Nazir Khan

Transcript of Nazir Khan

Interviewee: Nazir Khan
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: March 22, 2014
Place: Edgewater Public Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 39:00 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I am interviewing Nazir, who was born in India, at the Edgewater Public Library. The time is 3:18, on March 22nd. So you were born in India, correct?

NK: Yeah, I was born in India. Then our family migrated to Pakistan, when I was a teenager.

ML: Ok. What was the place that you were born, what was the specific…?

NK: It was in south India.

ML: South India?

NK: Yeah, the name of the city is Kurnool.

ML: Kurnool.

NK: Yeah. It’s…I think about 200,000 people.

ML: Ok.

NK: Yeah, it is in the south India, the name of the state is Andhra.

ML: Ok. Kurnool in Andhra.

NK: Yeah. Kurnool city, it is about 200,000 people. Yeah I did my schooling over there, then…my whole family moved to Pakistan, you know? I want to say I was in Pakistan for about ten years. About, yeah, about ten years I think. I did my graduation and all those things there. Then I moved to Chicago.


ML: So you went straight from India to Pakistan to Chicago.

NK: Yeah.

ML: Ok.

NK: Yeah. I stayed in Pakistan for over ten years, more or less. Then I came to Chicago. I think it was in early ‘70s.

ML: Ok. What was it like growing up in south India?

NK: It was good. I have to say. Yeah, those days aren’t the same way they are now, no problem. Like Hindus and Muslims and all those things. We all used to live together, in harmony. No conflict, no trouble, nothing. And when you’re teenagers, we used to participate in Hindu festivals, and all those things. And we used to go to their temples. And by the same token, they used to go to our holy days, like Ramadan, and other holy days, the Hindus used to respect us. My Hindu neighbors and my classmates, they used to participate. And it never occurred to us that we are either Hindus or Muslims, we are just like normal human beings, you know?


ML: So it was more of a focus on neighbors.

NK: More, yeah, focus on neighbor and friendship. That was the main thing, yes. We used to take [unintelligible] in happiness, and sadness, [unintelligible]. It was just like a big family, you know? So growing up, I had no problems.

ML: What brought your family to Pakistan?

NK: Yeah, actually my oldest brother. When India was divided in two countries, Pakistan and India, my brother moved to Pakistan. He used to be a banker. He was a very senior officer in a bank. And he then moved to Pakistan. So he went to Pakistan with his bank. And then after a few years, my brother, he sponsor all of us, so we just relocated. Then we moved to Pakistan. So in Pakistan, I went to school, I get my graduation from there, and then because I used to work for Texaco, back home. I used to have a lot of American friends, and then I got interested, because those guys are very good. Their attitude and all those things. They’re very friendly people. Plus Texaco is an American oil company, so I really liked their culture. I was really impressed.


ML: What specifically about the culture did you like?

NK: They were really friendly.

ML: Ok.

NK: They were friendly, they were helping. They were good. On the job, we had no problem. So the main reason I was just curious I wanted to go see America. So if I like it I stay over there, if not so what the heck. I was younger, you know? So you got to lose nothing.

ML: And how old were you around this time?

NK: I think I was under thirty.

ML: Under thirty?

NK: Yes, sir. So I worked then different places in Chicago. Then once there was enough money, then I said… well because I was doing, I want to say, hard kind of jobs. So I wanted to have some profession. Because back home I used to be an accountant. So I wanted to continue same field. So there’s a main reason I work like a dog. And I save money. Then I moved to Florida. And I stayed there for about, I think about two years. And I did my masters from there. And then I moved back, because I left Chicago, you know? I used to have a lot of friends. Then I moved to Chicago, and then I got a job. After that I met my old friend. She’s a lady, she was a…she was very good lady. And she was a very good friend, dear friend. And then I started seeing her. And she used to work in a hospital. And then after that I moved, I moved in with her. And then we got married in ’78. 1978.

