From Sylhet To Cambridge: Reflecting On 60 Years Of Family History And Heritage

During my school days, history was something that hardly filled me with excitement. Even watching Doctor Who episodes set in the past required serious effort to motivate and inspire me, but credit where it’s due, on most occasions they succeeded.

Perhaps as a child, intrigued and fascinated by science fiction and technology (my uncles hold responsibility for that), my interests were focused on the present and the future. The past just seemed dull; a visualisation of the 1960s where everything was in black and white, and out of focus. This childish, indifferent and immature perception of history has since undergone a mature transformation to one of understanding, appreciation and pride.

I am a third-generation British Bangladeshi, born and raised in Cambridge, a city that is renowned for education, diversity and tolerance. I have lived here all my life and am proud to call it my home.

On 26th March 1971, Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan. 46 years have passed, but 1971 remains a very important year for me – even more so for my family. Let me explain why this is the case, but first, let’s wind the clock back further to 1957.

1957 was where it all started – the year my late maternal grandfather arrived in Britain. He experienced a difficult childhood after losing both his parents at a young age. He was given the opportunity to work in the UK as he sought a better quality of life, before eventually settling in Cambridge permanently. He arrived at a time when the country was recovering after the Second World War – the period of post-war immigration.

The British economy was undergoing a process of reconstruction and it was soon identified that large numbers of immigrants were needed to support the pressing demands of the UK labour market. This also attracted many workers and their families from the Commonwealth and beyond Europe – mainly from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. My grandfather entered the business trade, opening and running two Indian restaurants called The New Bengal and The Bengal Tandoor Mahal within the Cambridge city centre. Sadly, these restaurants have since closed down, but photographs of them can be found in the Cambridgeshire archives.

A photograph of the New Bengal Restaurant on Regent Street, Cambridge, published in the city’s local newspaper in May 1973 (Photo Credit: Cambridge Evening News)
2017-04-03-1491252681-317561-bengal_tandoor_mahal_restaurant.jpg
The Bengal Tandoor Mahal Restaurant (right) on Fitzroy Street, Cambridge, circa 1976 (Photo Credit: Cambridge Evening News)

In 1963, my grandmother followed, also settling in the city and has been living here ever since. She gave birth to three sons and two daughters in Cambridge. The daughters were twins; one was my aunt who sadly died in 1997 and the other is my mother – an author, writer and publisher. There are many people in our family and across the local community who particularly remember the birth of my mother and aunt, not simply because they happened to be twins but because of the timing. Two days after they were born, Bangladesh celebrated Victory Day – a significant and momentous occasion in the nation’s history, when the Allied Forces High Command triumphed over the Pakistani Forces during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

My family history in Cambridge goes back exactly 60 years. My family was one of the first from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh to settle in the city, and has seen the Bangladeshi community expand over time. I believe it is important for me to reflect upon such a milestone and understand why I am here today. My late grandfather, who came from a rural village in Sylhet, travelled to Britain because he was given an opportunity – a chance for a better life. Looking back, it helps me to learn about my roots and understand them, and to appreciate my heritage. I wonder how life could have been so different for me if my grandfather remained in Bangladesh.

The lesson I learn from reflecting upon 60 years of my family history and heritage is that I should never forget where I am from. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, as he passed away in 1985. However, he left behind a legacy and made his mark in Cambridge through his work in the restaurant trade. When I first visited Bangladesh in 2002 as an eleven-year-old, I recall a couple of local villagers asking me the names of my grandfathers:

“What is the name of your Dada (paternal grandfather)?”

“What is the name of your Nana (maternal grandfather)?”

I told them their names, and I noticed their faces light up when I mentioned my maternal grandfather’s name. At that moment, I was rather surprised at their reaction and struggled to recognise what was so special about him. Fifteen years on from that encounter, I have a clearer understanding. I feel inspired.

I am proud of my history and heritage. I am proud to be British and to have lived in Cambridge all my life, and I am also proud that my country of origin is Bangladesh.


Source: Huffington Post UK
Date of Publication: 4th April 2017
Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ibrahim-rahman/from-sylhet-to-cambridge-_b_15684898.html

Ibrahim’s Review of 2015

Here we go again. Another annual review. My seventh actually. A great opportunity to reflect on a rollercoaster twelve months. As rollercoaster rides come, this has been quite a thrilling one. Sometimes a thriller doesn’t quite go the way you want it to. We’ve all seen a crazy game of football littered with goals – some may recall Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Newcastle United in 1996. Pundits and commentators argue that was the greatest match the Premier League has ever seen. Almost twenty years…

Look at me, harking on about the past. History can be interesting though. Ask my mother, she’ll tell you. Anyway, let’s get this show on the road as I share some of my highlights of 2015 with you…

Ibrahim reads an excerpt from his mother's novel Lascar at the Bishopsgate Library in London
Ibrahim reads an excerpt from his mother’s novel ‘Lascar’ at the Bishopsgate Institute, London

In January, my mother and I were invited to speak at the Everyday Muslim Symposium, held at the Bishopsgate Institute in London. It was a wonderful event to be part of and I really enjoyed the occasion, despite my reading skills being closely scrutinised by an attentive audience – and captured on camera! Many thanks to Sadiya Ahmed and Halima Khanom for giving me the opportunity to participate. You can watch my mother’s talk and my reading right here:


In February, I joined the team of presenters for a sports show on Cambridge 105, a local radio station based in Cambridge. Since August, I have been the lead presenter and producer of the new series. The show has covered local, national and global sport, and is aired every Saturday afternoon. This year, I interviewed a range of guests including Aziz Rahman and Shahin Miah of Cambridge Sporting Football Club, as well as the nation’s youngest restaurant/takeaway owner Safwaan Choudhury and Nurun Ahmed – a former contestant on the popular BBC TV series The Apprentice.

