Firoz was born in India, in 1926, though England has been her home for many years. While over here in London, many years ago, taking a course in journalism, she had met the man who would be her husband and, despite her family being Muslim and his being Hindu, they had decided to marry. This was the 1950s, and from that time on London was their home. Even now, as a widow, age 77, having lost her husband to a heart attack several years ago, Firoz still lives in London in the home they had shared.
Coming from a well-to-do family, Firoz had attended university as a young woman in India, achieving an MA in Indian Literature at Lucknow University. Once married and settled in England she began working towards her PhD at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and her husband towards his law degree, both of them working when they could to keep them going financially. Their only child - a son - was born during this time. Firoz admits it was a difficult time, having to deal with all these demands on her time. Eventually, her dissertation on Sashar (Ratan Nath Dar), an Urdu writer, was finished and she found work teaching in a school.
In 1964, after thirteen years away, Firoz and her family returned to India. Firoz became the headmistress of a new school for girls in Calcutta that she had helped found. Classes were taught in English, rather than Hindi or Bengali, resulting in the school becoming very popular at that time. She left her position there when she and her husband moved to Kanpur, and after about four years abroad they decided to return to England to live.
Although Moslem by birth, and quite religious up to the age of thirteen or so, to the disappointment of her mother she had become a non-believer. Although she considers herself to be an atheist and is not a member of any religion, Firoz and her husband and son began to celebrate Christmas in this country once introduced to it by a friend, and the tradition is now continued for the benefit of their granddaughter.
She sees her non-religious status as being compatible with other aspects of her identity, such as Marxism and socialism, feminism, and her pacifist values. She says now, at age seventy-seven, she feels free of many of the responsibilities she had when younger, and except for her health, just as capable and looking forward to doing more writing.
By the time Firoz reached age sixty-two she was ready to retire. I
wondered if this were related to the ongoing problems she and other
Asian teachers had, that Firoz had mentioned to me, who remained
at a lower level in their career while their white counterparts were
being given promotions. Her plan, following retirement, was to do
more writing for women and translating of her stories. She speaks
several Indian languages and has written fiction as well as having
published her book, Lucknow and the World of Sashar (1992). When
she did retire, besides keeping on with her writing she became active
within AWAG, the Asian Women's Action Group, and for three years
was also editor of the magazine Jumbish-I-Nau (a literary journal for
women, in both English and Urdu), published in London.
Over the last few years Firoz's health has deteriorated. Among other
things she had a stroke which affected her mobility, limiting her day-to-
day activities. Unable to carry on with her literary activities to the extent she used to, and wanting something more to do outside the home, she now attends a centre in her community two days a week. Here, she can mix with other women (mostly) and men who share an Indian heritage, and enjoy Indian food prepared for their lunch. Not all of them speak English, Firoz explained to me, as some of them had been housewives for much of their lives or had had no experience of attending a British school or meeting other people.
It was while on a trip to America, several years ago, that her husband died suddenly of a heart attack. They had gone over together, to visit relations, but it was her son who went and brought her home to England again. Like most marriages, there were hard times, but their marriage had survived. She is lucky, she says, that she has her son and his wife close at hand to help look after her now, as she grows older. One by one her friends are leaving, and she thinks about her own time coming to an end. Since she has no religious beliefs, she sees death as simply being the end - her existence coming to an end. She says she will be sorry, when she dies, to leave her granddaughter, whom she loves very much.
At this time in her life her granddaughter is very important to her. "She brings happiness to me," Firoz says, laughing as she describes to me how she takes makeup from her collection and tries to make her grandmother's face look beautiful, and she says, "so I let her do that, you know."
Something that affected Firoz greatly in her life was seeing her country divided into two - "in front of her," she says - "a calamity . . . many people died." In 1947, following a period of much violence and destruction, the partition of India, by which India and Pakistan became separate, came into effect. Much has changed, but she does not believe that either country has gained from it.
Looking back, as well as seeing how being Indian has influenced her life she says she was lucky she had no brothers so that her parents were more encouraging of her and her sisters than they might have been, in the area of education. She says they were ahead of their time in taking this attitude. She has two younger sisters, both married, and both of whom attended university, one living in India, the other in Pakistan. They are both religious, Firoze says, one main difference between them, although they still keep in touch with one another.
When I left her, Firoz was thinking about her plans for the following day, when she would be attending the University of the Third Age for the first time.
Firoz died, age 79, in the summer of 2005.