A glimpse into my life growing up as a British Pakistani – #SouthAsianHeritageMonth


by Farhat Mahmood

I was born in a little village in Azad Kashmir and came to a foggy England at the age of 5 in November and was completely bewildered by the loss of sunshine, heat and light and it was something that took me a long time to understand. However, I soon started school and mosque and started on my journey of seeking knowledge encouraged by my parents and teachers. 

The genuine interest I had for ‘knowing things’ has not diminished and I now find myself animatedly answering questions for my kids in a detail that makes them roll their eyes at me and ask me to stop, regularly. My parents always ingrained in us the idea of service to others and indeed used to regularly help elderly neighbours. One of these neighbours rang the local newspaper telling them about how much he appreciated the meals we delivered weekly. The paper did a piece on us featuring the picture below. 

Even today at the age of 68 my parents were until recently helping their elderly neighbours with meals and general help. At the age of twenty I had an arranged marriage to a man the complete opposite of me but who encouraged and supported my learning journey and saw me through a Degree and Masters with patience and kindness. Along the way I have learned some important lessons. Namely that for me loss has often become a driver to success as it has galvanised my resolve. 

Photo of Farhat as a young child with her family shared in a local newspaper 35 years ago.

I came to my undergraduate and postgraduate study later in life and genuinely and in all seriousness worried that I was too old at thirty to go back to study! However, I learned very quickly that the only person bothered about my age was me. The friends I made whilst studying never limited me in the way that I had been limiting myself.

My studies have led me to working in Research for the last 10 years in various roles and surprisingly one of the things that has stood me in good stead has been my ability to speak several languages from the Indian subcontinent. I used to hate being made to speak only Punjabi and Urdu at home with my parents, but they always asserted that I would learn English no matter what but may forever lose these other languages without a concerted effort to keep them alive in my daily life. How right they were as one of the things that has helped me in my career has been the ability to communicate effectively with the South Asian community. I love working in research as it fulfils my desire to know things and I love being at the start of the journey of bringing about change.

This blog was written by Farhat Mahmood, Research Fellow in the Older People with Frailty theme at the Yorkshire and Humber ARC, as part of South Asian Heritage Month 2023.

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