Explore the lives of Bengali and Sylheti-speaking communaties 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 →
Listen to the story of Makhduma Akhter, a busy care support worker and mum if three, and her memories of first meeting her husband Zahidur at a family function in Khulna.
I am Makhduma Akhter, I was born on 1 January 1983 in the district of Khulna. These days I am kept busy in the mornings making breakfast for the kids and dropping them off at school. My husband and I share the task of preparing the kids for school and making their breakfast. We do it in turn. I work as a care support worker, which allows me the flexibility to pick my shifts. I choose to work on those days when I know Zahid, my husband, will be free to take care of the children at home.
I have three children; Yashfin, Yusra, and Arwa. Despite growing up in an English environment, my eldest son Yashfin is very interested in learning Bengali. He tries to learn all the Bengali words. When my parents visit here, he tries to learn Bengali from them too. He even learned to play our national anthem Amara Sonar Bangla on the guitar. I am very proud of him. I want my children to learn Bengali and to appreciate Bengali culture and history.
My father is Mohammad Moslem Uddin Ahmed, and my mother is Sahara Banu. They stay in Khulna most of the time, and occasionally they stay with my brothers in Dhaka. I miss them every moment. We couldn’t go to Bangladesh for the last three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I became desperate to see my parents. By the grace of God, we met again, and our children were very happy to be with their grandparents. My parents have been here to the UK several times. I wonder when we will meet again.
We are two brothers and one sister, I am the youngest amongst my siblings, and the much loved sister of my brothers. My eldest brother Sultan Ahmed Russel, an ex-army officer, is now employed in the private sector. My other older brother Shahriar Ahmed was a GD-Pilot in Air force. He retired after two years and is now working as a pilot in a private company. Both of my brothers are happy with their families and children. As a sister and as a sibling, I am very lucky since my children are loved by my brothers like they are their own. Of course, their paternal uncles love them just as much. Everyone lives far away due to work commitments, but when we are together, we realize how strong our family bonds are. Our time in Bangladesh always come to an end so quickly. Every year I look forward to when I will go to the country, and see everyone again.
At the end of our vacation in Bangladesh, just prior to our departure, my brothers pack our luggage and take us to the airport. They act as if their little sister can’t do anything on her own. The last time I was due to return home, Shahriar had a flight at the same time. I was a little upset, as I had become used to having my brother do all my packing for me, so I normally wouldn’t need to worry about it… who would do this work now? He promised me that he would prepare everything in advance as much as he could. I forlornly exclaimed that I would not be able to see him, when I leave home, that one last time! My brother stoically assured me he would see what could be done, and left for the flight. My eldest brother went to the office, after saying goodbye to everyone. When I was entering the airport, I saw my Shahriar coming out from the other side after finishing his flight. Keeping strictly to his schedule he made sure he met with us for one final time before our departure. This was, and remains, such a precious memory for me.
My school was the renowned Coronation Girls School in Khulna. School memories are golden memories. When I was in school I could not wait to grow up, go to college, and go to university! I didn’t realize that I was living through the golden age at that time. I studied in a girls’ school, later took admission in BL University College, and then did my Masters in BL College, all in the district of Khulna. Being the only daughter of my father, I was afraid to travel too far afield. After completing my studies, I got married and moved abroad. I didn’t have many friends in school and college, socialising didn’t come easily to me… or rather, you might say, I socialised very selectively. Now I talk on WhatsApp groups with friends scattered across Bangladesh, America, Australia and Canada, I really enjoy it.
Zahid and I first met at a family function in Khulna. After that, we met a few more times and soon both began to realise that ours could become a serious relationship, that we could walk the path of life together. Decision making was not so easy, because we knew that making the decision on our own would not initially result in positive responses or support from our families. Back then, Bengali families wanted their children to accept their wishes, even when it came to matters of marriage. However, we tried to explain to our families that it would be their blessing, support and good wishes which would best allow us to build a lasting future life together. In the end, our families did give us their blessing, for which we are grateful. After a month of marriage, we moved to Saudi Arabia, where we started our family, where our first child, Yashfin, was born. People’s habits, thoughts, and expectations change with time, which is normal. Both of us must have changed. But I am lucky that my husband is a wonderful father, he is so good that I can’t expect or demand more.
When we first came to Norwich we didn’t know any Bengali families here. We were wondering how we would spend time at Eid or other festivals. I used to see many Bengalis while shopping but didn’t always get a positive response when I tried to initiate conversation with them, perhaps because of the language differences that exist between districts. After a few months, I met some Bengali families in Norwich. Now, happily, we are part of quite a large and thriving Bengali community here in Norwich. We are always looking for a chance to plan parties.
As a Bengali, I have a question. It would be great if there was a system in place to teach the Bengali language to our children here. Children can speak Bengali, but they do not have the necessary basic knowledge of reading and writing. In this regard, we hope for the wholehearted cooperation and support from the council and the National Centre for Writing.
Makhduma Akhter was born in Khulna, Bangladesh in 1983. She attended BL University College, where she received her Master’s Degree. After marrying Zahidur, she moved to Saudi Arabia, where they started their family. She now lives in Norwich with her three children, and works as a care support worker.
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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Zahidur Rahman (Stories From the Quarter)
‘When we first came here, we didn’t know any Bengali families. Gradually, many people came to know us in a professional capacity, which soon lead to our mingling with them socially also. Now our social circle is considerably wider, and our days in Norwich are filled with friendship, laughter and merry making.’
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Sirajul Islam (Stories From the Quarter)
‘Norwich then was lovely and calm. A historic city with an abundance of greenery, calmer than London. I fell in love with Norwich, and have never thought of moving out.’
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Shahid Akther (Stories From the Quarter)
‘We feel very much a part of Norwich society. The social life and community support are outstanding here. There are so many events these days, and every opportunity to socialize is an opportunity to meet and get to know more lovely people.’
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