And in the meantime I got a job in the City College of Chicago, as an accountant. So then we are really happy, but sometime, you know, things happen. So unfortunately, our marriage did not last. So we parted ways. Not as enemies, just plain friends. And she is still my good friend. I have to say we have nothing personal. We respect each other. We look after each other. And last time I saw her I think was what, ten or twelve years ago, at Bob’s house. Bob and his wife Kay - they’re both are friends of my ex-wife. So she was in, I think she’s in Washington, near there. [Unintelligible] She was there. So we just talked, and then after that I said goodbye. And after that I have not seen her, I have not spoken to her.

The main reason I moved into Edgewater area: when I was young, I used to participate in lot of sports. And I used to run about fifteen miles every day. For me I wanted to live right by the lake, and that way I don’t have to take a bus or train or drive or something because I hate driving. And I wanted to move right by the lake. So I bought a condo right at Ardmore and Sheridan. My building is right on the lake. And we had private beach and all those things. So it was very convenient for me. When I used to get off from the job, I used to come home; I just take [unintelligible]. Then I start fifteen miles every day. Whether it was rain or shine, whatever it is.


ML: That’s a lot of running.

NK: Yeah, I used to participate in the marathons, and then I used to work out. So it was my main routine. Just go to work, and participate in those sports. So actually when I…did I think, until almost 2000, you know? It was my routine. Practice. After that my knees started falling apart. And the doctor said, “Well, Nazir…” I went to see a bone doctor, you know. And he said, “Well, you lost the cartilages in both of your knees.” He said, “We got to do surgery. We’re going to put something in your bones. Just like a shock absorber. And then you’ll be alright.” But I was scared, because I am by myself. In Chicago, I have nobody; I have no family, nothing. Well, I have friends, but this thing is very big deal, very close person who can keep an eye on you. I declined the operation.

So after that then I started working on my health. No more running. But I used…I still walk, you know? Like five or ten miles. At least three or four times a week. So then I moved to Texas. I think it was in 2005. Just for a change. I wanted to see what was going on in this country. I have seen almost all the states, except Alaska and Hawaii. So I moved to Texas, near Houston. The name of the town in Sugarland. Then I bought a brand new house, and the house was pretty big. Then I spent about $200,000 in landscaping all those things. I had almost all kinds of fruit trees and everything, you name it. So my house was one of the beautiful, one of the best house in the whole subdivision, consisting of about four hundred houses.

So then in the year 2011, I still remember, very clearly, you know. I think it was in July 2011, while I was walking in my subdivision, I feel without any reason. I fell on the ground. I felt kind of dizziness, I end up on the street. Then after a while, when I got up, because it was nighttime and nobody was there, when I got up, I just… I was surprised, you know?

Then my health started going downhill after that, it seemed. Real fast, you know? Everything started falling apart. Then I had some problem with my eyes. One of…because I didn’t know nothing about this eye stuff. I used to see the optometrist. But I had no clue there was a difference between optometrist and ophthalmologist. So I was…it was kind of dumb on my part. So one of my neighbors, it was nice of him, I told him my problem about losing my sight also. And he said, “Well you were dumb going…check with the ophthalmologist.” I said, “Well, I checked with my optometrist.” He said, “No, you stupid. There is a difference between optometrist and ophthalmologist. You better go and check with him.” And he referred me to one of his…well, his own ophthalmologist. Then I saw the ophthalmologist and he said, “Well…” I took a test for almost eight hours; four hours one day, four hours the next day. And finally, he told me, “Mr. Khan, your eyes are all messed up. You got a lot of eye pressure in your eyes.” I didn’t even know what eye pressure was. Then he explained to me. He said, “Your eye pressure is twenty five. You could have gone blind if you had waited three more months. We got to do a surgery.” So I think I had my surgery on the first day of October in 2011, and he did my second eye surgery November 2011. And since then I have been taking eye drops and all those things. And still my eyesight is not so good.

And then I figure out, hey my health is falling apart, plus the place I used to live, there is no public transportation, because it is a suburb of Houston. You wanted a carton of milk, you had to drive about five miles. And I figure out, you know, suppose I get real sick, who’s going to take care of me. I have a friend, she visit me, and she has been living with me for about thirty years. But still she can’t drive. What if something happens? There’s no one help me out, because she can’t drive, and I can’t drive, I be in big, big trouble. And there are very few taxis, and taxis are…they charge so much money, it is almost prohibitive. It make you sick.

