Oral history is the recording of people's memories of their own lives. It involves carrying out life story interviews with people from all different walks of life, where respondents are encouraged to speak candidly about their experiences, feelings and emotions. Given the nature and themes of our exhibition we wanted to capture recent historical events - the British Raj, the 1947 Partition of India, and the migration from the subcontinent to British towns and cities - in people's own words.
The theme of migration was crucial to our story. We therefore decided to track down retired travel agents who were responsible for sending early migrants to Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. We felt they would have some interesting first hand stories from that era. Mohammed Alam (see image), who ran London Travel Service in Mirpur, related some remarkable stories about organising travel arrangements for his fellow villagers:
You can’t imagine how much these people were in love with the idea of going to England. That was their dream. You won’t believe this - when they introduced the visa, then we couldn’t send grown ups easily. Children could go easily though so some young men would say to me “Send me as a child”. Now, when they reached the airport a man would look them over, you know close-up, to make sure they didn’t have stubble. For the sake of being able to go to England, these men would have their long beards plucked out, so they could get away with looking like a young lad. One young lad I saw - he tied a scarf around his eyes because the pain was making his eyes water, and the barber was refusing to pluck the beard because he could see how it hurt. But the young lad persisted. They couldn’t shave you see - the stubble grows back the day after. Plucking gave a smooth finish you see!