Haji Hukam Dad






Arrival to the UK

Hokam came from a village called Balathi, leaving school at a very early age.  His two uncles and older brother were already living and working in the UK. His brother told Hokam how much money he was making and as there was little work in Pakistan, it was decided that he should join his brother in the UK. His brother asked a contact he had made in the Karachi police force to help him get a passport for his brother, the contact obliged.  Hokam with his passport was then able to join his family in the UK in 1955.

Hokam travelled for three days to reach Karachi, particularly remembering how he had to walk 15 miles from his village to Chaamak as there were no roads at the time. On reaching Karachi Hokam flew to London eventually arriving at his uncle’s house in Frederick Road Birmingham. His uncle’s house had five bedrooms and four rooms downstairs, which all had two double beds and one single allowing up to forty people to sleep there at any one time, with people swapping beds as they finished their shift. He remembers that it was always very crowded and crammed but eventually people made enough money to move out, moving to buy a place of their own. After living with other members of his family Hokam moved in with his cousin who lived in Washbrook Road, Washwood Heath, which was nearer to his place of work, saving him a total of four bus fares.

First day of work

One of his earliest memories of Birmingham were that of snow and fog but as he came to the UK to earn a living, the inclement weather didn’t dampen his spirits from seeking work. His uncle and brother were working in Morris Motors but as there were no vacancies, he joined his cousin working at a bicycle factory in Nechells; recollecting at that time there was a lot of overtime to be had helping to boost his pay packet. After six months Hokam got a job working at Morris Motors where he worked for five years before returning home to Pakistan for two years, but found it difficult to find work so decided to return back to Birmingham. On his return to Birmingham he found work difficult to find, so he moved to Burton in Staffordshire in the pursuit of finding work. He remained in Burton for a few months before returning to Birmingham to find work at Morris Motors where he started work as a labourer, before becoming a machine operator.  Hokam recalls that he would work about 60 hours a week initially earning £9.00  rising to 12 then 15 and by retirement  nearly £100.00 per week.

When he first started working at Morris Motors, Hokam could not speak or understand English and so had to rely on sign language to communicate with his foreman and manager. He remembers that the company did not see it as a problem as he was a hard worker and they badly needed staff at the time. Hokam with the support of his trade union got his employer to recognise that he should be able to return to his country for six months unpaid leave every three years whilst retaining his job which he took regular advantage of. He remained at Morris Motors until his retirement at sixty when the company computerised the production lines, making his job as a machine operator redundant.

Moving on

Hokam found the place and the food strange when we first came to Birmingham but was soon cooking for himself, buying vegetables from the town and his meat from a shop in Aston as there weren’t any Pakistani food shops locally. Eventually as demand for an Asian shop increased, a Bengali man opened a shop in Alum Rock near Adderley Road which catered fully for Hokam’s needs. As demand for Asian food increased other shops began to open, Hokam remembering a shop called Aziz which is still open and well established today,

In the early days Hokam never wore traditional dress choosing to wear western clothes that were in fashion at the time.  Hokam married in 1964 in Pakistan and then sent for his wife eventually having had two girls and two boys he took them home to Pakistan in 1971 so that his parents could meet and get to know there grandchildren. Hokam returned to Birmingham but left his wife and children in Pakistan before calling them back to the UK a few years later, for financial reasons as well as to continue their education in the UK. He recalls that people from Birmingham used to keep in touch with their families through letters as there was no phones in the early days and if it was an emergency by telegram. When he was not working Hokam used to enjoy visiting his friends and family talking and playing cards. In the early days Hokam did not have access to a television but remembers that he had once asked his uncle how you could watch a movie at home that he had read about in the paper, his uncle told him about using a video with a television. He also used to enjoy going to the cinema but had some problems with the language in the early days as there were very few Asian films shown at the time.  However as demand for Asian films increased new cinemas opened offering Asian movies and Hokam and his friends used to dress up to attend them on a Sunday. Hokam also liked visiting the penny fayre in town and while he was there he used to take pictures of himself dressed up in western clothes to send home to his family in Pakistan. He also remembers an English man at work who used to take photos of him to send home charging him nothing. Hokam experienced many such acts of kindness shown by the local people and believes that this made it easier for him to integrate and get on with the locals.

Contribution of the Pakistani community to the UK

Hokam and his family continued with their religion fasting but not praying as there was no time for them to pray as they were concentrating solely on earning enough money, although he does remember two people praying at Morris Motors where he worked. He did try to read Eid prayers but found it difficult as there were very few places to pray at the time; one place being on Speedwell Road. He recalls that people used to get together and book local halls to pray in, one man named Ashram Khan from Aston Cross was the first to announce that he was arranging a place for Eid prayers to be read, with a Bengali man as leader reading the prayers. Eventually the community decided that they needed a place to pray of their own and so got together and helped to fund the building of a local Mosque which was well used particularly by all members of the Muslim community.  Hokam also recollects that there was a lot of love and brotherhood in the early days within the community, with everyone new to the UK being in the same boat trying to get established in the UK with Pakistanis getting on well with the Bengalis and the few English that were living in the area at the time. The people living in Birmingham from the area around Balathi worked together to support their family and friends left at home, Hokam recalls them raising money for the renovation of the local road system by everyone contributing £10.00 towards the fund. He also recollects that when.  Choudhry Yousef who was campaigning for President came to the UK a delegation of people living in the UK from the Balathi area promised to support him in the election if he helped the village and the area to get electricity for the village, which he did.

“The people in Pakistan have benefitted from us coming over here, we have created jobs for people over there and also support the poor people over there.  I am very happy that I came to England we have very beautiful houses in Pakistan which we could not have had if I was in Pakistan.  Our children have access to the same education that Quaid e Azam and Ilama Iqbal had they paid for it but for our children it’s free. We still keep in touch with our roots and regularly visit Pakistan.  We go nearly every year and stay for a while. The third generation are not happy to go back and will sell their ancestral land.  If you earn a lot of money it doesn’t just benefit yourself and your family but also your area.  We came from balathi but the local people have benefitted through jobs as we have had a lot of things built there like mosques, schools houses obviously if they don’t want to work that is a different matter.  We also support the poor people there by giving them money.  My children also help the poor people.  This is because we have come here to the UK.”

We used to do lots of overtime.  They used to ask us if we wanted overtime when the foreman came to me as he used to tick us of on the list he said I know you are not going to say no I don’t know why I bother asking.  I said just tick me of as I get bored at home.  The first person died in 1957 and he was buried here then another one died from Batli and he was also buried here.  The first bodies that were flown over were in 1962.  The neighbours were also really good one of our neighbours had a van and he used to give us a lift to work.  That is how nice people were.  I am happy I came here we have better houses now but we have left everything behind.