So I figure it out, and hey, it’s better to move back to Chicago. At least in Chicago I don’t have to worry, I know the people, I know everything in Chicago. Plus…in Chicago, their public transportation [unintelligible], I can get the bus, I can get the train, I can get the cab. For the cab, I have to just go downstairs. I just have to pull the button in the building. The cab will be there in about two minutes. And plus in this area, right now I’m living here at Sheridan and Glenlake. And here you know there are groceries too, near Glenlake, there used to be Dominick’s, and now there’s going to [be] Whole Foods, too. There’s Walgreens, CVS, Aldi’s. There’s everything here you know. And in case I need anything from Jewel, I just have to go out there. Either I can take bus, train, I can take the cab, I just pick up the stuff. Then I just have to ask those guys to bring the stuff to my home. So you just have to pay maybe $5 or $10 extra, so you don’t have to worry.

So because of those reasons, I sold my house in Houston area, then I moved out to Chicago, I think it was in 2012. In January 2012. So, there’s a story. Plus I retired from the city colleges about fifteen years ago, and after that I have been doing nothing. So I just take it easy, and since my health is falling apart, real fast, so mostly I just stay home. And then after, as far as my personal issues are concerned, I’m talking about interaction with the local people, are different cultures and different people, I have no problem. I have lot of Jewish friends. I have lot of Christian friends, a lot of Hindu friends. And personally, I’m not a religious person. For me, my main religion is humanity. If somebody’s good with me, I’m there for them. If somebody say, “Well, you don’t bother us,” I just mind my own business. So as far as I’m concerned, I now rarely have any kind of issues. About either my job, or my housing, or…so nobody [unintelligible] about anything. And there is a good thing about this country.


ML: Have you found it to be that way since you moved here initially in the ‘70s?

NK: No, no.

ML: So that’s changed.

NK: Yeah. Everybody…I’ve never had any problem. No personal issues. Nothing, no discrimination. Nothing like that.

ML: Ok. Has the area changed since you moved back here in 2012? Did you see a big difference from when you left and when you came back?

NK: No. Almost the same.

ML: Almost the same.

NK: Yeah, except the stores, you know? [Laughs]

ML: [Laughs]

NK: Like Dominick’s is gone now, is going to be a…Whole Foods stores. They have that new Walgreens. So basically the same, people are the same.

ML: So it’s like coming back to the same place.

NK: Same place. I did not notice neither negative nor positive.

ML: Ok. One of the big things about Edgewater in particular is the diversity of it. Have you felt that it creates a stronger community because the majority of people come from somewhere else?

NK: Yeah, it’s a good thing. Because America is a melting pot. Better to have diversity, cultures and religions and all those things. That way, we can interact with the people, we can learn from them, maybe they can learn from us. This is a good thing. If you have…it’s kind of [unintelligible], you know? And it make our culture very rich.


ML: Do you find that there is less discrimination in this area because of the big…being such a big melting pot?

NK: Pardon me?

ML: Did you find less discrimination in this area because it was such a big melting pot and there were such a big diversity?

NK: It could be, but I don’t know, because same token when I was in Texas, most of the people were…Caucasians, you know? And I had no problem with them either. They talk to me, open hands, and open mind. Even there, no problem. And people will be good with you there too. Same with African Americans, I have to say. I used to have a lot of co-workers, they just like family. For me, I have no problem with any kind of ethnic group of anybody.


ML: Goodness fosters goodness.

NK: Yeah, right. Because basically I’m a nice person. I’m open to…for change. If somebody need help, I try to help them out. So personally I had no problems with anybody.

ML: When you think about what country you identify as being a part of, it’s the country of your home, do you consider…

NK: I’m an American citizen.

ML: American?

NK: Yeah, because as for most of us left in America, India and Pakistan combine together, you know? [Laughs]

ML: Do you still feel a connection to India and Pakistan, for it being where you were born?

NK: No, the whole time, the thing, I’m just…

ML: Ok. Is your family still in Pakistan?

