Kola Janala, meaning ‘open window’, is produced and presented by Urmee Mazhar and is an interview/call-in show on Bangla TV — a UK based satellite channel. Recently, the show featured an interview with Saira Bronson.
For anyone who followed the tabloid stories of a few years back, the name Saira Bronson will be familiar. For everyone else: Saira Bronson is a Bangladeshi woman who became famous overnight when she married Britain’s most notorious prison inmate, Charles Bronson. (You read correctly … he had changed his name from Michael Peterson to that of the star of the Death Wish movies)
Saira Bronson (born Saira Ali Ahmed) seemed nervous sitting opposite the cool and collected Urmee Mazhar as the latter introduced her. As it transpired, she had reason to be. Saira began her interview by telling us about her arranged first marriage to a British Bangladeshi man and her subsequent arrival in Britain without friends, family or the ability to speak the lingo. Curiously, she had chosen to conduct the interview in a mixture of English and Sylheti Bangla. When the phone lines were opened there was an initial torrent of very bothered (mostly male) callers castigating her for what she had done and the lajja (shame) she had brought upon herself, her family and the bangla samaj (society). Although visibly shaken, Saira continued to tell her story — a narrative that was being coaxed carefully out of her by her skillful interviewer. Saira went on to allege that her already abusive first husband turned out to be a paedophile and that she simply had to leave him when her daughter was born.
The phone lines were opened again and this time caller after caller was very supportive of her and offered their best wishes to her for her bravery in doing what she had done and apologising for the attitude of the earlier callers. How fickle was this audience, hey? Though it should be said that this time most (but not all) of the callers were women.
Saira Bronson was now visibly moved by the support she was being given and was keen to continue with her story. Of course there were phone calls coming in regularly now and at 50 pence per minute I can understand why the programme makers were keen for them to do so. ( I wonder how long the waiting callers had to hold?)
Since we’re entertaining cynical thoughts, I might add that Saira wasn’t reticent in pointing out that her life story is all written down in her autobiography. (The more astute amongst you will notice that I too have jumped onto the bandwagon and have provided a link to her book via a bongovongo amazon associate account, so feel free to buy a copy and while you’re at it buy a hundred or so for your friends … kerching! … ta very much)
Anyway, back to the interview — some of the callers asked about her relationship with Bronson. She told them how she and her daughter had, by then, moved down to Luton and that after learning English and going to college she got a job working for an organisation who helped victims of domestic violence. (I bet you feel guilty for being cynical now dontya? … so why don’t you make up for it and buy her book via the link above hey? hey? hey? … oh! please yourselves then). It was while she was working in this organisation that her attention was directed towards newspaper articles about Charles Bronson. Bronson was from the Luton area and so there was more than the usual level of interest in the notorious criminal. The man intrigued Saira and after thinking about it for a long time she contacted him by letter.
Well, after many such correspondance and a few visits Saira Ali Ahmed from Habiganj, Bangladesh married Charles Bronson from Luton, England. Hardly a match made in heaven but as Saira pointed out, to several callers who asked why she couldn’t have found a nice muslim Bangla lad to marry, you don’t choose who you fall in love with. She also pointed out that Bronson had converted to Islam and had changed his name (yet again) to Charles Ali Ahmed. Actually, she had fallen for a couple of Bangla men before she started her relationship with Bronson but on both occasions they had cited the lajja associated with marrying a divorcee and single mother. Unsurprisingly, she dumped these guys.
By now, the calls of support were coming through thick and fast but one caller reminded her, rather mischievously, that she had recently divorced Charles whatever-his-name-is. Here, the skill of the presenter, Urmee Mazhar, showed through because it became evident that the whole interview had been a well-crafted narrative unfolding before the audience, who were being carefully shepharded into asking the questions that led to the next revelation.
Saira responded by telling us that after seeing the reportage of the Beslan school siege and it’s bloody conclusion, Bronson suddenly denounced all religion and became intensly hostile towards Islam. He wanted Saira to give up Islam as well and despite the best efforts of Saira, Bronson’s own mother and his solicitors he wouldn’t change his mind. Saira told us that she had a choice to make — it was either Bronson or Islam. Saira Ali Ahmed chose her faith. (Interestingly, she is still named Bronson on the book cover)
The interview was wrapped up with us knowing better this unsinkable Bangladeshi single mom and recognising a person who had risen from the horrifying depths of a monsterous marriage through the dubious heights of media noteriety to a position now where she lives her life, in freedom.