Twelve years ago this weekend my father Mohammed Manzoor suffered the heart attack that would take his
life seven days later. My father died only days before my 24th birthday when I (Sarfraz Manzoor; also see footnote) was still too young,
immature and self-absorbed to know anything about his life or what he had endured.
I was two years old when we arrived in 1974 and settled in Luton. My father worked at the Vauxhall car
factory while my mother stayed at home making dresses and raising her children. That decision to come
to Britain was the biggest factor in allowing me to have the life I now have.
The other decision that changed my life was in the autumn of 1979 when my parents moved from the Asian
district of Bury Park to the Marsh Farm estate, which was largely white. In Bury Park my entire world was
populated by Pakistanis. The children I went to school with, the friends who came to our home were all
Pakistanis; I lived in a Pakistani bubble where the outside world only entered through radio and
When I moved to Marsh Farm I was suddenly confronted by a classroom full of white boys and girls; this
impacted on how I spoke, what I talked about, but even more importantly it affected what I thought life
could offer. Sometimes, when the two worlds of home and school collided, this clash could be deeply
I wanted the same things as my white friends, the holidays, the parties, the freedom – all unavailable –
and yet just by rubbing up alongside others who were not all Pakistani I had a sense of a world beyond
Had I remained in Bury Park how might things have been different? Would I have become a Muslim radical
like some from my home town? I doubt it, but it is possible my parents would have sent me for nightly
Koran classes rather than teaching me at home.
That would have affected my time to study for my school lessons, which would have impacted on my exam
results. My friends would have all been Pakistanis and made me more confident in my Pakistani Muslim –
rather than British – identity. It would have also meant I could have remained inside a hermetically
sealed environment where everyone had the same cultural values and expectations.
These days Luton, like so many other towns and cities across Britain, has de facto segregated schooling.
When I recently revisited my infant school I was surprised to see hardly any white faces among the Asians.
Bury Park is a wonderfully vibrant community with some of the best places to eat in Luton, but it saddens
me to think that the young British Pakistanis growing up there will be growing up surrounded only by
other British Pakistanis.
Such segregation does not necessarily breed religious extremism but rather it helps enforce the sense
that it is possible to live in this country and yet be apart. And Bury Park is far from the only place
where schools have become segregated, through a combination of Asian families living in ghettos and the
flight of white families. In Tower Hamlets, east London, 17 primary schools have more than 90%
Bangladeshi pupils. In Oldham, five schools are to be shut and replaced by two city academies to
ensure a more even racial mix.
Last week David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, suggested that all city academies be allowed
to select by race. It sounds drastic but I applaud the courage to think boldly. The present situation
should give anyone who cares about this country cause for alarm. In such circumstances perhaps such
actions are the only way to ensure there is more diversity in schools.
But it’s not just about politics or radicalism, it’s about being part of things, embracing the culture
in a positive way. If I had remained in an largely Asian area my cultural consumption would most likely
have been Bollywood (1) and bhangra(2); living in a less segregated community meant I was exposed and grew to
appreciate the films and music that would later inspire me to become a writer.
The music of Bruce Springsteen, the films of Woody Allen; would they have still reached out and touched
my life had I stayed among only Asians?
Source: The Sunday Times of June 3, 2007
(1) Bollywood = Bollywood is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based Hindi-language film
industry in India. The term is often incorrectly used to refer to the whole of Indian cinema.
(2) bhangra = Today the word bhangra is associated in the UK with the style of dance pop music derived
in the United Kingdom. Also an Indian folk dance.
1. What were the two momentous decisions that changed Sarfraz Manzoor's life dramatically?
2. What are the differences between the two Luton districts of Bury Park and Marsh Farm and how did
Manzoor's move to Marsh Farm change his life?
3. What is S. Manzoor's opinion on segregated and mixed schools respectively?
4. If S. Manzoor had not moved to Marsh Farm, what would have become of him?
Sarfraz Manzoor was two years old when he arrived in Britain in 1974 with his mother, brother and sister.
The family came to join their father- who had left Pakistan a decade earlier seeking a better life for his
family- and settled in the Bury Park neighbourhood of Luton.
Sarfraz’s father worked on the production line at Vauxhall while his mother worked at home as a
seamstress. Sarfraz’s teenage years were a constant battle in reconciling being both British and
Muslim and, frustrated by real life Sarfraz sought solace by escaping into the fantasies offered
by television and music. Music quickly became a passion but it was not until he was sixteen that his
best friend introduced him to the music of a man that would change his life changed forever.
In his perceptive, affectionate and timely memoir Sarfraz Manzoor retraces his journey from Lahore to
Luton to Ladbroke Grove. Set against the turbulent backdrop of a changing Britain and spanning three
decades this is how it feels to not quite belong. Greetings from Bury Park (see bottom) illuminates the hidden joys
and public agonies of being a Pakistani Muslim. Original, darkly tender and wryly amusing, the book is
an inspiring tribute to the power of music to transcend race and religion - and a touching salute of
thanks from one working-class Pakistani Muslim boy to the father who died too soon for his son to make