NK: Yeah, yeah. I talk with them by phone, you know? And sometimes I visit over there for a couple of weeks.

ML: Have they visited here?

NK: Yeah, they come here.

ML: How’d they like it?

NK: Yeah, they like it. They come and stay a couple of weeks, then they’re gone. [Laughs]

ML: [Laughing]. They like it for a certain amount of time.

NK: Yeah, because they comfortable. They’re family, they whole kids, and all those things you know? I saw different thing. I was by myself. I was younger. I was single.

ML: So when you immigrated here you didn’t come with a group, you came completely by yourself?

NK: Yeah.


ML: Was that hard? Was that scary? Or intimidating?

NK: No. You know, when a person is young, you don’t think about these things. Now you think about these things. Then, it just doesn’t come to your mind. I say, “Just go. Go and let’s see what’s going to happen.” You don’t think about pros and cons, because of the age, and you have a lot of energy, a lot of stamina, and a lot of curiosity. Doing that straight off your life, you don’t think about these things, you just say, “Let’s go. Let’s try it.’ In fact, when I’m over here…I landed here, I was thinking, “Where should I go?” [Laughs]. You say “Nazir, You’re in America right now. You’re in Chicago. Where the hell are you going to go?”

So I was just, finally, what should I do? And maybe it was…it was kind of guard standing, you know? Two young guys, they were about my age. And they saw me, and they figure out I’m from Pakistan, because we can figure out with the faces and the way we dress, with our actions. They figure out I’m from Pakistan, they ask me where I am going, I say, “I don’t know.” They ask if I got any place to stay, I say, “I have no idea.” I don’t even know how to go to Chicago. And those guys, they gave me a ride. And they say, “Well, we can’t keep you with us.” They make it clear. They say, “We have our own roommate, so there’s no way we can accommodate you in our place. What we can do is that we take you to Chicago, and we’ll try to find a cheap motel for you, then you stay there. And after that, couple of days after then you’ll figure out what to do.” I say, “That is fine.” So they drop me at the cheap motel. I think it’s…it’s on Sheffield. Sheffield and…south of Irving Park. I think that’s, that hotel is still in the business, I think, but I am not sure. Right on Grace, you know? Grace and Sheffield. So I stayed there for a few days.


ML: That’s a great introduction to American culture, somebody being that nice to you.

NK: Yeah, it was G-d sent, you know? Those guys. In the whole days, things are very, very good. If you want to go to the airport, you can go all the way off to the plane. Because you are young you don’t remember these things. I’m telling you, things were so good, you know? Feels like you are dreaming. In the airport, everything was open. Gas was like twenty nine cents a gallon, something like that. For the gas, they used to have full service, did you know that? The attendant, you went in through this [unintelligible], used to check…you ask him to check your oil, used to open your hood. He used to check your oil, used to change the oil. He used to check the air. Then he used to clean the windows, all the windows, four times, four places, front back, everything. And gas was twenty nine cents. And life was very good. And things were very nice. In the ‘70s, you can’t even imagine. And the bus was like forty five cents, something like that. Plus if you take the transfer you can go for hours and hours, maybe, one or two hours. They used to have some type of ticket, and something. Those drivers; they used to ignore them. They say, “Hey, we don’t want them.” You can ride for five hours [laughs]. Yeah, life was good but still is good. I’m no complain. Because I get reasonable pension. I get social security. So I got my one car in my name. I got a nice car, though I don’t drive it. It is in the garage since last five months. I don’t even drive it. So life has been good to me. I have no problem. The country has been good to me, so for that I am grateful.


ML: Going back to a little bit of time after you immigrated here, did you find yourself trying to blend the culture of where you came from with the culture of where you were? So say the Indian/Pakistani culture with the American culture?

NK: No, I blended the other culture, you know? If I were with Indian, Pakistani place I just act like those guys, you know? If I am with Americans, I act like Americans. So for me, I get myself adjusted real fast, whatever the culture is.

ML: So it’s based on where you are rather than where you came from.

