Shahida Azad (Mina)

Shahida Azad was born in 1955 in Sunamganj, Sylhet. She came to the UK in 1972 with her husband at age eighteen and settled in Whitechapel several months after her arrival. Mrs Azad started writing from a very young age and had her poetry published in local and national newspaper in East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh). She continued to write after moving to Britain, however took a break after the birth of her children and due to work commitment. Mrs Azad spent 27 years working with various projects at a primary school in Tower Hamlets. Although she has never been interested in publishing her work, her husband - her biggest fan, published an anthology of her poems in 1985 and recently 2 of her books have been published in Bangladesh by her younger sister’s husband.

Listen: Mrs Azad talking about her background, poetry writing and early years in East London (translation transcription below)
Listen: Mrs Azad reading 'Unnissho Bahattor Shale' - A poem about her first moment in London at the Heathrow Airport (English translation below)
Listen: Mrs Azad reading 'Surma Par' - A poem about reminiscing about river Surma while sitting by the Thames. (English translation below)

"My name is Shahida Azad. I came in this country in 13th November 1972. I came from a big family and we are ten brothers and sisters. When I first landed at Heathrow airport, that time was very interested for me because I didn’t know how to speak English and the only English words I knew were yes and no. At that time we did not have any opportunity to learn English in Bangladesh, because there was only one English subject. Also I was amazed to see the people from different race and colour, and different coloured lights at the airport, which I didn’t see in Bangladesh. 
I came from a small town in Bangladesh called “Sunamganj” and there was no electricity there at that time. I didn’t know what to do at the airport, so I followed the other Bengali people there and I was very pleased with the people from this country and their behaviour. My husband used to live in North Wales, there was only one Bengali restaurant, which was my husband’s, and there wasn’t any other Bengali people living there. Then I was only eighteen years old and I was not happy there, so I used to cry all the time. Because of that reason my husband left his business and moved from north Wales to Worcester. Although I met few Bengali families there, I didn’t like living there, so we moved to London. My husband was a good man and he did a lot for my happiness. But it was impossible for me to socialise with the other Bengali people in London, because their upbringing was different than mine.
When I was in Bangladesh I had a habit of writing and I used to write poems and rhymes for the local newspaper. In this country I first started writing when I was in hospital for some reason. I always carried two dictionaries with me, which were given to me by my father. These were Bengali to English, and English to Bengali dictionary. I couldn’t speak English and so I used them to understand the meaning of the words when needed, and it helped me to improve my English. At that time I wrote a story called Thirteen days in hospital. I wrote other stories as well and I always write about the reality. I now work as the interpreter for the hospitals."

Surma Riverside

Time and again we come to meet
On some seashore.
Many appear to respond
To our call to come to this distant
- Probash 1–a foreign land.
Seated on the bank of rippling Thames,
And viewing it from any side,
It appears ...
We are sitting on the riverside of Surma2.

On the Surma boats floated away
In full monsoon singing saari3 songs

There is no saari singing on the Thames,
Small dinghies float on its waters,
Rhythmically with the waves.
That’s why it feels like today
We are sitting as if on Surma’s bank 

1. Porobash- a land or habitat or country outside one’s own. 
2. The main river of Sylhet in Bangladesh.
3. A genre of Bangla folk song.

Year ‘Seventy-two’ 

On a winter night of
Nineteen seventy-two
I had landed on
Heathrow Airport of London city;
Watching the red and blue lights,
My eyes gave me burning sensation.
I found later all lights are white.
Millions of lights.

People are White and Black
So much different are their manners;
“Welcome, Madam!”
The one who said this to me,
Was a white lady.
Enchanted, I looked at her.
Many a question came to my mind.
Why did she say to me:
“Welcome, Madam!”

Handing me the ‘Green book’1,
She then said, “Thank you!”
Smilingly glancing at me.

I recall this often.

1. Passport of Bangladesh