Ibrahim interviewed Safwaan Choudhury and Nurun Ahmed on Cambridge 105 Sport
Ibrahim interviewed Safwaan Choudhury and Nurun Ahmed on Cambridge 105 Sport

You can listen to all the interviews on my brand-new Soundcloud page! I have really enjoyed hosting the show this year. Many thanks to my fellow team members Jack Swindlehurst, Jack LangleyTim Ebanks and Sam Tunbridge for all your help and support. Special thanks to Tim Willett, the station manager, for giving me the opportunity to be involved. It has been a pleasure to be part of Cambridge 105 and I hope the station continues to go from strength to strength.


Shaful Islam, Bobby Friction and Ibrahim Rahman
With quiz team-mate Shaful Islam (left) and BBC Asian Network presenter Bobby Friction (centre)

2015 also witnessed a memorable ICC Cricket World Cup, particularly for Bangladesh who reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time. Unfortunately for England it was a tournament to forget, as they failed to qualify from their group.

In March, I ventured to the West Midlands to appear on a live BBC Asian Network show. I was on the Bobby Friction show and represented Team Bangladesh in a cricket quiz! It was great fun and we did pretty well – scoring 9/10! Many thanks to the production team and Bobby for having me. Shaf Islam was a top team-mate as well! You can listen to our performance (and all the banter) through the audio clip below:


Ramadan Roundup 4 was nominated for the 2015 Limelight Film Awards
Ramadan Roundup 4 was nominated for the 2015 Limelight Film Awards

It was a great year for Ramadan Roundup, as the latest episode of the series was nominated for a national film award. I attended this year’s Limelight Film Awards in June. Unfortunately, Ramadan Roundup 4 didn’t win the award but it was very humbling to have been shortlisted. News of the nomination was covered on local radio station Cambridge 105, newspapers East London News, London Bangla and Cambridge News, and on television through Islam Channel. You can watch our Ramadan Roundup interview with Raza Amode and myself right here:

Once again, a massive thank you to everyone for your support and to those who have contributed to the series. Unfortunately my plans for producing Ramadan Roundup 5 this year did not go ahead as I had hoped. Having said that, the episode is still in pre-production and I hope to continue working on it next year. God willing.

On the other hand, I can confirm that I have just started to film Ramadan Roundup 4.5, a mini-episode that is linked to Ramadan Roundup 4 but leads on to Ramadan Roundup 5. More news to come very soon, but do keep your eyes peeled on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for more updates! The adventure continues…

Ramadan Roundup 4.5 is in production...
Ramadan Roundup 4.5 is in production…

Ibrahim was a contributor to the BBC's Ramadan in a Day project
Ibrahim was a contributor to the BBC’s Ramadan in a Day project

In July, I was one of the contributors for the Ramadan in a Day project, a BBC Taster experiment delivered in partnership with BBC Asian Network. The project set out to capture a day of life during Ramadan, giving people the chance to tell their own stories through social media. I appeared in a series of videos that you can still watch on the BBC Asian Network YouTube channel. Check out one of the clips right here:


Ibrahim at the Asian Media Awards 2015
Ibrahim at the Asian Media Awards 2015

In September, I was shortlisted as a finalist in the Regional Journalist of the Year category at the Asian Media Awards 2015. I attended the official shortlist announcement at the ITV Studios in London, before making the very long trip to the Hilton Manchester Deansgate for the main showpiece in October. Unfortunately I missed out on the award, but I was really humbled to have been chosen as a finalist under a brand-new category at this year’s awards. It was a fantastic occasion.

Ibrahim's Profile - page 53 of the Asian Media Awards 2015 brochure
Ibrahim’s profile was listed in the Asian Media Awards 2015 brochure

And there you have it. My biggest moments in 2015 in a nutshell. Now, I’m going to sit in front of my clock and stare at it until it strikes twelve. Analogue or digital you ask? Don’t bother asking, that’s a very boring thing to do. Also time-consuming. Go ahead and laugh, you know that was funny…

As 2015 draws to a close, I shall leave you with this quote:

“The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you will remember and appreciate the journey.”

This year has been thrilling and memorable. A massive thank you to all of you for your support and kindness. I wrote in my last annual review hoping this year would be a great year for you all, and I really hope it has been.

Thank you for following my adventures this year. Let’s see what happens in 2016. Let the journey continue.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!