Mr Amarjit Singh Johl came to Highfields in 1964.
I am Haninder Johl, I am interviewing with Mr Amarjit Singh Johl 16/9/94.
What is your name, how old are you and where were you born?
My name is Amarjit Singh Johl, I am 52 years old. I was born in Punjab, (a northern state of India) in 1942, I came to the UK in 1964.
What type of family do you come from and what were you doing?
My family were farmers. We still own our hereditary land in the village where I was born. I graduated in 1963 from Punjab University.
What was your motive for coming to the UK, and what did you think of the UK? Why did you choose Highfields as your residence?
Everybody thought that England was a very prosperous country and very rich and progressive. I thought as I was educated, I would be able to get a good job and earn a lot of money and go back to settle in India. In those days agriculture was not a profitable business and educated people did not want to go into farming.
How did you think of coming to UK after graduating from Punjab University?
My close friend was in London, and we used to communicate on a regular basis. He encouraged me to come, otherwise, I would not have made my mind up. I always wanted to join the army. I was selected as a Lieutenant in the Indian Army in 1963.
Could you tell me in detail as to your feeling and impression of Highfields? What was your first place to live in Highfields?
My aunt was living in Mere Road, Highfields, so it was natural to call it home. Nobody else had a family. All other relatives were single people. Everything seemed organised and systematic, I was not able to distinguish good and bad areas in those days. My father was already living in Leicester. My father wanted my stay with my auntie so I wouldn't miss family life. Everybody used to do very hard work and long hours. Life was harsh and rough, I felt uneasy after seeing their lifestyle.
Where was your father living in those days?
He was living at East Park Road. He also owned another house at Mere Road which was rented to tenants. There were many people living at East Park Road.
How many people were living East Park Road?
I think about 10 people were living there. I was very upset to see this. There was no privacy and no facilities. I thought I wouldn't be able to live like that.
What was your impression of the people of Highfields?
Highfields was mostly inhabited by English and white people. The indigenous population was very helpful and sympathetic. If you had any difficulty, there was somebody to help you. It was a good time when you came from India everything looked nice and systematic. It was not overpopulated as it is now. It did not have a bad name either. Everything was peaceful.
How did you feel about the weather?
The weather in Punjab is extremely hot in the summer with freezing nights in winter, but you have sunshine during the day time. Here the winter is very dark, cold and gloomy. I did not like it at all.
Did you face any difficulties as far as language and communication was concerned?
I was a graduate, so I was familiar with English, I could speak and write good English. There was some difficulty with pronunciation, sometimes I could not understand properly. I was wondering about uneducated people who came from India, they must have faced many difficulties. If there is no communication and a language barrier, you feel they must be very brave to settle themselves in spite of the difficulty.
Where did you do the shopping etc?
We were very limited as a community, we used to dress and clothe as the English did. We used to go to town for clothes. The standard of shops was much higher than India. I used to like to dress properly. I liked good fashionable clothes. We used to buy groceries in the neighbourhood.
What was the standard and condition of houses. What was the price in those days?
There is very big difference of standards and facilities if you compare now. The standard was poor and basic. There were no facilities of today. A large majority of houses had very poor standards. Nowadays there are facilities of heating, carpets, freezers, TVs. But in those days only rich people had those things.
Did you have bath and heating facilities in your house?
There was no heating but there was a bath, we used to put a shilling (10p) in the metre and take a bath. We also used to have a coal fire. We never used it, nobody had the time to do this we used to go out for pictures at the weekend.
How long did you stay without family?
My wife joined me after a year and half. But it was a strange feeling being without them, because I came from a large extended family. Here we were all male adults who only had to do the work. Most of them were illiterate and uneducated. I had very little in common with them. We had a different level of mental and psychological thinking, we used to live together and go out together. There were no means of entertainment. I used to keep busy at work.
Why did you not go back?
It is a very big question and it is very difficult to answer to any Indian again.
Would you tell me about your daily life in those days. What sort of work you were doing and how many hours?
It was manual and factory work. It was degrading and hard work for me. I was not prepared for this kind of work. We were given only this type of work and employment. It was hard work and low paid. We used to do twelve hours a day and also Saturday morning. We used to earn twelve to thirteen pounds a week. I never dreamt of this kind of work, I did not want to go back because of pride and dignity. Then my wife joined me and we used to share our feelings and daily experience. This was a source of relief and comfort, life went on in a routine.
What was your first job in England?
My first job was in a factory on Gwendolen Road, then as a bus conductor in the Leicester City Transport. In the factory, working conditions were very poor, it was an engineering factory. They were producing spare parts for diesel engines. The work was hard and I was young and strong. I did not mind hard work but the racial discrimination was very painful and hurtful. Many immigrants did not understand the taunts, it was a different kind of discrimination in those days. It is different nowadays.
How did you entertain at the weekend and holidays?
It was customary to go to the pub after working hours. At the weekends we would go to the Indian pictures and enjoy ourselves. There was no other source of entertainment. There was a psychological and mental vacuum which was lacking. I used to keep myself busy at work so I did not have time to think. It was a hard time. At times it was unbearable.
