BRADFORD Research Fellow Aamnah Rahman has published a remarkable biography of her Dad, which also documents some of the most famous events of the twentieth century.
In ‘A Voyage from Kashmir’, she explores her father Abdul Rehman Khan’s journey from Pakistan-administered Kashmir to Bradford, via service with the British Indian Army around the world during WWII, life as a prisoner-of-war, and the Indian sub-continent’s partition.
Aamnah, who is based at Bradford Institute for Health Research at Bradford Royal Infirmary, where she helps deliver the Born in Bradford programme, wrote the book to pay tribute to Abdul – but also to highlight the sacrifices previous generations made while forging new lives in industrial England.
She said: “Dad passed away in 2011 aged 86, but I’d previously sat down with him to talk about his life. I started writing the book about 18 months ago and managed to complete it in January and February 2020.
“It starts with his later years and then goes back in time to the village of Panjeri, where he was born in 1925, and his early years before moving on to his experiences with the British Army during WWII and then partition.”
The violence which erupted following the Indian partition saw Abdul’s family move temporarily into the newly-formed Pakistan, and prompted Abdul to move to the then capital, Karachi, before later coming to England, and Bradford, in 1962.
“Some of the book is about how his life changed so much over the years, but I’ve tried to write a reflection on how life has changed for Asian communities in the UK and Kashmir too,” Aamnah added.
“I also wanted to highlight the 425,000 men from the Indian sub-continent who served in the British Army during World War II and the equal number who served in World War I and shed more light on their story. I don’t think many people are aware of the contribution they made, and people from my Dad’s generation were modest about speaking about themselves.”
Abdul served around the world during WWII.
“Dad really was a global citizen. His first posting after completing military training with the British Indian Army was Basra in Iraq. But his unit then moved around the Middle and Far East, serving in Palestine, Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, India, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
“I think it’s important that young people from our communities know about the contribution they made and know that their forefathers served during the wars, too. But the book is actually just as much a reminiscence resource for the older generation, who struggled to make ends meet when they first came over.
“We were very poor as children but, because older generations sent money back to family members and made those sacrifices, their lives improved quite a lot.”
Family members, friends and colleagues have already read the book and passed on great feedback.
“Some people have said that some parts of the book have made them cry, and others have said parts have made them laugh. There is a lot about hardship and struggle in the book, but also a lot of courage, determination and humour too.
“Dad first came to the UK with my mother’s younger brother. They got the train from King’s Cross to Bradford and it was heated. They had not been on a heated train before and at first thought the train was on fire!”
Aamnah also reflects on the huge contrasts her Dad and others faced when first arriving in a cold and wet West Yorkshire.
“Bradford was very industrial at the time and there was soot everywhere. It was a huge contrast and life was difficult for them.
“The racism and the prejudice they faced at the time was significant too, but they also received help and support from people. It was a mixture.
“And although we can get everything we need now, they had to do everything from scratch. They had to make their own clothes and cook their own food, and they couldn’t afford to go back and forth. A lot of things we take for granted, they didn’t have.
“In 1968 my Dad bought a house off White Abbey Road and it was the only house in the neighbourhood with a bathroom inside, which proved popular!
“I wanted to write to show my appreciation for what that generation did. They made a lot of sacrifices, and it all needs to be documented and preserved.”
Although the book follows the journey made by her father, Aamnah also pays tribute to her Mum, Saeeda, and other strong women.
“I am very proud of what my Dad did, but my Mum, too. Behind the men were all these strong women who have not been acknowledged as much as they should have been either. Being stuck inside in the UK without friends and family was difficult. For a lot of them it was quite isolating and lonely – there were no mobile phones or computers back then!”
Although publishing a book in the middle of a pandemic has not been easy, it has been received well, and Aamnah is keen to publicise ‘A Voyage from Kashmir’ further.
“Hopefully when things get back to normal, I’d like to speak about it. I hope by reading the book, other people will benefit. In Asian culture we keep a lot of family things hidden, which I can understand, but sometimes good can come from speaking out.”
‘A Voyage from Kashmir’ (‘Meri Zindagi Ka Safar Nama’) is available from Amazon UK here: https://amzn.to/3sj95Xa
- 1925 – Abdul Rehman Khan born in Panjeri, India (now part of Pakistan)
- 1941 – Abdul joins the British Indian Army, and sees action across the Middle and Far East during WWII
- 1944 – Abdul is taken prisoner while fighting in Italy, and becomes a POW briefly before later being released
- 1947 – Abdul’s family flee to the newly-formed Pakistan to escape violence and unrest following the Indian partition but return to Kashmir some months later
- 1954 – Abdul marries Aamnah’s Mum, Saeeda
- 1962 – Abdul moves to Bradford