Faizur Rasul travels to England aboard the SS Rawalpindi, and in true Rasul style he manages to do so without spending a penny. This is the sort of journey that is made only by those who can afford it, along with their servants, making Rasul somewhat an anomaly. He can offer a unique insight in to the underbelly of the ship, which must have rarely been documented before. On the ship the divisions in class are felt even more so, as each group, or type, of passenger or worker has to be divided up accordingly. As soon Rasul steps on the ship he is shown “the place where the servants spend their time during the day” (76), for he is mistaken to be a servant, and informed that the female servants sleep elsewhere. “There were two sets of lascars” aboard the ship too, “[b]oth groups were Muslims, but they had separate kitchen arrangements because one group were rice-eaters, and the other, bread eaters” (77). The ship was a melting pot of all different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, yet rather than having them mixed together, they have been methodically dissected and placed in various spaces on the ship.
The journey is one of the few points in the book where Rasul is intimidated by class. This can be seen when he is walking through the ship, looking at the “dazzling lights everywhere, the sahibs in dinner-jackets, mem-sahibs in evening gowns showing slabs of their back and bare, white arms dangling, little masters in sailor suits, junior misses in frilled frocks, and smartly dressed ship’s officers and stewards” (78). It is clear it is not just the lights Rasul is dazzled by. What stands out to him is their clothes, the dinner-jackets and evening gowns existing as class symbols that he can barely rival, the smartly dressed sailors intimidating him with their status. Today, travel still retains its divisible nature. Take planes for example with their ‘economy class’, ‘business class’, and ‘first class, how the curtains make sure the classes cannot even look at each other, the perfect instance of capitalism physically dividing a society by class. The only thing that has changed is not calling them “masters” and “servants”.
Rasul’s first feeling upon arrival in England are of fear and doubt. He spots two police officers after he gets off a train and hid from them, “thinking they would grab me” 82). Understandable, especially considering his complete lack of planning of what to do, where to go or even anybody to meet once he got to London. Considering all that, it is probably somewhat of an under-reaction.
Finally Rasul decides he wants to visit the mosque, somewhere he could feel at home by being with other Muslims. He finds his way to the Shah Jahan mosque, the first purpose built mosque in England, where he acquires work and lodging. Many migrants undergo a similar routine, once they arrive, they wish to find others who have made the same journey, leading to socially segregated areas. For instance in Sheffield, the Sharrow and Burngreave areas house many migrants, mostly Southern Asians like Rasul.
After he has adjusted, Rasul no longer feels the pull of fellow Muslims, and is happy to leave on a holiday by himself hiking near London. He embraces England, and whilst he was writing his book he ran “an Advice Bureau for immigrants” (194). The masses of experience he has gained whilst being in England he has turned in to a profession, a move requiring ingenuity. It could be argued the ingenuity is one of the most important aspects of finding a new way of life in a new country, and Rasul appears to have an abundance of it.
Rasul, Faizur. From Bengal to Birmingham. (London: Andre Deutsch, 1967)