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Scottish Memories: immigration stories

By on February 11, 2014

Adarsh Khullar is well-known in Glasgow for setting-up the Scottish Asian Ekta (‘unity’) Group, the first of its kind in this country for widowed and single women – but there is much more to her story as the new book Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories reveals, writes Ginny Clark.

Having arrived in 1960s London from Amritsar, the 23-year-old could speak no English and was desperately homesick. She said: “I was an independent person but I was becoming more and more dependent on my husband due to the language barrier. When he went to work I would go to bed and often cry. I missed my parents terribly and though my husband tried very hard to keep me happy I could not stop missing my family.”
But Ardash went on to find a job, help her husband to build a business, and to care for her growing family as they made the move from Slough to eventually settle in Scotstoun. “My family know our story and are very proud of me,” she says. “And yes, when I look back, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved too.”
This is just one of many previously untold stories documented in Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories, reflecting changes over the last 50 years as a wave of immigration in post-WWII transformed Scotland into a modern multicultural nation, enriched by many customs, traditions, languages and beliefs.
The book’s foreword says: “Much has been written of the struggles, hopes and dreams which prompted Scots to leave their native land through the centuries in search of new lives. Far less has been documented on the 20th Century experiences of a generation of immigrants from India, China, Africa and the Caribbean who looked to Scotland from afar and chose it as their future.
“During the 19th Century and early 20th Century, Scottish immigration was dominated by largely white ethnic groups including Irish, Italians, Jews, Russian and Poles, each of which brought their own cultural inheritance. A new pattern of immigration emerged during the 1950s and 1960s which laid the foundation for an even more diverse nation of people of different colour and creeds. They introduced different cultural traditions as well as gastronomies, establishing curry and Chinese food as firm favourites among Scots.
“It spawned the creation of new communities in Scotland’s cities and towns and led the emergence of new landmarks as Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus scrimped and saved to progress from makeshift places of worship to establishing Scotland’s first mosques and temples. The lives of a generation of men and women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who arrived in Scotland in that time as young immigrants were shaped by forces largely beyond their control: historic events that redrew the political world map, powerful economic forces, and legislation which had a radical impact on immigration trends.”
The struggles and persecution suffered by some people arriving in Scotland is recounted in the book – along with the terrible loneliness and isolation many endured. However, Scottish Memories is also about stories of achievement and triumph.
Another of the many fascinating tales is that of Rahmat Ali, who would go on to open the Shalimar restaurant in Gibson Street in 1973. He explains how he first came to Glasgow in 1955 to live with his uncle in Burnbank Gardens.
He said: “There was a shop that sold Indian spices and the six or seven people who lived in my uncle’s house cooked food together and shared the cost. We didn’t take money for food or accommodation from new arrivals from Pakistan until they found work. It was a common practice in those days.”
Rahmat first started selling goods out of a suitcase – “There was not much money in it and most people shut the door in our faces” – before two years of evening classes in English helped to secure him a job as a bus conductor at £9 for a 44-hour week. Eventually, Rahmat went into the restaurant business and in 2002, after almost 30 successful year, he sold-up. But news of his retirement led to a terrifying ordeal – he was kidnapped on a visit to the family home in Pakistan.
He said: “My family and many close friends back in Glasgow were involved in helping to free me. They contacted the Glasgow MP Mohammad Sarwar (the first Muslim MP in the UK, now Governor of Punjab province in Pakistan). The Inspector General in Pakistan was alerted and I was rescued.”
* Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories is published by the Trust, Hanover (Scotland) and Bield housing associations’ Equal Opportunities Programme (with support from the Lottery Heritage Fund) and is available from
* Pic Ardash Khullar with MSP James Dornan
* editor Ginny Clark is one of the writers from the Scottish Memories: Immigration Stories project

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