When considering family life in relation to Faizur Rasul’s autobiography, one could conclude that it family is vitally important to the text, but also that it has little effect on Rasul’s own life. He is apart from his family for the vast majority of the text, with only a small portion of the narrative devoted to his early years he spent with them. It might not be with his own kin, but family (in a slightly broader sense) never seems to be far away from Rasul. His first job is as a domestic in a London mosque and though not technically a family it behaves and feels like one. One of the key beliefs in Islam is ummah, which translates to community or brotherhood, and since Rasul has no family of his own in England, ummah is a natural replacement. The experience he gains at the mosque he uses to work for individual families, and he tracks down Bernard Shaw’s house in order to offer his services to their family too. (The National Trust opens Shaw’s house for visitations, click here to find out more).
Rasul then offers a unique insight in to the lives of families other than his own, he is both part of them and apart from them. He builds a close relationship with Mrs Norbury whom he works with at the mosque, to the extent to that “[h]er husband had told me [Rasul] many a time that he didn’t mind my going and keeping his wife company” (116). The fact that he had to be told many times shows both his awareness and caution when approaching ‘Englishness’ (“these were the questions one had to find out gradually … like and Englishman” (116). Rasul, who is always so aware of etiquette and cultural norms, does not wish to come off as ignorant, and so after making quite sure that no more red ribbon stands in his way he obliges the Norbury’s in holding their company.
Considering how detailed the passages with the Norbury’s are, it is hard to ignore the passivity when Rasul talks of his own family back in West Bengal. It has been mentioned in an earlier post that he is from a well-respected family. He is also treated well by his family, his father looks out for him by trying to find him a wife, and also provides him with the funds necessary to set up his own shoe shop in his home town. Why then, are the sections on his own family so vague, and more often than not the speech reported rather than direct? Perhaps it is more difficult to remember, and this style reflects a fading memory. The answer lies in the very first few pages. Rasul was a bit of a black sheep, he was a self-declared
“problem for my family” (10). This feeling of not fitting in manifests itself when he runs away to Delhi, and eventually of course to England. The way Rasul speaks of his family also offers a clue: “it was decided then that a job had to be found for me” (10). Mixed emotions can be drawn out of this sentence; on the one hand, they are looking out for him and trying to provide him with a stable life, but on the other it shows a complete absence of Rasul’s own decision making. “[I]t was decided then” insinuates that he had little say in it, and also that it was final and he had no choice.
Rasul ends the book with a final chapter summarising what has happened since The Second World War where he wishes to end his autobiography but is spurred on by his editor. This is a period of twenty-two years, and at no point does he mention his family in this final chapter. Instead he talks of religion and of God, as well as global politics. Echoing his first arrival in England, religion appears to have filled the void that family has left behind. There is a sadness to this revelation though; it is always a shame when someone cuts off themselves from family. Perhaps Rasul feels that his extensive writing on family life, whether it be his own or with others, previously in the text carries enough weight for it to be omitted from the final conclusion.
Rasul, Faizur. From Bengal to Birmingham. (London: Andre Deutsch, 1967)
Shaw’s Corner. Image. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/shaws-corner