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Both of my grandparents were born in Pakistan. I was always told by my grandmother that the country did not have many prospects at the time or any possibilities for the improvement of living conditions for its citizens. As a result, and like many other migrants fleeing from their home country for improved standards of living and opportunities, they fled to England in 1961. A place known in Pakistan until this very day as a “dream land”.

At that time especially in South Asian countries, arranged marriages were the absolute norm and people like my grandma and grandad were both accustomed to it without any resistance (even if they had dared to protest). They were both certainly opposite in their individual interior and exterior nature. I’m not fully confident whether they would agree on the famous saying, “Opposites attract.” But at family gatherings, this topic is something that was the most reminisced about and the one that brought light hearted humour for everyone. It was laughable how different they were in stature and personality. Despite their love and hate relationship, they were deeply infatuated to the extent that they were continuously cohesive as one.

My grandad was the biggest idol and role model for the males in the family as he strongly stood for victory and represented bravery. Not many people can say that their grandad was courageous enough to be in the military forces as a fulltime occupation, living a good proportion of his life fighting in Japan, Tokyo and Bangladesh, only to name a few.

Whilst my grandparents lived in Pakistan, the military forces that my grandad worked for in Rawal Pindi had a recognition of achievement day or should I say, the time when his life completely turned for the good, sort of day. It started when his name was announced on the microphone in an unforeseen manner, “Mohammed Mahroof!” Being so adapted to walking in a professional mode, he subconsciously marched his way to the stage, shoulders sternly back and posture upright. Honoured as anyone could be, he received an army badge insignia delivered by England’s finest, Queen Elizabeth. Those where the noblest moments of his life, but who would have known how that very little conversation and courtesy hand shake would transform his existence and his future generations. The Queen had said: “Come to visit my country.”

And my grandad had uttered,

“After I retire from the Army, I will come to England.”

He treasured hat personal invitation from the Queen herself for as long as he lived. He took her word and started a fresh beginning in England.

Their roller-coaster of a journey had begun and with difficulty blending in. They settled in Cannock Chase, a town surrounded by masses of greenery and forests, not very different to the environments of their home in Pakistan. Being the only Pakistani family in town, they found it problematic gaining access to basic necessities such as a local mosque and a store that provided halal meat. As my grandma found it increasingly challenging to adapt, they moved to a friendlier area with access to essential needs that a typical Muslim family is dependent on.

A small town called Walsall in the Black Country had officially stolen their hearts and became their new home. It was the home where I spent all of my infant years to adolescence, encountering my grandparents watch me grow and develop day by day with their care and affection. The street we lived in when I was growing up was called Rosamond Street. It’s ironic because after my grandparents had found their second house, life beyond Rosamond Street was non-existent for them and for myself as my primary school, corner shop, halal butchers and mosque were all located within the same area with a maximum of a 2-minute walk from each place. Rosamond Street was almost like an emblem of perfection for them, living in a highly close knit community and away from any distress.

Rosamond Street holds nothing less than a concrete jungle of terraced houses standing tall for many centuries in unison, which is reflected into the relationship within the neighbourhood. Despite Rosamond Street having just terraced homes, my grandparents lived in the only detatched house in the area; it was a house that undeniably made passers-by stop and stare. Many people had thought the house was haunted because of how vintage it looked, with its Anglo Saxon heritage. It stood solidly, high and prominent, almost like my grandad when he used to work in the army, serving his country with honour.

Me and my sister never needed to go outdoors to play hide and seek as the house was big enough, even though it used to give my grandma anxiety in case we broke one of her favourite china glass collectible ornaments whilst running around, or if we genuinely had got lost around that maze of a house. That is just one tiny memory that I can undoubtedly remember, with all of the others created in that house. I will never forget how spoilt I was, more than my other siblings, I got everything I wanted within a bat of an eyelid. My grandparents bought me video cassettes of The Jungle Book and Bedknobs and Broomsticks every Saturday, they also used to sit me down and place an Argos catalogue on my lap and asked me to choose whatever I wanted. I would always pick a pretty, glamorous Barbie doll.  My grandparents really made being a ’90s kid an absolute dream.

I wish I had created more memories with my brother and sister in that house. We played when we could, but they lived away at a boarding school for the deaf, and only came back at the weekends. I think that is one reason why I was enormously tender with my grandparents, as if they were my best friends.

In 2011, when I was 15 years old, my grandparents passed away in an accident. The house simply did not feel right anymore; it had felt wrong for me to be there without their warm presence. I agree that the house was extravagant and lavish and everyone wanted to visit it, but it was only like that due to my grandparents keeping the spirit live and uplifted. I remember my mum asking me for the ultimatum, whether I wanted to stay in New Mills House as it was passed down to my mother in the will. I said no as it is eerie without them. My mum agreed and suggested it was too old to live in, without them.

We moved to another house in Walsall, where houses were newly built. It wasn’t something I adored as the houses lacked character and history. They were just too new. Over time, frustration got the better of me, living in a town where my grandparents no longer were had made me hit into depression. I hated Walsall, the same repetitive mundane local town, shops and restaurants had nothing to offer me as I grew up becoming more independent. My grandparents were home to me. It took me time to have peace and normality restored into my life. I felt completely lost.

I had made the decision that Walsall was no longer home for me purely because my grandparents were no longer alive, and I simply didn’t belong there anymore. It was a small town with very little or no investment since I was young. It had become a very run down area over the years with a lot of designer brand stores being replaced by stores like Poundland, the deterioration of the lively, well connected town it used to once be is truly exposed in its demographic.

After a lot of deliberation with my parents, I had made the decision to live in the capital, alone. It was only right of me as I felt like my heart had been wanting a more peculiar environment, due to living most of my life being so familiar with existing in a small town where everyone knew everyone. I wanted a vibe where people were actual strangers.

London has given me an alternate positive outlook on life, I enjoy how diverse it is, people are almost like a range of diversity dolls, all standing for importance in a position of society. It has offered me many opportunities, opportunities that I would have never dreamt of getting, back in the Black Country. I thrive off the florescent lights in Leicester Square, the hustle and bustle of the Underground as well embracing the historic landmarks.

Moving to London was a wholly distinctive endeavour, the furthest I had got to experiencing a place other than Walsall, was tuning into the news.

Despite me living in London and constantly being kept occupied, barely being allowed time to think about my grandparents, once in a while I travel back to Walsall and I walk past New Mills House reminiscing all the memories created with my grandparents and reflecting back on the life they once lived. It brings me back to reality after being caught up with the eventful life in the capital. Every time I visit I stand outside the driveway feeling envious of the current homeowners, as I wish I was living back there with my grandma and grandad by my side.

Nothing ever makes me want to come back to Walsall, except reliving the good times I had growing up with my grandparents, to sense the relationship we had. What my grandma taught me will always be cemented within my heart: “Sonia, no matter where you travel or how far you are, there will always be something drawing you back to home.”.

 

Sonia Waheed

Sonia Waheed

Sonia Waheed was born and raised in the heart of the country, Birmingham. She currently lives in London and is in a pursuit of following a career in secondary school English teaching. She devotes her free time in relishing herself in reading a wide variety of literature – differentiating in genre’s such as: non-fiction, satire and mythology. She hopes to unify her passion for reading and fondness for teaching in order to become an effective English Teacher. Her goal is to encourage and enlighten young students of upcoming generations to observe the world through different perspectives from transferring her knowledge of English Literature and Language.