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 →
Discover how Shahid Akther’s love of the sea and experience as a ship captain brought him across the ocean to Norwich.
My name is Shahid Akhter. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. My father is from the Chittagong district of Bangladesh. I basically grew up in Shukrabad, in Dhaka city. I spent my school and college life in Dhaka. At that time Dhaka was relatively clean, not as dirty as it is now. We didn’t have great connectivity through gadgets which show digital maps, and communication technology; nevertheless, I had a very happy childhood. School friends and neighbourhood friends alike lived together in a nice environment. We all used to play football and cricket together. I had a great time. I stayed in regular contact with our village, and every holiday we used to go to Chittagong. My wife Rakhi has no memories of the village, but I do.
My father was an automobile engineer, and he worked in the Pakistan Air Force before later joining Pakistan International Airlines. After the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, he joined the national airlines, Bangladesh Biman. He is a very hardworking and loving person; I idolise my father. Our mother was a housewife, she brought us up with great love and took great care to guide us in our studies. I was very close to my mother, the first time I was separated from her was when I began my training at marine academy. My parents are alive, and they have been here a few times, but they don’t like the weather here. I miss them very much. I also greatly miss the social congregation of relatives from Bangladesh. You can go out in Bangladesh at 10-11pm, but here everything goes quiet after 5pm. There are many good facilities here, but there is a very different feel to this country in terms of culture and traditions.
We are three brothers and one sister; I am the second eldest of the three brothers. My elder brother is a marine engineer, now living in Sydney. My younger brother is a doctor, who lives in Birmingham. It was my younger brother who suggested to me that I should come and settle here. My only sister is a doctor, she is married and lives in Saudi Arabia. We are very friendly as siblings.
How I met my wife is quite a strange story. It was not a love match. My family was looking for a prospective bride. My maternal uncle and his wife both worked as specialist doctors. My maternal uncle was a medicine specialist, and his wife was a child specialist. Their surgeries were side by side. Rakhi was a patient at my uncle’s practice; and at the time she was a first-year university student. My uncle prescribed her a few medical tests, then talked to her a bit and liked her very much. The next day, when Rakhi’s brother went to bring the report, my uncle suggested to Rakhi’s brother that I could be a potential suitor for his sister. Naturally Rakhi’s brother protested the match, stating that nobody from the groom’s house had seen Rakhi, so how could a marriage take place? Then my uncle said that while Rakhi was leaving his practice the other day, he called his wife and his mother and asked them to take a look at the girl who was leaving his surgery. They had seen the prospective bride. That’s how it all started. Last year we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary, it has been twenty-five years.
We have two daughters and one son. Our eldest daughter is twenty-two years old, a final year student in dentistry. Our second daughter is in year nine in secondary school. My son is the youngest at ten years old, and he is in year five. My eldest daughter is the reason I left my seafaring career, we had to leave our family and children and go to the sea for a few months. With the two little ones keeping us busy these days, we thoroughly enjoy our role as parents.
I love to mix with different types of people, and my current profession has given me the opportunity to mix with people from many different walks of life. My day begins early in the morning. With almost 20 years of experience at sea as a captain, I sailed to many continents of the world. Later, I left the seafaring life and taught as a college lecturer in England and Scotland for 5 years. For this I had to complete PGCE. From there I went to Newcastle. I then left teaching and joined the civil service, now I am working for a government agency on shipping law enforcement.
The UK was my second home during my sea-faring life, as I visited the UK many times as a student in training. In Bangladesh we are trained using the same curriculum as they use in the UK. The sea always beckons to me. I am from Chittagong, the port city of Bangladesh, where there is a seaport so naturally, I was drawn to a life on the sea. Starting as an apprentice, we had to come to the UK for every competitive exam because of the UK’s maritime experience and history, which means certificates obtained here are globally recognised. A few years later I became the ship’s captain. The captain has sole responsibility for the entire voyage and the day-to-day operations of the ship. These were cargo ships, which carried cargo from all over the world. I have had the opportunity to visit over sixty countries through my job, which would not have been possible in any other way. I enjoyed my time as a captain very much. The five-six years of experience I accumulated working in this world-renowned safety organisation laid the foundations for the life I was able to build in this country. My job now is to ensure the safety of the ship. I used to give lectures on this subject while working as a lecturer in college too, sharing my experiential knowledge. The role of captain was a very fulfilling one for me, both in my life and my career.
I came to Norwich due to the advice of a relative of ours, and he was the first to show us around. Norwich seemed so beautiful on those early short visits. Later we visited many places in Norfolk and Norwich, namely: Sandringham, Wroxham Broads, Cromer, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth… what amazingly beautiful places they are! Those who visit us also love Norwich, a quiet and safe town, not as bitterly cold as Scotland. People here are all so warm, friendly and hospitable. 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 socialise is an opportunity to meet and get to know more lovely people.
I think Norwich is a wonderful city for our children and for future generations. My wife and I are in agreement that we have no wish to go elsewhere and have both had our fair share of moving around from one place to another.
Shahid Akther was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and studied in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has worked as a Sea Captain for twenty years, and now works for a government agency on shipping law enforcement. He lives in Dussindale, Norwich with his wife, Rahnuma, and their three children.
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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