“So, do you know why your father chose Walthamstow as his home?”
My father arrived at Heathrow Airport in October 1963 (with £5), leaving behind his wife and four children. He had no fixed address to go to, all he knew was that he had a cousin living somewhere in Bradford. Having no idea where Bradford was in relation to London, my father went to a taxi driver at the airport and requested to be taken to Bradford.
The taxi driver laughed and said it was too far and to give him an address in London instead. My father replied that he didn’t know anyone in London. He asked the driver if he knew a house in London where Pakistani people were living, if so could he drop him there. The taxi driver took him to a house near Queens Road, Walthamstow. That was how my family ended up living in Walthamstow instead of Bradford.
The house where my father was dropped off was lived in by Pakistani men, all of whom had left their wives and children in Pakistan. Amongst the men was an acquaintance my father knew.
When the men my father lived with discovered that he knew English my father was inundated with requests to help them fill in forms and paperwork connected to making a life in England. My father spent his first week in London doing this before he finally told his housemates that he needed time to look for a job. He soon got a job working in a factory in Edmonton, to which he would cycle to.
He did not like living in England and found it difficult to find Pakistani food and goods that he was used to. The only way to stay in touch with family back home was by writing letters which wasn’t any good for staying in touch with his wife as my mother was illiterate. He decided he would go back to Pakistan but his father, upon hearing this, forbade it, so my father had to stay.
By 1965 my mother had also arrived in England, but as a visitor. It was not until 1975, a year after I was born in London, that all my Pakistani born siblings and my mother were permanently living in Walthamstow.
Even then my father still dreamt of going back to Pakistan. I remember growing up in a house without carpets, a telephone or TV until I was about 5. This was because my father refused to spend money on making a home in London when the idea was to return to Pakistan. Eventually my mother had enough of living like this and insisted my father spend money on our council house in Blackhorse Lane.
A year later, in 1980, we were offered a 5 bedroom council house on Forest Road and about 3 years later my parents bought the house, having given up on the idea of returning permanently to Pakistan.
However from 1991 onwards, having bought a house in Islamabad, my parents started to spend more time in Pakistan than in London. My eldest brother, who had been born in Pakistan, also returned there after university, and is still living there to this day. Despite this, my father during his final illness told the rest of his children to remain in England and not to settle in Pakistan. His reasoning was that Pakistan was now too corrupt and that the country had been better off under the British (my father was 20 when the British left India) when there had been more law and order.