NK: Yeah, where you are, what kind of people…there are certain people, individually, they are so-so. Then I start acting like so-so. I never tried to show myself as superior than them. I act just like them, because all of five fingers are not same, you know? So we are to go through…go as the flow, go to the flow. If somebody interacts you, then I change then. I just talk intellectual, whatever it is. Because I am learning politics, I’m learning everything because I subscribe to almost fifteen kind of magazines, you know? Politics, business, you name it, so I am ready for all kind of discussion. Except computers. Because I hate computers [laughs].


ML: [Laughs]. So out of all of the very many places that you’ve lived…India, Pakistan, Chicago, Florida, Texas, what was your favorite weather?

NK: I like Chicago.

ML: You like Chicago’s weather?

NK: Yeah, because Chicago has…. We have different kind of weather here, like we have summer, we have fall, we have winter. Though the winter is a killer, it’s ok. It’s a part of life, you know? But if you live in Texas, oh my G-d! The temperature, it gets so hot, and it’s so humid. And the temperature’s all the same, except in…between November and January, the weather is kind of, little bit bearable, like temperatures in 50s, 60s, 70s, something like that. But after that, the summer is a killer. But in Chicago, I love this weather, because you get all kind of weather, because…. I go on the lake. So in the winter there a lot of snow and ice and all those things, it has own beauty, you know? And in the summer, it look like paradise. You go downtown. You go on the lake. You see flowers and green trees, green plants everywhere. The city blooms like crazy. And fall; you see all those different colors, the changing of the colors and all those things. So I like Chicago, is the main thing. Plus it’s good for everything, for transportation, in every sense. But in Texas, especially the place I used to live there, there was no room for transportation. So you got to be young, you know? And the place is good for young people. Yeah, for jobs and all those things, but there is not, not good for old people.


ML: You don’t think the city’s accommodating for old people?

NK: Yeah, in Texas, no…nothing.

ML: Oh, in Texas.

NK: Yeah.

ML: Ok.

NK: There nothing for old people. Especially if you live out of big cities. You’re on your own, and they come and they don’t care. At least in, instead of inline, the state is in a bad shape. But still there are lot of service for seniors. Like private [unintelligible]. There sort of free breakfast. Though I’ve never been there. I’ve never had that thing, the free breakfast. But it is a good thing.

ML: So the city takes care of its people.

NK: Yeah. Take care of the old people, take care of the people…feed them. There are a lot of senior citizen centers, there are…free rent vouchers and all those things. So the state is good, especially for old people. Though financially we’re a bad mess. I like Chicago and state of Illinois.

ML: So you were saying earlier that what brought you specifically to Edgewater was the lake? You wanted to be right on the lake?

NK: Yeah, right on the lake. I’ve always lived on the lake. Since I moved to Chicago. Because the first motel, it was not too far from the lake either [laughs]. Because right on Sheffield, Sheffield and Irving Park.

ML: So you were close already.

NK: Close, yeah. I like this area, especially because of the lake. I’ve not ever lived anywhere else. Though I can afford it if I want. I can buy a big house somewhere else in the suburbs, but I don’t want to move there. I would rather live right by the lake. I don’t have to drive. I can go straight on the lakefront.

ML: That actually leads right into what would be my next question: do you ever see yourself leaving the area?

NK: I don’t think so. No. I live here till I’m gone [laughs].

ML: So I know that you said that your family is still in Pakistan, but that you still have some friends here. Did you find it easy to make good close friends, a kind of family, without being related?

NK: No, I don’t have any close friends.

ML: You don’t have any close friends?

NK: I see a lot of people, but I’m not…we just talk. They don’t stay after the goodbye. I don’t go to their house; they don’t come to my home. It is my nature. I don’t want to be too close to anybody. Except my own family, I just try to keep everything…. I talk to them. I’m close to them, but not too close either. I want my own space. I don’t want anybody at my apartment. The same with my house. I just have a big house. So nobody comes to my house. I don’t want anybody. Neither do I go to anybody’s house.


ML: But you said that’s your nature?

NK: That’s my nature. I don’t try to mess around in people’s home, going into people’s houses. Neither do I want somebody to come to my place. I want to have own space, I want to have my privacy.

ML: That’s understandable.