Which picture house you used to go? Was there a cinema in Highfields?
There was a couple of cinemas in the area. There was a picture house in Highfields on Melbourne Road. The Indian film society used to rent it for weekend pictures. People used to look forward to see the film next weekend. We use to go to see Indian films. I used to miss Indian music and songs.
How do you see the change where you used to live?
It is beyond recognition, everything has changed. There were lots of small corner shops in the area. There were no Indian shops. All the shops were owned by English people. The shops used to cater for all the needs in the area, there were a milk dairy on 254 Mere Road, which has been converted into Leicester Family Housing Association. There is a vast change in the area. There was an electric shops opposite the dairy. A meat shop on the next corner and grocery shop. It was a very community based system. People in the area knew each other and shops had regular customers. The service was very good, it has changed altogether. It is very commercialised.
What did you think of British police as compared to Indian police in those days?
My general observation was the police was helpful and honest. They looked very professional. I had no dealing with the police but my impression of them was good. We could not compare it with Indian Police.
What did you think of children of Highfields in those days?
The Highfields area was no different from other good areas. It was not overpopulated as it is now. It was a well respected area, children were well behaved and any type of vandalism or hooliganism was not special in this area. People greeted each other in those days. The children were really well mannered. Now the streets are overpopulated.
How did you go to work?
My work place was not far. I used to walk to the factory.
Did you have your own transport?
My father owned a Ford van. There were an English man in our street who had a car. There were very few motor cars on East Park Road. There were no cars in the streets. Having a car was considered a luxury. Everybody used to go on the public transport.
Were you aware of the social security system?
I was aware of the service but I never used the service to claim. I used to go to interpret or help someone. I knew it is an essential service to help the employed and the people in need.
Where there any places of religious worship?
There was no established places. People of different faiths used to hire a school building on Sundays. Things have changed. Hindus have temples, Sikhs have Gurdwaras and Moslems have Mosques. I could not think of such a change. Some people used to think we must have a place of worship, many used to go to India to perform a religious ceremony. Still many did not bother about religion at all. Everybody thinks individually. Anyway it was a great act to establish your own religious places.
Were there any fairs in those days in Spinney Hill Park?
No. There was no such a thing in those days. All these things have come with Asian immigrants. Religion and culture are now here. There were no religious processions at all. The celebrations were limited.
What do you think of racial riots in those days?
Asian people used to work hard and were not involved in any politics. English people did not bother much. But still the hatred was there. Asian people were isolated, racial tension has increased because the population is increasing. I was a very private person. There was no such problem in Highfields area.
What changes do you see in the Highfields area today?
The change is tremendous. There were small corner shops. There was a small crowd. It was a working class area. There was peace and quiet. It is very overpopulated and crowded now. There were small shops in the Charnwood Street. It was like an Indian bazaar. They have been demolished. The shopkeepers moved to other areas such as Hartington Road or Green Lane Road. The standard of houses is very high now. The houses have been renovated with local government grants. There are all facilities such as toilets, showers, baths. There is improvement all round, such as outside of houses, streets and footpaths. The general appearance has changed but it has lost its peacefulness.
What changes do you see around your house now?
There were a lot of shops in Biddulph Street near my house. There was all kinds of shops such as a chemist, butcher, green grocer, etc. There was a pub near us. Everybody was given a drink at this pub who came from India. It was very popular place to go for drink. It was the first pub I went to when I came to the UK. Asian people were hospitable and I was entertained with many pints of beer. Now the pub has closed.
The streets are for one-way traffic. Highfields has a bad name and you try to avoid walking in the streets. There was no such hassle in those days. I remember walking proudly in the streets of Highfields.
Do you mean you felt safe in Highfields?
It was safe like any other good respectable area. We never experienced any intimidation. There was a red light street Nedham Street. It consisted of a only tiny area but it was very limited. In general, it was a respectable and safe place to live.
What did you think of the general public? Were they honest?
People were very honest. It has disappeared now. We used to leave the money outside for the milkman, nowadays it is like a dream.
Would you like to live in the Highfields area now?
It had improved physically, Leicester City Council has been giving grants to give all the facilities in the area. The roads and streets are improved. Most of the money is having spent in the area to provide community centres etc. I think these are politically motivated decisions. I personally would not like to live in this area. It has lost the peace and safety aspect. It is overcrowded and overpopulated. There is much traffic in the streets. It is a multicultural society. It is covered by Asian people. I want to see it distributed but do not approve of concentrated population of one community. We learn from each other. There are good and bad points in every society and culture. It has a bad name now, and I would not like to live here. The general environment has become very rough and unorganised. The driving is rough, and you do not feel safe. There is an excess of everything in this area. The government is spending a lot of money but still it will not change the peoples' attitude. The police do not bother to impose restrictions. Everyone takes the law in their own hands.
Were there any Asian organisations on any associations in Highfields?
Indian Workers' Association was the first organisation in this area. It has been doing a lot of good work for the people there is a Highfields library which has a large stock of Asian books (not before). Before, there were no Asian books in Asian languages. There are all sorts of facilities such as a community centre, library, good shops, in spite of all this I do not wish to live in the area.