'Dilchad' more than a restaurant
Buildings, structures, and institutions that are hundreds of years old stand as historical and cultural monuments throughout the world. Every nation has iconic buildings that are priceless jewels in its history. One such place is Dilchad restaurant in London's East End, which serves as a testament to the language, independence, and Liberation War era of the Bangalee nation.
From political activism in the 1960s, Dilchad restaurant has provided an inspiring place to meet and eat. It was in 1962 that Dilchad first opened its doors. Founded by the Chowdhury family, the business is still a family affair, but its food and diners have changed considerably over the last decades.
From its inception, the restaurant was popular with workers in the financial district, but it also thrived as a hub for political gatherings. For example, the UK branch of the Awami League, the political party which led the movement for Bangladesh's independence, established its headquarters at the restaurant in 1970. Abdul Motlib Chowdhury, the founder of Dilchad Restaurant, supported the AL and was a leader of the first-generation Bangalee settlers in the UK.
Today, ties between the restaurant and the politics of Bangladesh are just as strong. Abdul Motlib Chowdhury had five sons, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury, Ataur Rahman Chowdhury, Azizur Rahman Chowdhury, Shofiqur Rahman Chowdhury, and Hamidur Rahman Chowdhury, all of whom have worked at the restaurant at different stages since its opening.
Shofiqur Rahman Chowdhury now spends most of his time in Bangladesh and was elected as the first British Bangladeshi MP in Bangladesh in 2009. He is currently an influential politician and acting president of the ruling AL's Sylhet region.
Shofiqur Rahman said, "My father started Dilchad Restaurant in 1962 and had ties to the Bangladesh Caterers Association in the UK, as well as being a community leader. This restaurant was not only a place for business lunches but also for the community, with many political meetings held here, particularly during the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan."
"Dilchad served as a meeting place during the movement for independence in Bangladesh. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visited Dilchad while his daughter, Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister of Bangladesh, has also been to the restaurant many times when she was the opposition leader," he added.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the restaurant, a small celebration was organised by the current management and local journalists in December last year. The 60th anniversary of Dilchad was celebrated by cutting a cake in the presence of Shofiqur.
In addition to the local journalists of Bangla media, Nurul Haque Lala Miah and former councillor Akikur Rahman, two activists of the anti-racist movement and 1971 Liberation War in the UK, were present at the event.
Shofiqur, while speaking at the 60th-anniversary event of Dilchad, said, "Dilchad has a historical role in Bangladesh's independence movement, and now our third generation is pridefully running this institution."
Shofiqur said it is not a matter of profit and loss. Still, our family is trying to save Dilchad by passing on the history of a long continuous struggle to the next generation.
Expressing his gratitude to the third generation of the current director of the Dilchad family, Shofiqur said most of the new generation who grew up in the UK aren't aware of their history and heritage. "Motlib Chowdhury family is lucky from this point of view. Our children are managing Dilchad with more emphasis on the roots of history rather than from a business perspective," he said.
(The author is thankful to Curry Life & Shottobani for providing some of the source materials and photographs)