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Aga Rais Mirza, Printer

September 9, 2014
by the gentle author

This remarkable interview and set of pictures of Aga Rais Mirza, who spent his first years in Britain living in Spitalfields, were supplied to me courtesy of the oral history research project currently being undertaken under the umbrella of Everyday Muslim

Aga Rais Mirza was born in 1938 in the Indian city of Jaipur and came to London at the age of twenty-two, on 24th of January 1960. He came to seek a better life and always intending to go back home, yet he never did. Like many of his generation, the date of his arrival was etched in his mind. Mr Mirza’s first landlord was in the print business and guided him towards a career in printing and helped him enroll at the London College of Printing in Kennington while, to earn a living, he worked evenings in a canteen at Victoria Station called Express Deli. Mr Mirza spent his working life as a printer.

“I finished my education in Pakistan and I thought, ‘I should go over there to acquire more knowledge, more education, and then I will come back to Pakistan again.’ So I came here basically for the education. I took a plane from Karachi and landed over at Heathrow. At that time every English face looked alike to me, I was very scared and I had limited money, and they charged me five guineas from the airport to Victoria Terminal. But when we came to Victoria Terminal, I saw his face – my friend’s face – then I felt quite relaxed.

He brought me to Shoreditch, where he was living in a small box room on the first floor. There were three bedrooms in the house and all the rooms were occupied by the tenants. I started living there – I was sleeping on the mattress and he would sleep on to the bed. Slowly and gradually, he started looking for a job for me.

I got my first job in Leyton E10 in a wire cable company. So I started working over there and then I looked for a house over there with more room. I got an unfurnished flat at 5 Princelet St, Aldgate.  I started living over there and it was quite big for me. I had a single bed. A friend of my friend contacted me who came from Punjab, he needed a place to live, so I invited to him to stay with me. He was in the tailoring business.

It was entirely different for me because before I was living with my parents and my family, here I was living on my own. I had to do everything that they used to do at home. Now I had to cook my food, I had to wash my clothes, and I had to do the shopping as well. So I did everything, while over there everything was shared by my sisters, by my brothers, by my parent. So it was very hard.

At that time, I used to write letters home. There was no telephone system and I did not have enough money to make telephone calls, so I used to write them letters – and letters used to take nearly two weeks. So, in a month’s time, I got a letter back.

When my wife came over, it was very difficult for her as well because the standard of living was very low and she was expecting something high in London. She was very pleased to tell her friends that she is going to London. When she came here, oh, it was a big big shock of her life! She was thinking I am living in Buckingham Palace but I was living in a very small house, in a very small flat, in Princelet St. It was a very low area then. There were not a lot of women living there and there were a lot of beggars, so whenever she used to walk on the street everyone was watching her, staring at her. So she got quite scared at the time.

I always kept the goal in my mind that in a few years of hard work we might be better off at home, in our own country.”

Aga Rais Mirza at the airport

Aga Rais Mirza at the laundrette

Aga Rais Mirza in Petticoat Lane in the sixties

Aga Rais Mirza’s friend in the churchyard of Christ Church, Spitalfields

Aga Rais Mirza worked nights at Victoria Station while studying printing

In the kitchen at Victoria Station

Aga Rais Mirza, squatting centre, with his class at London College of Printing in Kennington

Aga Rais Mirza at London College of Printing

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. September 9, 2014

    Is there more to come about his working life as a printer? The last few photos are especially interesting. Since pretty much all of this craft is gone now it would be good to have a record of what it was like from a personal perspective, and there is so little that has been recorded. He seems to have started work just as letterpress was being replaced by off-set printing, and his experiences of shop floor life at that time would be interesting to read.

  2. Hilary permalink
    September 9, 2014

    Really fascinating. What did he do next??

  3. Jean Bicknell permalink
    March 25, 2017

    Agha came to work for an Offset Litho printing agency in Regent Street where I was temporaries controller and he worked for us for many years. Agha was very popular with the permanent staff he worked with and in fact everyone he came into contact with. Unfortunately we had no work for him in his field but we did have print finishing work and he was with us for many years doing that. I stayed in contact with him once a year. A lovely man and an inspiration to all he came into contact with.

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