For nearly all of Faizur Rasul’s autobiography, he is primarily concerned with everything but himself, or in his own words, he has “been chiefly concerned in this book with outward events” (194), and in the final chapter he turns to what his “belief about the world around us now is” (194). Up until this point, Rasul’s life appears almost journalistic in his honest recount. It is unmotivated for a long while, with him starting at the beginning of his life, meticulously sharing what he thinks are interesting points, as if he is providing a service. This is unsurprising, owing to the fact that he spent a large portion of his life working as a domestic worker, be it providing meals for guests, or acting as a cleaner.
And, as always, I am trying my hand at a new profession, going in for this writing business. (194)
That is not to say that it is in any way boring. Rasul’s life, all the way from Bengal to Birmingham, is interspersed with intriguing characters that he portrays in an honest and endearing light, his respect for others shining through. Regina Gagnier writes that “[m]ost working class biographies begin with not a family lineage or a birthdate, but rather with an apology for the authors’ ordinariness” (1987). This is not necessarily true of Rasul, as his family “were the gentry in our locality” (10). However through the generations the inheritance had been split several times so that his father’s inheritance “was barely enough on which to bring up his ten children” (9). Despite their lack of wealth, the Rasul family name obviously still holds respect. Should this situation be echoed in England, one would feel that they would not garner similar sympathies, with the English class system being fickly based more on material wealth than respect.
Understanding and analysing Rasul’s life offers more clues as to the reasoning behind writing an auto-biography than his own brief couple of sentences do. His love for reading, instigated by boredom but driven on by socialism and passion, no doubt contributes to why he turned his hand to writing, even if he does not explicitly say so. Rasul describes Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells as his “two mentors […] whose devoted dog I [Rasul] had been for half a lifetime” (196). There seems to be a shred of regret in his tone here with the domesticated animal imagery; his position as a writer and creator, rather than a reader and consumer, allowing his newly elevated position, insinuating that he is no longer a “devoted dog”.
Other than himself, the only driving force apparent behind Rasul’s work is presumably his publisher, who is hinted at in the final chapter, where he has “been asked to tell what has happened” (194) since The Second World War. The fact that he would have ended the text there if not for this external influence reveals more of Rasul’s intended purpose for his book. He has selected parts of his own life that he deems interesting and worthy to share, making it clear that whatever happens after World War Two he does not necessarily deem worthy. From Bengal to Birmingham is an autobiography written with what I would identify as two purposes: Rasul’s desire to write and become a writer, and his willingness to be a raconteur, to share a good old story.
Rasul, Faizur. From Bengal to Birmingham, 1967. Andre Deutsch (London: 1967).