Explore the lives of Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communities living and working in the Cathedral and King St quarters of Norwich.
There are 14 excerpts in total for you to enjoy. You can download a Stories From the Quarter map here and embark on the walk yourself, or follow along online by listening to the story below. Explore Stories From the Quarter in full here →
Hear the story of Jewel Khan, a lifelong businessman and contented Norwich resident with fond memories of sunsets and banquets in Bangladesh.
My name is Mohammad Jewel Khan. I was born on 10 March 10 1978 in Bangladesh. My parents are from Bangladesh. Since I’ve moved to this country, they have come here to visit and I’ve shown them around many places, and they liked it. My father, Haji Mohammad Lukman Khan, is a well-known trader of vegetables and miscellaneous products. He has often related to us how he started a business alongside his studies when he was in year three at school. Eventually when I was 10 or 11 years old, he made me go into business with him. I used to shop keep in tandem with my studies. I had a chair with wooden handles on both sides where I used to sit. The customers were surprised to see me and asked my father how a small boy, a minor at that, could possibly run the shop. My father used to reply that he too started from a very early age, and that it would be fine. One day I told my father that I could single-handedly look after his shop. When I was 15-16 years old, my grandfather declared that I was his one and only beloved grandson, and implored my father not to set me on the path to a lifelong career in shopkeeping. Yet it was I who begged to be given a chance, as I knew I could manage a life in business. My father gave me that opportunity, he gradually reduced his time spent in the shop, and soon it was I who was largely in charge. He often forbade me to give products to customers on credit, and strictly instructed that I should only give credit to people in dire need every now and then, and to make sure I always follow up whether they pay it back or not. I still have the two logbooks of that shop. The business was thriving.
Subsequently, I got involved in another business, and took out a license for a fertilizer business, which was very difficult to get in Bangladesh. This venture really prospered and, by generating a new income source for the area, helped the local community considerably. Local people talked about the business and they were happy at this development. It made me proud and made me feel worthy.
We are three brothers and four sisters, I am the eldest. I have one brother living in London, his name is Kamran Khan Sumel. Another brother lives in Bangladesh, he is in business like our father. We are a family of businessmen. I got married on 16 February 2001 in Bangladesh. That day there was a big football match at Lalabazar Union Ground. The wedding and the game both fell on the same day. After getting married I came here to join my wife and start a family. I have been living in Norwich for 21 years. Immediately upon arrival, I did not start a job. My father gave me an education in sound business practices at a young age, so I have been in business for 20 years. My business was in Wroxham, it was called ‘Royal Pizza and Kebab’. No other Bengalis had established such a business there before me, I was the first. Pizza and Kebabs were at the front, and fresh Indian food was served at the back. It was a successful enterprise, but I closed it down a few months ago. I have thousands of customers in this city. They often ask me to revive my restaurant, and I must admit I miss seeing those regular customers too! But my children are a little older now, I want to spend more time with family, be happy and travel a little. Life is short, after all. I might return to business again in the future, I actually plan to. I am in regular contact with friends in Bangladesh and in this country. Most of my friends are businessmen, some are politicians. I miss many things from back home, most of all I miss my parents and my immediate family. There is nothing here to take the place of those cultural elements of life back home which I miss so keenly. I remember those sunset times of my childhood, when I would be traversing on a village dirt track or in a tropical forest, going somewhere to join a banquet or to play. Those precious evenings I will never get back.
I miss my mother’s cooking very much, nothing compares with my mother’s food. But my wife Shefa cooks quite well, even though she can’t surpass my mother’s culinary know-how. I am originally a pizza chef, but I familiarised myself with other cuisines also. At home, my wife sometimes implores me to cook, insisting that my cooking is delicious. I answer her saying if and when I do cook, she will be licking her fingers all day afterwards. In our garden we all cook in the clay stove, and eat together as is customary in Bengali culture. If you look at it from a religious angle, you could look at it as the sunnah of our Prophet (PBUH), eating together with all family members sitting on the ground. This practice reminds me of those peasants from Bangladesh who used to work in the fields cutting paddy all day and then eat together after getting home. Last time we cooked and ate like them, we were fifty-two relatives all together, with not a single non-family member among us.
The Norwich of today is definitely different from the Norwich I first encountered. When I first came here, my mother-in-law, who is also my maternal aunt, used to do all the cooking in our house. She was also an excellent cook. She used to watch me eating and comment that I ate like a person who has been living here for a long time. Many people who come here don’t eat the food here, especially the mutton which has a rather overpowering smell, but I like it very much.
On my first day out in Norwich, my wife, along with her elder brother Shafiq Mia and his wife, took me to Castle Mall (now renamed Castle Quarter), the city’s famous shopping centre. The four of us shopped for about three to four hours, yet in all that time I did not see a single person from our country, nor any people of colour, or indeed anyone from my own race. I thought ‘what a place where one can see no Bengali, where there is no Bengali culture at all! No people of my own kind to talk to!’ I thought to myself ‘where have I come?’ But now wherever I look, I see my native brother or nephew. I can converse freely and easily with them, which feels very good. The amount of people from my country who managed to make it over here! God brought me here. Yes, we had to work very hard, but our reward was a life of liberty, and a deep feeling of true peace and contentment. My heartfelt thanks to the Queen and all members of the British parliament, they have given immigrants from all over the world, like me, the chance to live fulfilling and prosperous lives here, in accordance with the law.
Mohammad Jewel Kham was born in Bangladesh in 1978. He moved to Norwich in 2001, after marrying his wife, Shefa. He was born into a family of businessmen, and has worked in business for over 20 years. He enjoys cooking, and spending time with his family.
Stories From the Quarter is a National Centre for Writing project in partnership with Norfolk Record Office, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.
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