Spotlight: Nurul Giani

This story is drawn from the interview with Nurul Giani by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.

So joyful and happy to come different place

This story is drawn from the interview with Nurul Giani by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.

I was born in Sylhet in 1946. We’re an agriculture family – at that time the village was not very rich. I used to go to primary school and then to High School. I passed Matric in 1961, like GCSE. I was a teacher in a primary school.

Primary school in Sylhet, Bangladesh 1978. Photo by Eithne Nightingale

Suddenly everybody coming to London. It was a postcard, three pence or two pence. London send me this voucher number. I go to the High Commission in Dhaka. I apply for the passport. It was a little bit hard but it wasn’t very much.

Dhaka, photo by Eithne Nightingale 1978

I came alone. At that time I was 16. I wasn’t thinking I would stay long because I was so joyful and happy to come different place.

Passport photograph of Nurul Giani when he was 16

I come by KLM, the plane, 26th August 1963. At that time it was East Pakistan. I get off in Heathrow and somebody show me where I go to Aldgate by underground. I can speak a little bit but not very much and a little bit hard to understand. I show a man the address and he show me a black taxi. I didn’t walk because I don’t know how far.

Nurul Giani outside Aldgate East station where he arrived at age 16 with an address in his pocket. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

The taxi took me to 42 Heneage Street. I told him to knock. Then our relatives take the suitcase. I never see them in Pakistan. They came before in 1960, ’61. They asked me, “Did I pay or not?” I can’t remember the cost. Two shilling and six pence I think. I had ten shilling some relative gave me in Pakistan.

Nurul took a taxi to Heneage Street around the corner. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

Brick Lane was so nasty. Aldgate was very old buildings. Bombed buildings as well. The car was less than now and it was not much crowded. But the older white people were very helpful. If we didn’t know the street they take us home. Not their home, our home, because we lost. Sometimes they get on the bus or, if not too far, they walk them. They were very, very helpful.

At number 42, I was the youngest one. There were about 10, 12, 15, 20 of us. Two, three, four living in one room. No sitting room and there wasn’t any carpet. Only lino. In the wintertime it was very, very cold. Paraffin heater was smelly, but it make very hot. Every week the white people they supply us paraffin. We go to the Cheshire Street market to buy jumpers.

On Saturday or Friday evening everybody go to the public bath. One was in Aldgate East, another in Cheshire Street, another in York Hall. Three, four of us queue together. The white people gave soap, towel, everything. Some of them was Maltese. Some of our people were working in the boiler.

We cook three, four of us together because all single. All men. At that time a lot of Jewish shops sell live chickens and we can halal them ourselves.

Everybody knows the Jobar Shop. He married a white lady. Mixed marriages at the time was very rare. Some who came from the ship married white ladies. They help us as well. We buy food here because everything is available – rice, a little bit meat, spices. We had only English fish but now we can get our Bangladeshi fish all the time.

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Fish in Bangladesh was not available when Nurul first came. Now it is everywhere. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 1978

Now nephew is running it. They call it Taj Stores.

Nurul Giani outside Taj Stores in Brick Lane today. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

One of my relative was living in 144 Bethnal Green Road, so after six months I went there. Only two of us were living in one room and we pay rent, maybe £4 or £5. Then I come to 2 Sheba Street and after 27 Princelet Street.

Nurul Giani outside where he used to live in Sheba Street Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

Now I am in Spitalfields 33 years. We make it Bangla Town. Our community got everything, our Mosque as well.

Nurul Giani in Bangla Town today. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

I was always worried about how could I get work. They took me to the labour office and I fill the form up a little bit. They surprised because at that time people wasn’t very much educated and they said, “You have to go as a boy for an electrician.” “Okay, if you find something then it’s okay.” Then suddenly I find a job as a canteen boy in Oxford Circus. One of my relative was working in the hotel. After that I find another job, J. Lyons & Co as a counter boy. I start with £7, then as a waiter, because they know I can speak English a little bit, progressing all the time. Then it changed as a club, not too late. The manager said it would be more money, about £13, £14, £15. 1976, ’78 I work in the Jewish quilting factory. Jewish people had clothing factories and all kinds of business. Then everywhere was leather. And now everything is gone to the foreign countries and a lot of people unemployed. Yeah, it was Jewish only, only Jewish factories.

