Letchworth author’s new book tells an immigrant’s garden city story
A 70-year-old community worker and poet has written a book based on his experiences as an immigrant building a life and family in Letchworth.
Dev Delay, a former magistrate who has worked with young people and voluntary projects for 40 years, has lived in England for more than half a century after moving from India in his teens.
His semi-autobiographical novel, Here to Stay, follows Daljit Singh from the Punjab as he makes a similar journey and overcomes discrimination in 1960s Britain to forge his own garden city story.
Keen historian Dev, of Westholm, has already written a book each about the Asian and Caribbean communities in North Hertfordshire, as well as two poetry books. This is his third novel.
Speaking to the Comet, he said he had been inspired to write Here to Stay by the great diversity across Letchworth and Hitchin.
He said: “A lot of things have been written about the coming together of the garden city movement, about people like Sir Ebenezer Howard and so on – but people have come here from all over the world. The Asian community and other minority groups often don’t get a mention.
“Even with regard to the First and Second World Wars, it’s often forgotten how many Sikh and Gurkha soldiers there were – there were more than two million Indian soldiers in the Second World War.
“I have a lot of friends in the town who say they know nothing about the Indians who live here, so in this book I’ve taken them through a journey of an immigrant called Daljit who comes to Letchworth at the age of 14 and progresses from there. He gets a job in the rubber factory in Works Road.
“After five years he goes back to visit his family in India, and they say he’s old enough to get married – so Daljit marries Pali and brings her back to Letchworth, and they open the first corner shop in the town. Later they progress and buy a cash and carry.
“People come in and out of the story – there are a lot of English characters as well. At one point they throw a party and feed all the neighbours, and this is the first time a lot of them have experienced Bhangra music and samosas.”
Dev hopes to take the book into schools to help students understand the immigrant experience and their side of Letchworth’s history – some of which was blighted by the racism of fascist groups like the National Front.
He said: “People who have read the book – all English people – have told me they loved the story and the characters. It’s a new thing for some of them, and they relate to it because they live locally.
“Unless you mix with people, you don’t know about them – even if they live near you. You have to socialise with people if you’re interested in their culture and who they are.”
The book, released last month in an initial run of 150 copies, is available to buy at David’s Bookshop in Eastcheap and costs £5.
Most of the proceeds are set to go to the Letchworth foodbank at St Paul’s Church, which also serves Hitchin and Baldock.