Bera Mahli

Bera Mahli

I was born in Punjab near Jalandar and came to England in 1968 when I was 10 years old. I travelled on my own and I lived with my Granddad (my mom’s dad) in Gravesend, Kent. My granddad was a real inspiration to me, he was the one that taught me to work hard and try to help others he worked in the papermill. When I came to England I could not speak English, and there were only 3 other Asian children in my school 1 girl and 2 boys in some ways I was very isolated. 

I would catch the bus to school every day, and I would often face a lot of racism, in particular, there was a group of white boys on the bus who would make racist comments and try to knock my turban off, which is a sign of disrespect for Sikhs. I suffered this for months I could not tell my grandad as I did not want him to worry and at that time I did not have a lot of friends and so I had to deal with it on my own. One day I had enough of the abuse and so I knew where the group of lads got off on the bus, there were about 6 of them. So as the bus moved from the last stop before they got off, I tackled them, and did not stop beating them up until the conductor came over and stopped it. They never even looked in my direction after that. 

I moved to Birmingham in 1970 when I was 13. I actually started Morris dancing at the school I went to, Wattville Secondary School in Handsworth, the headmistress encouraged everyone to do it. The headmistress created a Friday afternoon ‘activity day’ where you could do whatever you wanted. From there we started traditional folk dancing called bhangra and then we formed our own bhangra group called Wattville Stars. We started performing all over Birmingham at schools, universities and charity events. 

In 1973 I joined Taranga Bhangra Group after leaving school, after that we formed our own bhangra group called Nachdey Hasdey in1986. As our bhangra group grew in popularity we had a lot of interest from the younger generation and then we started to have different Bhangra classes. One of our aims was to get youngsters interested in their culture and to get them off the street and to be active. Bhangra dancing is very energetic. Everyone in the group would look forward to performing all over the country. 

We carried on with our bhangra dancing as we got older and we would work in the week and do bhangra dancing at the weekends. People requested bhangra at weddings or events such as birthday parties or corporate events because it was a colourful event, as our costumes are bright.

We also did a lot of charity work and fundraisers. We did a performance on BBC children in need, we also did a charity bhangra event to raise money for the Gujarat tsunami and we including myself completed a parachute jump to raise money for a 9-year-old boy who required specialist treatment. I like to enjoy what I do and I loved bhangra dancing. I would tell the younger people in the group that they have to enjoy it or don’t do it as it will affect the performance. We were lucky all our group truly enjoyed it.  I am still in contact with a lot of people from the bhangra group. 

I am now the landlord at the Red Cow Public House in Smethwick with my business partner. We took over the pub in 2010, we renovated the building and decorated it, so we have a pub for people to socialise and 2 banqueting suites where people can have their events such as pre-wedding parties, wedding receptions and birthday parties. We also introduced food, mainly Indian curries and grills. We even had the local police come and thank us because years ago there was always trouble at the pub so we have turned the reputation around. That meant a lot, and shows hard work pays off. 

Five years ago I lost my eldest son. He took his own life, he was 29. He was such an intelligent, witty, kind, good looking boy. He started helping me at the pub. When he passed away, it was a sentiment to him how many people were affected by his passing as he was such a great guy, a truly lovely person. He was so loved and well thought of.  It was the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with, and not a second goes by when he is not in my thoughts, I feel broken, no parent should have to lose their child, but I have to carry on for my family.

On the first anniversary of his death, we held a religious event called Akand Path at Smethwick Gudwarda. The gudwara had an event on mental health and suicide awareness which we were asked to take part. It was to reach the Sikh community to break down barriers. It was also to raise awareness of support groups available for the individual suffering and their family members and hopefully encourage people to talk about mental health so people don’t feel alone. 

My philosophy is to always help others and go out of your way to help them, me and my brothers (there are 6 of us in total) are well known for helping others in the community. People often come to me for help or advice. I feel helping others gives you purpose and it helps me keep going. I help myself by helping others. 

I try to encourage the younger generation to engage in positive things such as dance or sport, we provide a room at the pub for a bhangra team to practice and we also sponsor the local football club. It's all about working with all our community and helping the younger generation.

I feel that you have to have faith when facing obstacles My faith is in God, I always feel God puts obstacles your way to teach you a lesson and make you stronger. I feel that as long as you are working from your heart and you're giving your 100%, God will look after you. This is the way I deal with the challenges I have faced such as in business and with my health. 

I tell people that if you want to do something, you have to work really hard and do it. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. For instance, I have managed to turn my health around by changing my diet and exercising. It was not easy. I often didn’t feel like it but I kept forcing myself to exercise and eat healthily. I made these changes after I went to a health clinic in India called The Nature Cure Institute and since then I have noticed I am healthier and my consultants are amazed at my progress. I also worked hard in my business, when I first took on my previous pub The RedFort in Smethwick a lot of people doubted me, and said I would never make it work. I did not listen or take any notice I focused on myself and my business. It was not easy and at times I did feel tested but I always keep fighting.   

I now want to concentrate on raising suicide awareness and challenge the stigma around mental health. This is very important to me. As I don’t want other families to go through what we did. 

I want to be bigger than life. You know, I want people to see what I've achieved through hard work. You have to work hard to achieve anything.

Smethwick is a multi-cultural place and it is very interesting. I just want everybody to be living happily with no barriers, I try to do my part to make a better place for our community. 


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