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Thursday 1 September 2011

My Dad: A tribute

Every Bangladeshi has a photograph of themselves posing beside a branch. Looking back at family photo albums, there are numerous photos of my sisters and I holding blooms and looking picturesque. The first photo in this pair is one of the most important photos I own because it's the earliest one I have of my dad. 30 years on, he hadn't changed much, he still liked to wear his 'best' and was never seen without his shades. (He didn't need glasses, shades were a fashion statement!)
Today marks two years since he passed away. The truth is, I haven't properly mourned for him yet. I spent the first year convinced he was on holiday and the second year imagining him at home, going about his business and still thinking at around 7.30pm that I ought to give him a ring before he goes to sleep. This is the kind of blog post where I could write a stream of consciousness that could go on for days and end up as the longest ever blog post ever written in history but if I put on my editor's hat I can just about reign myself in and limit this to picking out the five things he taught me that I try and remember every day and hope I will never forget.
My dad was the ultimate style guru. He kept his comb by the front door, a small metal one that no one else was allowed to touch. It was his ritual not just to give his mop a good brush before he left the house but throughout the day you'd find him standing by the hallway mirror ensuring his do was well kept. My mum cut his hair for him and kept his beard in trim. After she passed away I cut it for him a couple of times. He never said anything about it, just let me get on with it but for me, it was a moment of complete pride to do something so important for him. Some Bangladeshi men wear kohl under their eyes on important occasions and one of my earliest memories is watching my dad applying eyeliner. It made him look extremely handsome and I couldn't wait to start experimenting with make-up myself. When it came to clothes nothing short of smart would do. I have strong memories of my dad wearing his finest suits just to go and vote even though our Polling Station was one minute walk from our house. He dressed for the occasion and always wanted to look his best if he was going to be seen by people, but at home comfort came first and he always wore a sarong. Again this explains why clothes are so important to me (and why at home I live in my dressing gown!) (The photo shows my three sisters and the first grandchild in the family.)
My mum was a seamstress and I grew up watching her make clothes that were sold in C&A. So without a doubt my crafty genes originated from her but my dad is the one who instilled a strong DIY ethic. After retirement in 1984 (when I was just 3) he devoted his life to his allotment where he grew an abundance of gourds, beans, tomatoes and strawberries. As he got older and couldn't manage the trip to his plot, he grew vegetables in the garden. This photo was taken on a momentous day, he was doing some general gardening when he discovered a potato patch that he'd forgotten about. The spuds had been lying underground for years and finding them was like discovering gold. 
Craftwise here are some of my dad's finest achievements:
1. He used to take scraps from skips and turn them into new objects like he once found planks of wood that he turned into a beer garden style bench
2. When my teachers were striking during my first year of secondary school, I woke up on what I thought would be a day off to find he had painted me some banners and insisted I take them into town and show my support
3. He was an expert daisy chain maker 
4. He made chalkboards for my sisters and eye using roof slate so we could practice our spellings
5. His crafty eye ensured our house won the 'Best Decorated Property' during the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 (before my time! but luckily we have this photo as evidence)
My dad had some really funny sayings which I won't share here because they sound far better in my head when I can hear him saying them. But this photo makes me smile I took it the exact moment he saw his second grandchild for the first time, his first words were 'You look just like the other one!'
My dad came to England in 1961 with hopes of becoming an engineer. He didn't, and after a stint at a couple of railway stations (Birmingham and London Euston) he ended up working as a manual labourer in a lightbulb factory - 15 years of which was spent on night shift. He was the classic immigrant who came in London with no money in his pocket. One of the things he dreamt about was travelling and seeing the world. He only made it to Saudi Arabia for several religious pilgrimages and Switzerland to visit my sister but his bedroom walls were covered in images of tropical beaches, cascading waterfalls, rainforests, mosques from around the world and other spectacular architecture. He knew he'd never see them for himself but that never stopped him dreaming. 

My dad's biggest aim in life was to ensure his four daughters got an education (something he and my mum didn't get.) This was so that we would become independent women who could look after ourselves, make our own money and be the best we could be. It's alot to live up for. Personally I don't think I am being my 'best' but when I fall into 'lack of self confidence moments' I need to keep reminding myself that I have opportunities that my parents never did and I wouldn't have access to them if they hadn't let me follow the path that I find myself on today. 
September 1st is a difficult date, it's the end of the summer, the start of the Autumn and also now a day that's full of emotion. On the anniversary of my mum's death I always eat pasta cooked in Sacla Olive and Tomato sauce and I've done that for the last eight years, I also wear the last dress she saw me wearing because she really liked it. For my dad's anniversary I've decided that each year I will write something about him. Last year I wrote a column in The Guardian and this year I'm celebrating him in my blog. Also these are the first and only photos of him on the internet, I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing but I feel better having done this.

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