This is a story I had to write today, specifically today.
I may not get this finished today but I wanted to start today.
2nd August 2019 (updated June 2020)
Sixteen years after leaving their home and possessions at the age of 13 due to Partition, five years after he got married, having a daughter aged 3 and a recently born son, he left the shores of India and emigrated to England in 1963. By himself. With just a couple of contacts made and a few pounds, he arrived in England to make a new life for himself, his wife and his children.
Son of a teacher, younger brother to a teacher, he himself qualified as a teacher in 1956; in India. He was a proud and educated young man with hopes and aspirations of an even better life leading him. Upon arriving he was greeted by a man in a VW Minibus (you’ve all seen East is East, right?) who helped people at the England end emigrate and coordinate the practicalities of a roof, food and networking. He turned out to be one of his closest friends for the rest of his life. (That man, his life long friend passed away not long after writing this)
Upon arriving to a town from Heathrow airport which would be his “home” for the rest of his life, he settled into a house with other men who had made similar journeys. With the drive to make a better life for their families they supported each other to find a way forward. Almost all of them ended up working in some kind of unskilled labour. The young man who joined them in 1963, I’m not sure if he tried to use his qualifications to seek employment but I do know he didn’t become a teacher. Not in the traditional sense at least. He helped those that were less able to navigate this new land. He read and translated their forms and letters, he helped them secure jobs, he helped them by being their voice when their voice was different to what was needed. He helped them settle.
Having unsuccessfully been able to find suitable employment that suited him over the next few years, he sat on a park bench one day and started crying. He cried because of frustration, he cried because he was away from his family for so many years (he hadn’t seen them in all this time and hadn’t spent more than 6 months with his newly born son), he cried because he didn’t know how to find a way forward, he cried because he didn’t know if he had made a huge mistake, but most of all he cried because he had a dream that he felt a failure in achieving. Then a man walking by tapped him on his shoulder and asked “Are you ok?”
He worked for this man for over 25 years until he passed away and then stayed in touch with widow for many years later. This young man had found someone who gave him a voice. The man that tapped him on the shoulder was a manager at a large factory that cast and made various things from iron and steel. The young man worked in the sand core department for most of his time there, becoming a manager himself in his latter years. The factory closed up shop in the early nineties.
You may think that this young man that arrived in 1963 led an unfulfilled life, in some ways you’d be right. Did he think he led that unfulfilled life, not quite.
Around 1966, having spent time to find a suitable home, securing permanent full time employment, he successfully filled in the forms that would allow him to be reunited with his family after 5 years of being apart. Upon arriving his 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son secured places in a local school. The only English they knew was what was taught in classes in India. This would be a steep learning curve for both of them. Although they were finally with their father, they were also now apart from their support network of cousins, friends and their community they had grown up in. Now they were faced with a very alien picture. People looked different. The houses were different. The food was different. The language was different. Everything was different and at the age of 5 and 7 they had to deal with that. Of course, their father would support them as much as he could but he himself was still navigating these uncharted territories, albeit with a bit more familiarity.
School picture of his daughter and son taken shortly after arriving.
Photo taken of his wife, the family send off in India
His wife started to work in his place of work. She was ‘uneducated’ in the formal sense but was for from that in the real sense. She had already had to deal with leaving her family when she married, then had to deal being without her husband for 5 years whilst living with his family that she hardly knew. I won’t go into it now but let’s just say it wasn’t a holiday. So, she was accustomed to change and alien environments. She had the strength of character that was/is the back bone of her family. In her spare time she worked on her passion. She was and still is a remarkable seamstress. Never having to use patterns and cut a cloth by sight and make amazing creations; a skill passed down through generations. She could knit and crotchet whilst watching tv and again without a plan; apart from the one she had in her head. As a musician is at one with their instrument, she was at one with this passion.
Two years after the family was reunited, another son was born. The first of the family that wasn’t born in the motherland. Childcare in those days was juggling the same life if possible and getting on with it. At this point they also secured the ownership of their first home. They stayed there for 15 years after which they bought a brand new home where they would spend the rest of their lives. The young man and his wife would alternate shifts at work. One would start at 6am until 2pm and then the other would start at 2pm and finish at 10pm. At the 2pm switch over, they would pass the youngest to the other. This pattern of life continued for many many many years. Of course, they saw themselves as lucky. They were both working and were able to maintain their family life. Those that are reading this from similar backgrounds will understand how much of a success this was (and still is now).
So what now?
The daughter has now been married for nearly 30 years and has travelled to the other side of the planet and back again. Successful in every meaningful sense. Initially only educated to diploma level and worked in many industries but more recently in project and change management. Now she continues with her passion which is charity work and has been in a trustee position using her business acumen.
