I got three A levels, all grade D (degrading, as my brother put it), and so didn’t get a place at university. Instead I applied to do Economics at Kingston College of Advanced Technology. But just as I was settling in I got another offer to do Sociology at Birmingham College of Commerce (Londonexternal), and this suited me better.
I found digs in Monument Roadwith Mr Faizur Rasul, a Bengali Muslim who had just written an autobiography called From Bengal to Birmingham. He’d stowed away on a boat toBritain in the thirties and lived for some time at Woking Mosque. He was a great attraction with the local girls there. Later he married a Jewish woman fromPrague, but by the time I knew him she was living inNew York. He explained to me that now he was ‘gone old’ sex wasn’t any good.
If his wife had stayed, I wonder how she would have coped with his next book, a proof of the superiority of Islam over Christianity and Judaism. After I leftBirminghamhe joined the Ahmediya sect and sent me a booklet about it. I was living inSaudi Arabiaat the time, and when I showed it to my Pakistani secretary, he warned me to hide it away for fear of getting arrested.
The Rasul house was dingy and smelt of curry and coal-gas. Electricity reached the top of the house through several pieces of flex wound round the banisters and fixed together with insulating tape. I grew very fond of my landlord. When he heard me in the kitchen he would come out of his downstairs room to cook his own meal and engage me in conversation.
A subject which regularly recurred was the iniquity ofIsraeland the perfidy ofBritain’s part in its creation. I felt he was very unbalanced, but have with the passage of years come to share most of his views. I also proof-read his book on religion, though I don’t think it was ever published.
In 1972 I visited Mr Rasul’s family in an idyllic village near Memari,West Bengal. Another family member lived inCalcuttawhere he was a member of the proscribed Communist Party of India (Marxist). In order to visit him I had to go through an elaborate procedure to protect him from the authorities.
I lived in an attic room next to Abbas, an Iranian Algerian who is now a world-famous photographer. He had a succession of female visitors and his romps with them would keep me awake and made me jealous. He had a Fiat 500 in which he sometimes took me to college.
TheCollege of Commercewas a functional high-rise building physically attached to Aston CAT (now University). To get to the top two floors where we studied you stepped onto a moving Paternoster lift, and if you forgot to get off you groaned over the top of the system and came down the other side!