It was a lot of racism at that time. Enoch Powell, he was the leader. If the skinhead see one or two of us going alone, they call us Paki, they hit us. That’s why we scared. That’s why three, four or five of us go and come from work together. They punch me. I didn’t fall down.

Saturday, Sunday we went to Naz cinema in Brick Lane and another one was Commercial Street, Paliseum cinema. At that time was very old Indian films like Mother India, Mughal-E-Azam.

Poster for Mother India, V&A Collections

Sometimes I went to the seaside – Southend, Ramsgate, Margate with friends, four or five of us by train. I take them because they didn’t know underground. London zoo and Madame Tussauds as well. Later I took my wife and children.

I was helping people, as well, fill up a form or write a letter but never take any money. Free, okay. At that time the only correspondence was letters. We couldn’t telephone in Bangladesh. Everybody send money to our families, £5, £6, £3, to buy land for paddy fields, rice fields. They were poor.

Taslim Ali bought three, four storeys building and made a mosque In Stepney. Sometimes, like Eid, we’d go. We can’t put our cap on the head, otherwise the skinhead fight with us. About 30 years ago Taslim Ali moved from there to East London. We call it East London Mosque. Three, four thousand people can pray together. Not only Bangladeshi, not only from Pakistan, from everywhere.

In 1971 the fighting started with Pakistan. Our area was little bit safe but in the other places they kill a lot of people. I was collecting money, blankets and every Sunday, Saturday we went to Hyde Park. Mr Abu Sayeed and Mr. Peter Shore our MP, he was also helping. When we independent in 1971 I make a Bangladesh passport.

After ten years I went home to see my family and also to marry. Everybody come to see me. In 1973, I make British passport and about 1978 I brought my son here with my wife. I got more children born here.

I like social work. When I was a boy I collect bamboo from every house for the primary school, I was a teacher here in the community school from 1992 until about two or three years ago. And I was a school governor in Canon Barnett for 20 years. In Bangladesh, we help poor people – orphans who, haven’t got enough money and are good student.

My father died and mother is alive but she is about 90 years old so sometimes I go to see her. My brothers cultivate the land. We’ve got jackfruit, coconut, pineapple, banana and mango trees. So many fruit – blackberries, lychees, melon. Vegetables as well – potatoes, tomato, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot. Everything we’ve got ourselves. Now they got machines. Nobody else came, ‘til now, only myself.

Sylhet, Bangladesh. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

A lot of our people are now rich, got colour television, freezer, fridge. All over the world our people are working and sending money, making nice houses, buildings, hotel and hospitals.

Where I am living, the Spitalfields Market is nice because they refurbished it. Before all night it was noisy [laughs]. These are the green chillies (on Nurul’s balcony in his flat in Spitalfields market). We get the seed from Bangladesh. That’s why they are very hot. Very small but very, very hot. Too hot [laughs]. If you eat it, you will cry. In the wintertime I take them home, inside [laughs]. I like gardening. When I go to school in the evening time, morning time, I used to do it. That’s why I do here as well. My wife, she also like it.

Refurbished Spitalfields Market where Nurul Giani now lives. Photo by Eithne Nightingale 2013.

You can hear Nurul and excerpts from his story on below and on Soundcloud

One thought on “Spotlight: Nurul Giani

  1. I know Nurul to be a very friendly and likeable person who seems “happy in himself”. Now I know a little bit more about him and what makes him “tick”. I have worked in as a Youth Worker in Tower Hamlets since 1963, and his description of life in Sixties rings true. His generation of formerly East Pakistanis are real heroes and are an inspiration in the way they faced racism and ignorance, and welcomed kindness from the older generation. His stories illustrate his long term and valuable voluntary contribution to the Spitalfields community. For example 20 years as a Governor at the Canon Barnett Junior School. Nurul truly is “a pillar of society”!


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