The elder son having qualified as a Graphic Designer eventually launched his own business against a trends at the time. Resilient and passionate about his work and again successful in most meaningful ways. He has adapted his business through the analogue to digital world and has had many large clients. He has two amazing children that have taken the Barton in their own way and continue to make their father proud.
His wife worked alongside him until the factory closed and eventually retired. That was over 20 years ago. Since then she has endured with some ill health; nothing more than what old age and hard work brings. With her husband she has travelled to visit her parents and brothers ‘back home’ on a very regular basis. Definitely making up for lost time earlier in her life.
Note: the young man always kept a packed suitcase under the bed. Not because he travelled so much but because he wanted the family to be ready to leave if they were ever asked to. Thinking now to the Windrush generation, did he know something? But you must remember that the family settled here in the year of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech.
The young man that arrived in 1963 never left that job but was a teacher in the cultural sense. He helped and supported people to better lives. He led his life in most cases by example we are all human after all and are designed to learn from our mistakes). He prioritised his care based on need when needed. He was an explorer looking to improve himself and those he loved. As a father he instilled a sense of curiosity and a passion in his children. He just never had a contract to say he was a teacher but he was a teacher.
Three years ago after a routine check up upon a return to their annual India trip, an anomaly reared it’s head on a chest X-ray. Over the following year after radiotherapy and a succession of strokes his health declined rapidly. Ironically one of his last stays in hospital looked out onto the Victorian brick gateway where he worked for most of his life. Gates only because after the closure in the nineties the land was eventually developed into housing but retained the gateway entrance due to its local importance.
Exactly two years ago he passed away at home surrounded by his family.
The youngest son?
That’s me and I am forever thankful for the sacrifices my parents made to give me the life I have now.
On my foodie blog I posted a cathartic piece on dealing with my immediate grief… Funeral and tea.
No apologies for the story to be long and questions following for being short.
Has the picture changed over the last nearly six decades since my father arrived?
Of course it has changed in most aspects. I am definitely not making the case that there has been no positive change. The question is more to do with how has the picture changed? The first big change is that I am able to discuss this. However in doing this will I jeopardise my own opportunities? That is still a fear we all have. The good news is that the Equality Act 2010 actually covers this. How easy it is to evidence bias and discrimination still proves difficult.
Direct discrimination still very much exists against all types of groups including those that are not protected. The Equality Act 2010 does provide guidance on how to handle this however there still is no comprehensive enforcement. You would need to bring a case forward and only then does the burden shift to the discriminator to evidence their balance. How many people would have the courage to bring a case forward? The fears of doing so are known. “Using the race card” is still an issue on both sides of the fence, whether it is valid or not.
Indirect discrimination again falls into the same category as above. Human resource practices have developed and representative bodies are well equipped. However, again, this still seems to be a checkbox exercise for some organisations. The emphasis should be on “is this fair policy or decision NOT have we double checked we have covered our backs”.
In my opinion, the conversation has moved to the underworld. Unconscious bias. Discrimination by association and political climate.
All of these are so difficult to address and impact positive change. The first two are covered more and more. The latter is probably the biggest step back in the fight for a more inclusive culture. The positive aspect of this is that some of the unproductive political correctness has been abandoned. The big downside is that people also feel more “comfortable” in saying and doing things that would have been unacceptable only a few years ago. The word “immigrant” almost seems like a “dirty” word again. This view was emboldened by the Home Office’s Hostile Environment policy.
I am hoping to find ways to have a positive impact on my immediate environment.
I truly want to be part of a solution to making at least my immediate environment more accepting to all. I do not want to keep a suitcase packed in readiness under my bed. A true sense of belonging is what we all desire. From a professional perspective, I truly believe that we want to make a positive contribution. It’s human nature, please don’t fight it. With that sweeping generalisation in mind, finding ways that all people in an organisation can positively connect to each other to a common goal is not only desirable but crucial. From a productivity point of view, it has been shown time and time again that there is a direct (positive) correlation between belonging and discretionary effort (or employee engagement).
As a wannabe positive disruptor where would you place yourself on this chart?
Where are you likely to have the most positive impact?
Over the coming weeks I will be putting together a series of articles that will:
- Supply you with the facts to help you verify your situation.
- Provide contacts that you can get advice and support from.
- Give you insights into cases where a positive impact is being achieved.
- Give you an ongoing insight of my personal journey… highs and lows guaranteed.
- Give you the opportunity to share your stories and contribute.
So please please please get in touch no matter what your reason is…. many voices drives change.
Be an Upstander not a bystander.