This photo was taken nearly 50 years ago as I was leaving Dhaka airport, Bangladesh (East Pakistan at that time) in late September 1967, bound for London. I’m the sad looking child, wearing a woollen jacket and boots in the post-monsoon heat, on the extreme left between my aunt and my paternal grandfather. Every photo tells a story on both a personal and political level. On a personal one my mother, sitting to the right of my grandfather, my older sister (also suitably clad for the English cold) on my grandfather’s lap and I, were leaving everything and everyone we knew to join my father in England. Hence the sad faces. This was the aching moment before we all had to say goodbye and the three of us would board the plane for a flight that changed our lives forever.
I had never seen my father as he left to study Pharmacy at the University of Manchester soon after I was born in 1963. Even though I was four years old, I still remember how the emotional pain transformed into a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. The feeling of anxiety mixed with fear of things I could not comprehend, a father and a new country. I’m sure through the tears the friends and relatives around us in the photo told my sister and me how lucky we were to be going to England to be with our father. Many of the people in the photo have passed away, and much more are old and frail. So, through the years there have been more sad goodbyes, including to my father in 2010, the year I started a teaching job at Manchester University.
The politics behind this story lies in names and numbers. 1967 was 20 years after the partition of India, the 50 years in Britain coincides with 70 years of Indian independence. With independence and partition, 15 million people had to move from their ancestral homes, and a million died. 1947 saw the birth of 2 nations, India and Pakistan created on bloodshed and human misery and it didn’t end there. In 1971 war broke out between East and West Pakistan, “one” ill-thought-out nation created by the powers that be on the eastern and western sides of India, with over 2000 km between them, different languages and culture but a common religion, as if that’s the only thing that nationhood is built on! So, in 1972 Bangladesh became an independent nation after even more lives were lost but the struggle for the right to speak the national language, Bengali was won. Now in 2017 more geopolitics is being played out in people’s lives as the Rohingyas flee from Myanmar (formerly Burma) to Bangladesh.
So back to me. I wonder if I would have been a different person if I hadn’t left my country of birth and never come to Britain? Names and borders change, but maybe people don’t.
Alhambra Women’s Network Blogger
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