Personal Column: A nice English girl like me wasn't meant to date a Bangladeshi

Pamela Uddin and her husband Shafiq were one of the first mixed-race couples on Brick Lane
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The Independent Online

I met Shafiq when I was 15. I was at boarding school in Brighton and was back home on holiday. We lived near Brick Lane in the East End. A friend and I went to the Wimpy in Aldgate. Shafiq was the chef - he'd emigrated from Bangladesh a few years earlier. It was his looks that attracted me to him, in particular his hair. He had mobs and mobs of jet-black hair.

I gave our order and the assistant repeated it to Shafiq. He said he'd make them special. He brought the food to our table himself and there were loads of extra onions and two burgers in each bun instead of one.

There were three days before I had to go back to school. I went back to the Wimpy on my last day and we talked for the first time. I told him I only came back for school holidays and he said, 'Next time you come back pop in.' I did a few months later and he asked me out. Our first date was to an Asian cinema and we went to see a love story. I was the only white person there and we did get a lot of looks, but not in a bad way. They were just surprised. I wore a top and trousers, but afterwards I bought some salwar kameez, because I'd seen some of the Asian girls looking really nice in them. He was very happy that I wore them.

I told my parents about us. My mum was fine, but my dad wasn't too happy at the beginning. He said I was too young to be seeing someone. But then he changed his mind. When I was 12, my sister had married a man from the same district of Bangladesh that Shafiq comes from. My mum was OK about it, but my dad didn't want her to go out with an Asian boy at first. Then he accepted it, and it was easier for me to do the same as she had. I had friends who lived in my block who were also attracted to the Asians. They were so smart, nice looking, well dressed and well spoken.

But while some found them attractive, a lot of them said to me: "Why are you going out with a Paki?" I had a lot of jibes and bad looks. A lot of the girls didn't want to speak to me. I also got remarks from English boys. A lot of them called me a "Paki-lover" and nasty things like that.

On my 16th birthday, Shafiq gave me an engagement ring. It was so beautiful - it was a twist with a ruby. I was still at school and my mum said that I was too young. So he came round and spoke to my parents and explained that we would wait a couple of years before we married. Dad said "OK then".

We got married in Hackney Town Hall in 1965 when I was 19. I wore blue silk and Shafiq wore a grey suit. We had a reception in the house and then went to a pub for another get-together. My husband said we should get married under Asian law as well and I agreed, so we had a ceremony in the house with the mullah from the local mosque. We went to Margate for our honeymoon and stayed in a bed and breakfast for three or four days. It was lovely in those days.

Four months later, I went with my husband to visit his family in Bangladesh for six weeks. I was treated like a queen. They just accepted me and looked after me so well and respected me so much. I couldn't speak the language at the time, but later I went to classes and I can speak and read it now. We speak English in the home though. It's been so exciting learning about my husband's culture. We've been back to Bangladesh about five times. I love it. We've got a lovely house there.

I became a Muslim before we started a family. My husband wanted the children to be religious, I was Church of England and didn't mind converting. I had the ceremony at home with the mullah. My husband isn't a very strict Muslim. I don't wear a scarf. The only thing I do is not bring pork into the house and buy halal meat. I only go to the mosque on special occasions, like at Eid.

We went on to have six children, who are now aged from 33 to 22. I didn't expect to have so many, but it's been lovely. I've got eight grandchildren.

We've encountered racism a few times. Just after the wedding, we went to see friends in King's Cross and were walking down the street when a group of boys came up and started abusing us. They then began hitting my husband. I'd had people give us dirty looks. But that all stopped a long time ago.

We've been married for 38 years. I love my husband so much because he's a gentleman, he's kind, he's a wonderful father and he's respected by everybody. I love him to bits. He's my rock. To me, he's one in a million.

Pamela and Shafiq's story is featured in the documentary 'Brick Lane', broadcast at 9.10pm on BBC2 on Saturday. Pamela Uddin was talking to Julia Stuart

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