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Oral history interview with Amarjit Kochhar


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Oral history interview with Amarjit Kochhar

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Kochhar, Amarjit (Subject of)

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Dalston Lane (Place)


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Photograph - copyright Arnau Oriel

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MAPPING THE CHANGE: Hackney Museum oral history project

Summary and Partial Transcription of Interview with:

Was a baby during Partition - so born 1946/7 (?)

Time in: Time out:
Collection Title: “Mapping The Change”
Item Title: Amarjit Kochhar interviewed by Tony T
Speaker: Amarjit Kochhar (interviewee)
Speaker: Tony T (interviewer)
Recordist: Rebecca Goldstone
Purpose of Recording: Interviewed for ‘Mapping The Change’ (Dalston)
Recording Date: 27th July 2010
Recording Location: At interviewee’s home, Hackney, London.
Access Restrictions: None
Recording Equipment: Marantz PDM661 & 1 Sennheiser lapel mic - ew112-p
Recording Notes: WAV
Documentation: Typed Summary & Partial Transcription
A portrait photograph in jpg format

00:00:23 Coming to Hackney: finding home and freedom
I came to Islington and Hackney, and I think I found my home. In those days not many people wanted to live in Hackney – I loved it. I loved it! Its politics. I loved its diversity. I loved it! People talked freely about Feminism. And you can wear whatever you like. Nobody made any comments. So it was kind of nice. It’s since I’ve been, 30 years.
Had started a Phd and then had her son. Left her Phd.

00:05:31 Equal Opportunities: starting to work in the library – toy library.
I became a Librarian – Children’s Librarian – in the public libraries. But I didn’t have Librarian qualifications.

There was a lot of pressure in those to employ the non-White people in the council. There was only one Asian woman who worked in the council. She was the Information Advisor, Advising the immigrant. There was not a single Black or Asian worked in the council at all. And so my getting job in the library was… funded by Section 11. They didn’t want me to work for the minorities, they said ‘oh you can do the books’. There’s a whole… the scene was set as such, that Black and ethnic minority people wouldn’t accept that – they wanted to be seen and heard. And I think it was led by the Caribbeans. They did go to the Council Hall and said, ‘If you don’t let us have our Caribbean Library, we’re going to break all your chairs’. So they get worried about it.

We used to have demonstrations all the time. In fact lot of women told me, when we used to have demonstrations – that’s the only time they used to feel safe to come out. So it was like living in a little revolution and evolution. It’s like evolutionary and little revolution going on.

So the libraries set up this time for the Black and ethnic minority books.


00:06:11 Communal Households:
In Dalston we used to have a lot of communal households, and they were Co-op house, because I lived in a communal household and we used to have food co-ops and other things, we used to buy a lot of food and people in the street used to come and weigh themselves and take their bit and leave the money.

Dalston Lane: Shops
Dalston Lane used to be like – we used to have a lot of community centres or community organisations. There was the Asian Centre. And there used to be Hackney Women’s Centre. There used to be Co-op Business Setting Up, the Co-op business. There used to be Age Concern Charity Shop. There used to be Free Form. And there used to be a Cockney florists shop… Fish and chip shop. And a bakery. And Hackney Pensioners’ place. And on this side of Dalston Lane there used to be the Trade Union Council. And now it’s been replaced by the Nail & Vietnamese shops. And the Dalston Libraries was there. And it was the Dalston Library. And when all this Caribbean people making a lot of noise, it was changed to the CLR James Library.

Age Concern is still there. Library is still there. There used to be station – the Dalston Station… The florist shop’s gone. Because there were a lot of florist shops opened by the Turkish people. There wasn’t the Turkish people at that time. It was mainly the Black. It used to be Brixton and Hackney where the Black people live. And then the fish and chips’ gone. I think it went to Hackney Wick. Then we opened the surgery…

There used to be big Police Station in Dalston Lane. Now it’s the London Charity.
00:28:57 Marches: Peace March – mural (Dalston Lane),
You know that mural on Dalston Lane? That was a photograph taken from a demonstration – the Peace. And my childrens were enrolled making some props, that clock and things. And this was photo that was taken. The Peace March.

