She came from Oxford with an amazing British accent I so loved. Simple, thin, petite, long black hair – must have seen about 45 winters or so, though looked like 16 only. She had so many stories to tell and my family sat mesmerized hearing what she had to say – an amazing art of making conversation was brought to life LIVE in front of my eyes.
In this modern age of gadgets, she spoke and we heard. Simply. Such an exhilarating experience … and I could not stop myself from writing about it and sharing it with you.
One fine winter evening in 1990, at Oxford, Zohra was walking on the road and a British lady walked up to her and asked, “Is this your real hair?” Zohra said, ”Yes”. “Can I please touch it and see?” And then Zohra, with much shock and a bit of happiness, allowed her to touch the knee length jet black thick plait. Hearing this, I got curious to know more about her.
An Indian from Hyderabad, Zohra Fatima completed her graduation from Kirorimal College in New Delhi in Geography in 1989. She got the ICI Scholarship to do her PhD in Environmental Impact on the Species Distribution of Corals in Andaman and Nicobar Islands from where she went to Oxford to do her D.Phil.
She was naive and had no idea what she was going into but was treated very well by everyone there. She wanted to be independent but had no one to guide her. So, she struggled on her own at such a young age for a long period. When asked as to how did she manage all alone, she said, “I followed the golden words which my father and mother always told me.”
“They said … live an honest life, be honest to yourself and follow your dreams.” Her father had also said, “People will steal your money, property, jewels but no one can steal your education.” And thus, she strived all alone through the cold and lonely winters there, fighting a lot as there weren’t many Asians in the job market in those times and there was a lot of prejudice in the teaching profession.
As an Asian there she had to struggle constantly to prove herself and when I met her I liked her simplicity. And. “What do you like,” I asked her. “Cooking and watching old movies,” she said smilingly.
Zohra met her would be husband at a student accommodation where they started cooking together. She went to Andaman Islands for her research and in 1996, he proposed to her. After a lot of thinking over it, she finally said yes and so she became Zohra Stephen Jenkinson.
Zohra was ahead of her times so not many jobs were there in this field of Environmental Studies. Only gender profile studies would get jobs then. Thus she got involved with Charity and Education of Ethnic Children working for minority groups that were not dealt with justice in those days in Britain.
She then became the Chairman of Oxfordshire Women’s aid for domestic violence charity, where she ran for 10 long years. Meanwhile, she also became the Secretary of Asian Cultural Centre and became the founder member of South Asia Forum at Wolfson College (University of Oxford) which they started after the riots in Gujarat, raised several thousand pounds for all calamities all over like relief works in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh and many other places.
Zohra always missed India and her lovely friendships back home, the secular aspect of which she’s very proud of as different cultures respect each other. She also missed having wonderful Indian food… golguppas and chaat. When she went there in 1989, there were only two Indian shops in Oxford but now after so many years there are about 15 of them, she says.
ORINOCO is an organization she’s close to now, where she is a trustee for the last six years. Here, they recycle left over products of industries and use them in art projects. Also as an Independent Adviser Zohra is associated with the Thames Valley Police. They have a Forum there, where they form a connection between the police and the minority community. They train people and help the police to understand the minority issues. After the 9/11, the Asian people everywhere are looked at with suspicion and so they also help them in this forum.
Ah! She had a smile on her face when she told us such stories and many other stories about her years in Oxford and how she lived on. Oxford is a beautiful place to be in with amazing libraries and museums – when can I be there!!! “It’s a small place and you can use your bicycle to everywhere.” Is it so! wow!!! “It gives me a stimulus with all the happening events and all the learned people I meet there.”
One message to all the new aspiring students going to study abroad she sends is that they should make themselves fully aware as to which college they are getting into and most important, surprisingly, is that they should know how to cook. Can u believe it…….!!! Hahahahahaaa.
And also to all undergrads interested in further studies, she says they need to develop writing styles. The British patterns of writings are completely different from the Indian ones. And she also adds, “Be honest and true to yourself and follow your dreams.”
I’m inspired and it was such an honour to meet her the other day. Zohra surely makes India proud. When are you coming back, again… to take me along!!!