Monday 29 June 2009

Last of the First Generation

I got home from work yesterday to receive a phone call from my mum telling me that one of the elders of our community had passed away. As I, my mother-in-law and my husband met with my mum to head to see the man’s family, I reflected on the fact that this felt like the end of an era, the passing of the torch from one set of elders to the next generation.

The man who had passed away was one of the first of our community in East London to come to Britain from Pakistan in the 1950’s and the only one at the time to have bought his wife and young children with him. This was the generation of men who got into hock to get here, many of whom fought for the British and came over on B-vouchers. These were the people who made sacrifices like leaving their families behind to alive alone, sleeping on floors or many to one room, doing the jobs that no-one here wanted to do in 1950’s boom-time Britain and still facing racism for “stealing jobs”. They saved and scrimped every penny and were amongst the first immigrants to buy their own homes and bring their families to settle here.

When my grandfather first came here with a slip of paper with an address on, he wandered the streets looking for the gentleman who yesterday passed away. He finally saw a little Pakistani girl and asked her if she had heard so-and-so. She beckoned to follow and led him by the hand to the right house – it had been the man’s daughter. The little girl is a grandmother now, her daughter is my friend.

The elders who anchored our little community together have now all left us, this man was the last. Many like my grandfather went home of their own accord, ready to settle into village life and enjoy the prosperity bought by a lifetime of hard work (he was adamant he was not going home in a box and wanted to die in his own home). Some planned to go home when they got ill, but were overtaken by death suddenly. Others still, like my gran who died earlier this year, and the man who died yesterday, decided to finish their time here, yearning for “back home” but having realised that they couldn’t adapt to that life anymore.

These were the same elders who made a point to visit each other’s families at every birth, death and marriage, visit every time someone came from Pakistan or went back. They were the repositories of each other’s stories and memories – who hailed from which village, who was related to whom, who had been of service in the past. I remember my grandmother talking about the importance of keeping in touch with our people and pestering me to make sure I visit every time there was good or bad news.

As we paid our condolences and stopped to pray for a while, it felt yesterday, like the end of an era, like something valuable – memories, lessons, experience, perhaps connection were slipping forever away from us. I hope that the children and grand-children of that generation remember the sacrifices that were made for them and are capable of taking over the responsibility of holding a community together insh’Allah.

P.S. I heard today that this gentleman had handed £10,000 over to the local mosque for its new extension a few days before he died. I love that he made his preparations for the next world in good time – now isn’t that the way to go mash’Allah?


  1. Anonymous29 June, 2009

    God have mercy on him.

    Still, hopefully the prejudices of the old generations will die with them.

  2. May Allah grant him Jannatul Firdaws.

  3. Very well-written mashallah. Sadly sometimes we tend to forget how much our elders sacrificed for us, so that we can have a good life. May Allah swt bless our beloved elders, ameen. Thanks a lot sis for reminding us !

  4. Assalam-alaikam,

    I suspect even if we get rid of many of the old prejudices, we won't be free from our own.

    Sister Fruitful and Sister Sumaiya,

  5. Anonymous01 July, 2009

    May Allah reward him with Jannat Firdous, Insh'Allah