Monthly Archives: December 2009

Curry for Christmas

 

snowy days in Huddersfield

snowy days in Huddersfield

A curry for Christmas, that’s what I’ll be having for Christmas lunch along with a roast chicken, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce and if we’re really lucky we might have a turkey instead of the roast chicken! So this is what you call an Asian Christmas. Don’t get me wrong we love Christmas dinner, Christmas decorations and in all, the Christmas spirit (apart from the rush of the shops) so where does the curry fit in? Well, we always have a curry don’t we? In my household not so much, it’s mainly pasta, wraps, rice pizzas, but the older generations still do and if they don’t, on Christmas day you will be guaranteed to have some chilli piled on one of the veggies!! This is what you call the best of both worlds and dual cultural heritage. I can’t wait to get the crackers out and have the kids wake up knowing its Christmas. As Muslims we have had our religious celebrations and the kids were inundated with presents on Eid which still seem to be coming out of the corners of the house, but they still hold onto the idea of Santa Claus and Rudolf, know about the birth of Jesus and participate in Christmas concerts. With two cultures they understand both and are happy having the opportunity to have both, so a curry it will be for Christmas, with all of the trimmings of course…and if we’re really, really lucky we might even get snow!

Oral history and what it means.

So far, the Asian Voices project has interviewed many people from the South Asian community and documented their experiences and memories about coming to England.  It has been an eye-opening, fascinating experience to take part in and it will provide an invaluabe archive of the thoughts and feelings of those who experienced this important period in British history first hand.  This, however, is not the sole purpose of Asian Voices or indeed oral history as a whole.  Looking at some parts of various transcripts it is easy to see why.

“We got Saturday and Sunday off, but we had to go shopping and clean the house.  We were tenants but we had to clean the house, and cook for ourselves.  We used to cook fish but there wasn’t an awful lot of fish around.  We used to put curry powder into it and make a sort of curry.  After a few years, there were a couple of shops where we could get halal meat on George St. There was a Pakistani shop there, but we used to kill our own chickens.  We used to go to a farm to get chickens and halal them ourselves.” – Sabir Hussain

This part of Mr. Hussain’s interview shows clearly how and why oral history is such a relevant tool for more than just the cataloguing of events.  For a community such as South Asian immigrants, particularly in Britain, oral history serves to give  people a voice where, in many cases, they haven’t had one before. 

South Asian immigrants to the UK possess some of the richest, most diverse and most interesting cultural history, yet in a historical sense it is an aspect of our country’s history which has been overlooked.  With oral history, the very people who participated in this movement are able to say what they feel about it themselves before it is too late.

When the British Empire collapsed in the late 1940s due to Britain’s heavily weakened state after World War 2, Britain needed workers.  Men like Sabir came from their homes in Southern Asia to aid Britain at a time when their labour was invaluable.  Asian Voices has given these people the chance to say what it was like to come to Britain and find work, mostly in industrial jobs, and form a community that has remained strong and secure ever since.

“The first job I did, the name of the firm was TA Corckings.  They used to make hydraulic rings for aeroplanes and ships.  Technically I was very good and I made many  rings and I checked rings and could say whether they were good rings or bad omes.   That’s why the firm owner was very taken with me and thought I was a real asset to the firm.” – Sabir Hussain

The purpose that men like Sabir served in those early days of South Asian immigration to the UK is what oral history and the Asian Voices programme is all about.  It aims to show the community how and why these men and women came to Britain, and tell the fascinating stories they have about their experiences in doing so.

Snow up to your knees

Forty years ago not only was society different with regards to culture, ethnicity and social activities, bit climate was also different. For South Asians coming into Britain, one of the shocking things for them was the weather. In the 1960’s summer was summer and winter was winter. In the summer the sun would shine and the beaches would be filled and in the winter the snow would fall and wellies and shovels would come out. On the Asian voices website (www.asianvoices.org.uk) we have many recollections of the snow, going to the outdoor toilet in your wellies, remembering the snow falling and staying on the ground for months at a time and my favourite is the way in which Mohammad Siddique describes the ice in his mother tounge punjabi as looking like “sheets of glass on the rooftops”. The description oral history provides to the past highlights the imporatance to which it must be preserved and if you would like your oral histories recorded, please contact me via the Asian Voices website.

Accents in ‘uddersfield

View of Castle Hill from Sikh Temple in Springwood

View of Castle Hill from Sikh Temple in Springwood

With transport being so readily available and travel instant, people are diluting their accents to an acceptable form as they are no longer restricted to living and working in one town or city. I am born and bred in ‘uddersfield, and with fellow Yorkshire men and lasses my accent will go back to the Yorkshire form it should be, but in the workplace and even on the phone I find I am speaking the way one should… but how should one speak? and how long will we be able to keep our regional accents and dialects without diluting them to the extent they no longer exist?

Oral history is the way in which this can be preserved. For years now oral historians have been recoding and archiving hundreds if not thousands of interviews with people on subjects of the past. Going back to World War I and the experience of the soldiers in the trenches, World War II and the migration of the South Asian community after the collapse of the British Empire. Here are just a few of the subject areas in which people have delved into, but listening back to the sound archives makes you appreciate the language and tones in which ordinary people communicated in. How times have changed, how diverse language has become, with the Oxford dictionary taking on new words constantly, words originating from across cultures and continents, it is something to think of. Try recording your older generations on your phone and see if you can catch a glimpse of the past through their voice.