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 →
Listen to Sirajul Islam, who left a rural life in Bangladesh to support his brother’s business. Together they own the popular Indian restaurant Ali Tandoori.
My name is Sirajul Islam. I was born on 3 April 1969 in a village in Bangladesh. Rural life was Spartan then, devoid of electricity or telephones. I came to the UK at the age of 27 or 28, a boy from a peasant family. We grew seasonal fruits and crops, and fished. Ours family life was serene – we had little, but there was no stress, no worries. Rain or shine, we walked to school, played in the fields, and returned home by dusk. There were storytellers in villages back then who gave oral accounts of the olden days; my paternal uncle read out puthi manuscripts on our prophet’s life while we sat listening around him, in the light of a kerosene lamp. Our father was a simple farmer and our mother was a housewife who looked after us and the household. We were four brothers, aged 62, 60, then 55 (me) and 50.
About 25 years ago, I came to Norwich to join my brother Ustar Ali’s business. Our family was one of the earliest arrivals in the city. Ustar Ali came here in 1978 to lend a hand in his brother in law’s restaurant called ‘Bombay’ on Timber Hill. Later in 1983-84 he opened a branch of ‘Bombay’ on Magdalen Street and carried on for 10 years. Then he joined a group in Fakenham. In 1996 he came back to Norwich and together we opened ‘Ali Tandoori’. At some point I joined the NHS. I worked there for five years and simultaneously completed my accounting degrees like AAT, ACCA, etc. I completed a Masters in accounting in Bangladesh and hoped to make a profession of it here too. Life went on at its own pace. Bangladesh is my motherland, memories of it mean memories of school friends I remain connected to. I can’t visit Bangladesh often, and I can’t stay there more than three weeks due to my commitments here, so we visit only every 4-5 years. My longest flights are to Bangladesh, obviously, which are 10 hours long. My children visit historic sites when we go back there.
Norwich then was lovely and calm. A historic city with an abundance of greenery, calmer than London. I fell in love with Norwich, and never thought of moving out; I am old fashioned, I like living my life surrounded by what I know. My children also grew up in this city. These days, Norwich has undergone so much development, especially in the housing sector. Driving through the city is costly now, cycling or walking is being promoted these days. The council took these measures for the betterment of all. I have four children. My son is a web developer; he was a sporty child, I used to join him to play football at least once a week. My eldest daughter is a qualified teacher, with a Master’s from Cambridge and is working for New Routes, the international integration and immigration charity as a youth coordinator. My other daughter went to King’s to do a Dental Hygiene and Therapy degree and my youngest daughter is in Jane Austen College and will be going to Greenwich this term. I don’t have grandchildren yet. One of my favourite memories with my children is seeing my youngest daughter’s photo in the newspaper. She was the eco-girl in school and reared chickens. The chicken sheds were frequented by foxes at night. One morning when she went to feed the chickens, she found a fox which had caught its tail on the fence and the teacher had to call EDP. That made the local news.
As a practising Muslim, the most important man in my life is my prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his life inspires me. The most beautiful place I’ve ever visited was the Grand Mosque of Mecca, it can accommodate about 4 million people at a time, and the design of the built area and the lighting are amazing. Apart from that, I have visited places in Europe. I am involved with the mosque and community centre in Norwich, as I love working for people. The lesson I’ve learned from life is patience, good listening and positive thinking. To maintain a good work life one has to be organised.
My mother died at the age of 74-75, in my care. She was suffering from post-stroke complications for two years prior to her death. There is nothing like the bond between a mother and her child – I have so many fond memories of her. A person that changed the course of my life would be my wife. We share everything, love each other, and I can’t think about living my life without her. We knew each other’s families before marriage. Our parents thought we could be a good match and arranged it. In olden days we celebrated Ramadan and Eid, ate homemade pitha, went to Puja programmes and had fun too. The culture of living in a Bangladeshi village was to live in harmony. It was not a solitary life, we lived in a herd. There weren’t many police officers then, people respected one another and did not harm others; a strong village culture was able to independently solve issues.
Sirajul Islam was born in a small village in Bangladesh in 1969. Whilst there, he received a Master’s Degree in Accounting. He moved to Norwich in 1996, in order to join his brother’s business, and together they opened the restaurant Ali Tandoori. He lives with his wife and 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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