TRIBUTE TO A BRADFORD ICON: The inspirational story of Fazal Din Farooqi
“In the race of life, I have fallen many times, but every time this happened, I always got up and ran faster.”
These are the words of Fazal Din Farooqi - a father, a husband, a businessman and a trailblazer.
For almost a century, his inspirational life took twists and turns from the rural villages of India to the mills of Bradford.
Never one to just sit back and wait for life to reward him, he made his own destiny, always moving one step ahead of the pack, and pioneering his own successful business.
Time and time again, others have looked to his experiences to guide their own path in the UK, and so many people have paid tribute to his inspirational life.
Sadly, on Thursday 9th June 2016, Mr Farooqi passed away. His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners whilst thousands of well-wishers have paid tribute to the ‘Bradford icon’.
The following is a look back at the journey which made the man. This is his story. This is his life.
Fazal Din Farooqi was born in a small village called Hoshiarpur in India on 19th June 1918.
His father, Charaghdin Farooqi was an engineer and his mother, Zainab, a housewife. Mr Farooqi had an older half brother and a further three brothers and two sisters.
A large family meant that they lived a Spartan life. At the age of just 11, he took it upon himself to support the family after his father suffered a fall off scaffolding making him unable to work.
His first venture into business came when he became a barrow-boy, selling fruit. Through sheer hard work, he grew this business over time and was soon the owner of a number of market stalls. Here, he began selling wholesale to other shop keepers.
Simultaneously, Mr Farooqi began to understand the true importance of education and so began to teach himself how to read and write, taking great delight in reading and often seeking the company of writers and artists.
He soon became interested in politics and was an activist in the ‘Quit India’ movement. During this time he was actually arrested and spent time in jail.
Later, he married his uncle’s daughter, Nazir, and the couple moved to Multan. Here, he acquired a textile mill, which he called Shaheen Textiles, after the name of his eldest son.
He employed over 100 people, was a model employer and took a great interest in the welfare of his employees - so far as to pay for the wedding of those who couldn’t afford to do so. To acknowledge his success, he was invited to The Multan Chamber of Commerce where he was also elected as a member of the council.
His work and the growth of his textile mill did not deter or distract him from being involved in charitable efforts. He now had eight children, plus his wife’s younger brother Sawar, who he had taken under his wing and adopted as a son.
His life suffered a setback when he decided to invest in a film ‘Sukh Ka Sapna’ (Dream of Contentment). This investment was a complete disaster and he ended up bankrupt.
At this point, when many people would have given up, Mr Farooqi, now in his 40s, decided to go abroad and make a fresh start.
He travelled over land, going through Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Germany and Holland before arriving in England. It was now March 1964. He had imagined that England was a beautiful country - instead he saw smog; and dirty, sooty buildings.
He had a contract in Bradford, made his way there and started work in a Foundry as a waiter in the Lahore restaurant. He lived in a shared house and asked his family to come to the UK within 12 months. He had spotted a gap in the market and had asked his family to bring pans to make Asian Mithai, as no-one appeared to provide these in Bradford.
He rented a small place and with his wife and son, Bilal, he started making Jalebis, samosas and ladoos. These were supplied in shops in Oldham, Blackburn, Manchester, Sheffield and the whole of Northern England. This business grew into what became the Commonwealth Restaurant.
This was now 1967. The restaurant became the hub of art and culture as well as a meeting place for the Asian community. Stars from the stage and screen would make it a point to visit the restaurant when they toured England. Naghma, Habib, Rangeela and Mehdi Hassan from Pakistan; a young Dharmendra Mumtaz, Shammi Kapoor from India, cricketers Sarfraz Nawaz, Asif Masood, Farokh Engineer and Asif Iqbal made it their favourite place.
Throughout all these changes, Mr Farooqi had maintained his interest in politics and was becoming more impressed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then a minister under the Ayub government.
Mr Bhutto wanted to restore democracy in Pakistan and therefore resigned from the military government, began the Pakistan People’s party and came to England.
When he decided to come to the UK, Mr Farooqi invited him to Bradford – an invitation which was accepted as long as there would be at least 40 to 50 people present.
On his arrival, Mr Bhutto was met by thousands of people waiting to welcome him. Mr Farooqi hosted this visit with a meal for Mr Bhutto, his friends and a select few members from Bradford at the Commonwealth Restaurant.
Shortly after the visit, Mr Farooqi received death threats and his restaurant caught fire. The blaze apparently started in the room where Mr Bhutto had previously dined yet, undeterred, Mr Farooqi continued his support for Mr Bhutto’s policies for fairness and equality.
His association continued with the Bhutto family for a number of years. He subsequently hosted Nusrat Bhutto at his residence a number of times and she also attended Mr Farooqi’s daughters’ weddings.
On the business front, Mr Farooqi sold his restaurant after keeping it open 16 hours a day for more than four years. He then established Ali Baba Carpets in 1971, a business which has grown from strength-to-strength and is a name and brand recognised across the north of the country. His business contract and interests were global: Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. His sons and daughters - and their sons and daughters - continue to run the business today.
Despite passing retirement age, Mr Farooqi showed no signs of slowing down and moved onto another avenue as he set up Ali Baba lighting – which again became a household name.
It wasn’t until he reached the age of 90 that he finally retired after much encouragement.
His interest in politics also led him to produce a magazine called Ujala and a regular column for Urdu newspapers in the UK.
His column – ‘Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha meray agay’ was iconic in its satirical but hard-hitting approach to social and political issues effecting Pakistan and the Pakistani Community in the UK.
Sadly, in 2014, Mr Farooqi lost his life-long partner, his beloved wife, to cancer. He grieved this loss and repeatedly talked about her until his own passing two years later.
His legacy in terms of Bradford is such that Mr Farooqi, ‘Ali Baba’, ‘Abuhazour’ to his family, will never be forgotten.
He will forever be known for his integrity, honesty, passion for sheer hard work, fairness and of course determination.
Timeline of events
1918 - Born to parents, Charaghdin and Zainub in Hoshiarpur, India
1940s - Opened restaurant in Rawalpindi as well as textile business in Karachi and Multan
1960s - Became a film producer in Pakistan, released ‘A Dream of Good times’ – it flopped
- Reached Zurich, Switzerland, almost penniless and with no passport
- Travelled to the UK and made his way to Bradford
- Began his first job in England at the Ripton Foundry in Crossflatts
- Family joined him in the UK, bringing pots and pans with them. Mr Farooqi began selling Asian sweets across the county and in Manchester
- Opened Commonwealth Restaurant in Bradford
- Hosted then-future Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in Bradford
1970s - Opens Ali Baba Carpets
- Bhutto becomes first popularly-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan
- Bhutto is ousted and executed two years later
1980s - Builds up businesses in Bradford and continues to host Bhutto’s widow during her visits to the UK
1990s-2010s - Continues to work into his 80s and 90s in Bradford
2016 - Passes away at the age of 97