So we used to have the nice marches. Nice slogans. ‘Black and White unite and fight’. Yeah! Community Festivals and…
00:29:00 Rio Cinema:
The Rio Cinema was taken by the community and run by the community
00:43:34 Holly Street
Holly street – there used to be a lot of gang-fights. A lot of tower blocks and a lot of gang-fights. So they cleared the tower blocks. Except left one. Make each flat separately. Nice for the older people. And downstairs organization for the older people – luncheon club, the doctors or whatever. And but there used to be a lot of blocks – high-rise blocks there. And we never used to walk in Holly Street. Because we were too scared (laughs) the gangster side. But it’s ok.
00:44:56 Dalston Tower
Yeah – the tower in Dalston Lane. I went to Hong Kong last year. My son lives in Hong Kong. And he showed me advert, ‘Dalston Square luxury flats’, being sold for £380,000. On this big advert it looked so beautiful. And they having underground. And I said, it’s not underground, it’s over ground – isn’t it?’ Yeah! It looks so beautiful, and because he saved it for me, because that’s where I live, it doesn’t look anything like that. So I don’t know if the rich people from outside coming and buying… We can’t afford to buy it anyway. So we don’t need to have any opinions about it. And I think that maybe a lot of rich Chinese bought these ones for their children because a lot of Chinese shops open up recently – isn’t it, in Dalston?
And the food shops open. And there is the boutiques open. So there is quite a few Chinese activities going on. So they maybe bought these flats for their childrens to come and study
New people in the area:
A lot of Brazilian peoples – Brazilian shops open. The Brazilian butchers. The Brazilian church… Little café open up. So how is this evolution and revolution going on? It doesn’t have any – you cannot see any pattern. It’s just people coming. And whoever comes and stays – and because its quite welcoming to stay.

00:16:44 Not being the only non-white:
People are a lot more friendly here. So that’s one of the things. That’s what I think. I wasn’t the only Black person, there were so many others as well (laughs). I felt emotionally more secure here, because I was not the only non-white person here.

When you come here, you can be Punjabi.

In Hackney people were encouraging you to speak your language.

Ridley Road Market:
We used to go to Ridley Road all the time. I remember one time they were saying, somebody was very rude to Black person in the Ridley Road Market. And so the Black people were saying, ‘Now if you’re going to be rude, none of us are going to come to shop!’

Ridley Road is something. You can buy anything there isn’t it! That’s what people say, you can buy whatever you like ... I remember in the Ridley Road market French Connection - I might be wrong, these two men squatted the place… Started there” I remember that because I used to buy French Connection when they were in Ridley Road.

It gives opportunity to people to start.

And also in Ridley Road there’s a lot of Punjabi Pakistani people own the little shops and there‘s a lot of Albanian and Polish people working, ah but this doesn’t happen in other markets”.

Coming back to Ridley Road Market, it’s my favorite market, you can buy mangoes and all sorts of things, and you get to know the stall holders, yeah, they know you... And I think I used to go twice or three times a week. And I know you used to get things stolen. You had to be careful. So if you want to carry your trolley. You put the cheapest thing on top, so if anybody takes it – takes it! (laughs) You had to be just careful, it’s a long time.

There’s one worry about Ridley Road Market. If they improve it, if they make it indoor market, it’s going to become too expensive. If they tried that… it’s organic let it develop.

Now in Ridley Road there’s a lot of African shops – Ghanaian. Because the African and Caribbean used to fight with each other… The police just let them fight. Eight or nine in Ridley Market now. I don’t if Ghanaian or Nigerian. I can’t tell which country they come from. I can tell maybe Somali – I haven’t traveled in Africa…
Quite a lot of African shops. A music shop. Things we send it to Africa, they bring it back to sell. (laughs) Toothpaste and things. There’s quite a lot of things you can buy. Cocoa, coconut – it’s so cheap in there. They bring soap, you can buy original soap. They bring the big slab and they just give you a lump for £1. You just buy that. So I usually go and buy things from them. They know me. They know what I want.

00:36:20 Happy last 30 years Here:
I think I’ve had a very happy last 30 years here and enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m going to enjoy it all another 30 years maybe

00:37:00 Nice side of Hackney:
I do see the nice side of Hackney: it’s like all the streets are like catwalks, all these girls dresses up in as little as they want, or as much as they want, and they walk like supermodels – Hackney’s a very nice place to be, it’s uh, it’s uh, got the right energy, isn’t it, isn’t it! It’s got the right energy I think – things happen here, other place are boring aren’t they (laughs), boring nothing happens.

00:38:56 Defending Hackney:
It’s a lot of nice thing. A lot of people write a lot of not so nice things about Hackney. And I always ending up defending it. It’s like some place you feel home – isn’t it? You feel home, your home. You feel safe. (laughs)

00:46:17 The Waste Market:
And ah – Waste Market. And that’s quite interesting. I still go to Waste Market. I buy some little things from there. Have you been to Waste market? It’s Saturday Market. It’s people bring things. I don’t know, they clear homes or whatever. They bring and they put it. You buy for £1, or broken China or something. Whatever it is you know. I bought this last week - £1 this brass box. I think it’s a religious thing. Is it Christian, is it Muslim, Jewish… Yeah, so you can get this all places. It’s like it’s conserving these things in brass.

00:45:08 Centerprise
Another place was my favorite place, was Centerprise – bookshop. There’s a lot of community organization, Hackney Under 5, all sorts of free advise, legal advice… and there used to be café and there used to be art place. You can – people can – exhibit. And so that was really, kind of, resource for the community if you go there.

Copy Material Location: WAV copies held at Hackney Museum:
1 copy stored on a portable hard drive
1 copy stored on a DVD-R (Gold Archive Standard)