Hajra Willams (Shaikh)

Hajra Willams, nee Shaikh, born in Pakistan in 1967, came to East London at the age of 8 with her mother and siblings to join her father. Soon after the family settled in Glasgow.

Hajra’s parents were born in central India and moved to Pakistan when they were children during Partition, losing everything they owned. Hajra lived in a large house in Karachi with her extended family – grandparents, aunt and uncles, siblings, cousins and her mother. Her father was in London studying to be a barrister.

As a child Hajra used to play on the railway track near her house and participate in elaborate neighbourhood weddings with her dolls. She used to boast that, because her father was in London, she would marry an Englishman. Eid was very special with delicious food new clother, money to buy sweets and welcoming everyone in the street.

Her father brought his wife and five children to the UK in 1975. By then Hajra’s father had become disillusioned with the law and was working in Ford Dagenham and on markets. She doesn’t remember leaving Karachi but she does remember arriving in London. She thought the paths would be made of gold and that there would be dolls as big as her. She wasn’t disappointed but she felt overwhelmed. On her first day of school in Canning Town she didn’t understand when the teacher asked for her name.

After 6 months, encouraged by his brother, Hajra’s father moved the family to Glasgow. Here they lived in a tenement building and Hajra’s father, now estranged from his brother, set up a shop. The family were quite isolated as there were few other Asians around. Hajra’s father was fair but strict – Hajra had to wear shalwar and kameez at home, speak Urdu and could not socialise until she went to college. However he was very supportive of his children’s education. He taught them the Quran and gave them both Urdu and English dictation at home.

Hajra loved school even though it was in a deprived part of Glasgow. She developed a passion for English literature – Wuthering Heights was her favourite book at one stage and she loved art. She did well at school until she got to her Highers in the Scottish Education System. She eventually studied jewellery at art college and progressed onto Royal College of Art where she met her English husband, something she had predicted from when she was a young child in Karachi playing with her dolls.

Hajra went back to Pakistan at the ages of 14 and 21 and has gone back with her husband. Now she has children and Pakistan is less stable than it used to be. She believes her Pakistani heritage influences her work as a jeweller.

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