaj korto toh besir bhag ooi Bradford e ebong Leeds e ase pase onek ei chilo.
Also there were some industrial workers from the Bengali community?
From the Bengali community. Toh oder ke diye ekta organization kori ebong ooi bishesh kore ooi jinni niye ase London e.
Ektu engraji te bolle bhalo hoye, if you can carry in English ji.
Oh, sorry. So organized sort of people, from Bangladesh. And then established an organization, established a radio program, soon after Bangladesh became independent, in Radio Leeds called Jhankar. And we used to sort of have political discussions, cultural discussions and so on. And that program still continued, it is still there - Jhankar Radio Leeds. And then my scholarship was cancelled, and my study was not going very well.
Why, why? Because of your involvement in-?
Yeah and during Pakistan times, I was without any scholarship, so I had to sort of, struggle very hard because I had a little boy and so it was quite difficult. So study was not going that well - my M.Phil in Literature, English literature because - Bengali workers Association, so that was an organization we, you know, developed. And soon after, Bangladesh became independent, also negotiated with Radio Leeds to give us a slot in Bengali and so started, I helped initiate this program called "Jhankar", and which is still continuing.
And we used to invite people from Bangladesh, you know politicians or you know or academics, and so on, to sort of discuss and talk about that situation in Bangladesh at that time. So just post 1971, around that time. It's mainly a cultural program now, but when we started there used to be a lot of political discussions with intellectuals from Bangladesh, who came and visited, and also ourselves so who were studying or I mean working in the U.K. So that program still continued.
And then my, when I was doing this, I was on a Pakistan Government Scholarship, so they stopped my scholarship. So I was without any financial support and we had an extremely difficult time personally, I had a little boy and so my wife had just arrived. And she started doing some work and I had to sort of take a job. And I applied for various type of jobs and then one of the jobs I applied for, was a post to work with the Bangladeshi community and so I established my links with very quickly in 1960-, mid 1975 and established, helped establish the "Bengali Workers Action Group," that was the name we gave. It was established in 1976.
Was it a kind of trade unions?
No, it was a community organization. We had some affiliation, but that did not succeed, to affiliation with the Trade Union movement, but it didn't succeed because most of the people who worked, worked in Bangladeshi restaurants and it was very difficult for them to join.
Connect with the Trade Union?
Connect with the Trade Union. But there was a lot of discussion about workers' rights and so on. I actually helped start a very remarkable thing, which was a cooperative Indian restaurant, so that every person who was working there, would have equal rights and they will have a salary and they will have all the things like sick pay, medical leave and all these sort of terms and conditions that someone in this country would get.
But unfortunately most of the Indian restaurants, you wouldn't see people who work there has got pension you know or sick leave or whatever.
Technical problems.
And so what my idea was, that we will have that restaurant, where the workers will have all the kind of statutory rights.
And also, they will have share of profit at the end of the year. So we started that and we got recently, couple of months ago, there was a news in Guardian, there was a little piece saying, "Curry and Co-op" - curry and cooperative, and that was the 40th anniversary.
OK. Bengali Workers Association?
No, of the last days of the [unclear] restaurant, the Indian restaurant. Bengali Workers Action Group, we initiated in 1975 -- end of 1975.
That included both restaurant workers and other workers?
They were, it was at that time when it started, it was mainly restaurant workers. But we called it Bengali Workers Action Group, that was how it was established.
And well, very, very early in the day, soon after it was established because I, they, BWA (Bengali Workers Association) had the support the organization where I worked, you know, which is Camden Community for Community Direction $[unclear, 1079 - 0:23]. We actually - the building that they are now - have you seen that building?
I went there, yeah.
You went there. You probably have seen my name there.
Yeah, its very good.
Yeah, so that building used to be not in that form. It was in a kind of sort contractor's shed, just kind of corrugated and sort of a top, and it was different.
It was a temporary building. So that -- when my organization, Camden Community for Community Direction $[unclear] moved to the, moved near the corner of Drummond Street, you know that Drummond street, so near the corner of Drummond street, that's a three storied building, huge big building, that was my office.
It is a very good location, on the Euston road, near, yeah. Very good location.
And so we left from-.