Meet Aunty Razia, Bradford's 'first lady tailor' and Asian Standard's new columnist

Asian Standard’s new columnist will be offering ‘old school’ views on modern life. She talks to John Blow about moving across continents to live in new lands in her formative years.

Razia Bibi in her younger years.

Razia Bibi’s long life includes memories of moving continents in times of political upheaval, movie star encounters and starting from scratch in a dark, unfamiliar land.

So if the old saying is true that everyone has a book in them, it’s fair to say she has a few column inches to offer at least.

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Razia Bibi talking to Asian Standard editor Fatima Patel. Picture: James Hardisty.

Writing as Aunty Razia, she has already started her “no-holds-barred” opinion pieces, which will explore issues such as divorce and stigmas around mental health, how technology is impacting communication and community, the “erosion of respect within family life” and the emergence of a “lost generation”.

Like many first generation South Asian women of her era, Razia has a rich life story but feels many of these go untold and, as time ticks by, there are fewer people around to ensure those parts of history are kept alive.

“The women of my generation went through many struggles and as a result of this we gained a lot of knowledge and life experience”, she says.

“Yet there is now a danger that we are becoming a forgotten generation and much of our way of thinking may be lost along the way.

“I feel strongly that our sacrifices and those of our grandparents and our parents should never be forgotten, as young people lose that sense of heritage and family history.

“I want to share these views and values with the wider community – they may or may not help and many people will no doubt disagree, but the important thing is to spark those, sometimes difficult, conversations.”

Razia, who has for many years lived in Bradford, speaks Punjabi, Urdu, Swahili, Gujarati and English.

Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather served in the British Army.

She says that the latter was a personal bodyguard to Queen Victoria, riding with her in her horse-towed carriage. Though she does not know his name, she can remember her grandmother showing her pictures of him during his service days.

Razia says that although she was not born here, that family history gives her a very strong feeling of British identity.

Born in Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1940s, Razia was just a small child when in 1947 the Partition of India took place, when British India was divided into India and Pakistan.

This sparked the start of her eventful life journey, travelling with her family to Kenya, where workers associated with the British Army were needed.

She got married aged 18 to a man in Kenya, where she stayed when her family returned home after the East African nation gained its own independence.

But she faced new struggles amid the stigma of mental health issues suffered by her husband, which eventually saw her cast out on the streets by his family and living rough with five children in tow.

Despite her ex-husband having a big family, she had to look after herself, she says.

She later found love and remarried, travelling to the UK with her children to be with her second husband Abdul Karim.

The next challenge was adjusting to life in the UK with its “cold, dark evenings”.

When she first came to Bradford, she did not like it.

Coming from the hot climate of colourful Kenya, the city’s darkness was not familiar to her and she remembers one occasion being aghast after walking back downstairs in their family home to see that it was already dark outside at 3pm.

But Razia stayed resilient and adjusted to the unfamiliar country, starting her own business to keep herself and her children in money.

She describes herself as the “first lady tailor” in Bradford.

Having spotted a gap in the market catering to women who found it difficult to find Asian dresses, she got hold of the fabrics needed for them and designed and made the garments herself, then went out door-to-door selling them to her customers.

She says: “I had no money. I said to myself, ‘I better do something’.

“So I started to work very slowly and bring cloth, material and cut and made dress, children’s dress, ladies’ dress. That way I saved money for myself and my children,” she says.

“Life is very hard.

“But if you spend your life [with an] idea and you do something slowly, slowly, step by step, everything is going ok.”

Still, it was a long way from her time in Kenya, where she lived in Mombasa.

Razia had even been friends with veteran Bollywood star Mumtaz, who suggested she go to India to become an actress.

She says that she also met the acting star Dilip Kumar, who died in July this year, adding that he advised her against becoming involved in the industry partly because she had children.

Due to her strength of character, Razia has also earned the nickname Razia Sultana, after the first Muslim female ruler in Delhi.

Her second husband died many years ago and more recently she attended the WomenZone Community Centre in Bradford to socialise, but that connection was shut off during the coronavirus restrictions.

The community centre, though, was where she met people involved with the Asian Standard.

Editor Fatima Patel said: “We’re thrilled to have the awesome Razia Bibi join our team as our new columnist. She’s had an incredible life journey, gaining a wealth of wisdom and talent along the way and I’m so excited that now she will be imparting her wisdom and knowledge in an unfiltered column for Asian Standard.

“Her views will often be old school and some of our younger readers may not like what she has to say, but we feel it is important that every generation should have a voice and that every viewpoint should be heard.”

In her first column, Razia explored the changing nature of Eid celebrations and how, from her perspective, the younger generation seem disconnected from family values.

She writes: “We didn’t ever go out to posh restaurants for Eid like most youngsters do nowadays.

“We used to cook food, get ready and then visit friends and family with food or have people come round.

“We used to exchange gifts and have lunch together.

“You felt it was Eid as the atmosphere was great, but the lifestyle and generations started to change, and we had to change with them.

“I think people have lost family time and values.”

Unfiltered with Aunty Razia will be published weekly in all editions of Asian Standard – Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds and North East – and will also be on the national Asian Sunday Online platform.

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