NK: It is my nature. I know a lot of friends. I have a lot of American friends, I got lot of Indian friends, Pakistani friends, African American friends, Caucasian, Jewish and Muslims. I see them but not too close. We go for a cup of tea or coffee or lunch or dinner, after just goodbye.

ML: Overall, how would you rate the process and experience of immigrating into the U.S. in general?

NK: I had no problems.

ML: You had no problems?

NK: No.

ML: It was easy?

NK: Yeah, yeah. I had no problem. The main reason…what could be the reason because…I had dealt with Americans when I was in Pakistan. When I used to work for Texaco. So it could be the reason. Because I was comfortable, I was comfortable with those guys. And the communications and all those things. But for me the transition was not too difficult. Maybe was for someone else but not for me. Could be because I was young, because I was already dealing with the people from America, so…I had no problems. I was fairly comfortable.


ML: Do you currently only practice speaking English, do you speak your original language at all, or…?

NK: So, I seldom get the chance to speak it, I seldom get the chance to communicate in my own language, you know? Because I have nobody here, because the lady… she’s my friend. She’s a great lady. She’s a good…she is good to me. She takes care of me, when I am sick and all those things. She is a good person. She has been living with me for 30 years, and we communicate in English. She doesn’t know a single Pakistani word.

ML: When you call home do you speak to them in Pakistani?

NK: In Pakistani. If I talk to, in case…if I talk to my nieces or nephews and their family members, yeah I speak to them in our language.

ML: So it keeps you practicing it somewhat.

NK: Yeah, I practice somewhat. Yeah because I seldom get the chance to talk in my own language. Without speaking in the one language for months…weeks and weeks. Sometime ago up there on Devon, I just go and sit there and nice [unintelligible], right on the corner of Devon and Western, they also sell snacks, I want to say sweet stuff, you know? Desserts and all those things. They also sell snacks, sweet and salty snacks, tea and coffee…all those knickknacks. Sometimes when I feel like visiting the language, I just go over there. I just grab a cup of tea, and then I just sit on the table. They’re next to me. More or less the same. They’re Pakistani. They speak in our own language. I just listen to them [laughs]. For a couple of hours.


ML: That’s a great way to keep, keep at least in contact with the language.

NK: I don’t participate, but I take the newspaper. They also carry newspapers in our own language. They’re called Urdu.

ML: Urdu, ok.

NK: It’s a mix of Arabic and Persian language. So they are newspapers in Urdu too. So I grab three or four newspapers, I read the newspapers there, and I listen to those guys. After that, when I’m done with the newspapers, I throw the newspapers in the garbage. Then I take a bus or cab, I just come home [laughs].

ML: If you had to give one piece of advice to anybody coming from India or Pakistan, moving to Chicago, what would it be?

NK: Well, if you are student, study hard. If you are an employee, work hard. Be honest. Don’t try to be too smart. Don’t think other people are stupid. And be honest. Be good to the people, and don’t be prejudiced with the color of their skin or their religion and all those things. Have an open mind. And be good to this country, and this country has a lot to offer you. If you be helped in a positive way. There is no other country in this world like America. That is what I would tell people.


ML: Would you recommend people to move into Chicago?

NK: Yeah, sure.

ML: Would you recommend Edgewater in particular, or just Chicago in the city itself?

NK: Yeah, come to Edgewater, because they can see lot of different people’s out; different cultures, different restaurants…. This area - you can see at least thirty or forty kind of restaurants. They got Middle Eastern restaurant. They got Jewish restaurant, Ethiopian restaurant, Indian, Pakistani, Italian, and you name it. Greek. I go to all these places. I go to all these restaurants. Because I don’t drive. I got a very excellent car, top of the line car, but I don’t drive my car. So I just walk in the neighborhood. I just go over there. I grab the dinner. I eat. So there are a lot of interesting places, and you can get all kind of food here.


ML: And of course food brings everybody together.

NK: Yeah. For the rich culture, different people, so…yeah Edgewater is a good place.

ML: Well thank you very much for your very interesting story, I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to it.

NK: Likewise, you’re a good person.

ML: Thank you.

NK: Once you are done, you will have a degree in what?

ML: Psychology.

NK: What do they call it?