The twin cultural ambassadors of India

The twin cultural ambassadors of India
My grandfather S. Gurdial Singh (standing right) and his fraternal twin brother S Harminder Singh (standing second from left) with staff from the Consulat général de France (Embassy of France). Connaught Place, New Delhi. 1949

My grandfather S. Gurdial Singh (standing right) and his fraternal twin brother S Harminder Singh (standing second from left) with staff from the Consulat général de France (Embassy of France). Connaught Place, New Delhi. 1949 Image and Narrative contributed by Nona Walia, New Delhi This is photograph is of my grandfather S. Gurdial Singh (standing right) and his fraternal twin brother S Harminder Singh (standing second from left) with people from the Embassy of France in New Delhi in 1949. The brothers Gurdial and Harminder were born on August 1, 1916 in Wazirabad (now in Pakistan). The family was from a small town in Punjab, Chamkaur Sahib, where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru’s, sons were sacrificed. The twins' architect father Bir Singh had helped build government and residential buildings in Lahore (now in Pakistan) and Chamkaur town. Bir Singh, my great grandfather had two wives, and the first wife had a daughter. The societal pressure for property distribution (the patriarchal line) was immense by his brothers, so he married Balwant Kaur, who gave birth to the twins with the blessing and prediction of a local saint in Punjab, Randhir Singh. The twins it turned out were quite unlike each other. Gurdial Singh was a introvert, and liberal hearted with a tight circle of friends. Harminder Singh was an extrovert, dynamic, social, philosopher who loved meeting the whos who. The twins were just eight years old when their 34 year old father Bir Singh passed away and they were brought up by their mother, Balwant Kaur. Their spirit made them known for their strength, as Harminder (known as Kirpal Singh then) would daringly go swimming in the Ropar canal…

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Mixed marriages of the Indian Subcontinent and Africa

Mixed marriages of the Indian Subcontinent and Africa
My wife's aunt & uncle. Circa 1930s. Kenya [Composited with an colour background at a later date]

My wife's aunt & uncle. Circa 1930s. Kenya [Composited with an colour background at a later date] Image & Narrative contributed by Krishan Lal, Kenya with help from his son Dileep Nagpal This image is of my wife’s relatives in Kenya as a reference to the narrative below. In the late 19th century, an enterprising and adventurous Parsi Indian Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee left Karachi (now Pakistan) and sailed to Australia. As a house-to-house hawker, he managed to gain some knowledge of the English language and eventually migrated to East Africa in 1890. There, he established contact with British investors who were looking for some help to manage the planned Uganda Railways. After five years, Jeevanjee was awarded the contract to recruit Indian labourers from Punjab,  to build the Uganda Railways in Kenya  and the IBEAC (Imperial British East Africa Company) began building the railways construction from Kilindini Harbour, Mombasa. Beginning 1891, thousands of the Indian 'coolies'  (today this word is considered a racial slur in many African countries), mainly Sikhs & Punjabis, were recruited for a three-year-contract to build Kenya Uganda Railways. Almost all of them came alone, leaving their wives in India. One of the reasons why Indian labourers, instead of locals, were recruited was that the British faced severely hostility from the citizens of that country. The Indians on the other hand were there purely for economical reasons. They were also strong, tough and reliable hard workers and had previous experience with construction of building railways, roads, bridges and canals in India. In Kenya though, they had to face several hardships. Living in huddled groups in tents, they worked tirelessly to clear thick jungles, and break routes through hills…

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Across three continents with a sewing machine in tow

Across three continents with a sewing machine in tow
My mother, Satwant Kaur Virdee. Ludhiana, Punjab Circa 1967

My mother, Satwant Kaur Virdee. Ludhiana, Punjab Circa 1967 Image and Narrative contributed by Pritpal Virdee, UK This is a picture of my mother, Satwant Kaur Virdee photographed in Ludhiana, Punjab around the late 1960s. She was born in Nurpur, near Lahore (now Pakistan) in 1929 and later moved to Kot Badal Khan, Jalandhar district (now India). It was one of the many journeys and migrations my mother would make in her lifetime; initially with her mother and father, Daya Singh, and then with my father Prem Singh Virdee after marriage, circa 1945. She spent time at Nangal when Bhakra Dam was being constructed (my father was a mechanical engineer) then Phillaur, Ludhiana, Nakuru, Nairobi and finally Coventry, UK. Moving across three continents with her daughters in tow - a sewing machine too was always essential. This picture represents so much of the migration history that epitomises modern life, the Punjabi diaspora and our own personal family history. Migration from the Doaba area of Punjab has been prolific and in our family, it started initially with my maternal grandfather. Doaba is now called the 'NRI Hub of Punjab' as a consequence of a significant percentage migration of the Doabias. By the 1960s, my father also ventured into East Africa, taking advantage of family and colonial linkages. He spent time working in Nakuru, Kenya and my mother spent time in Ludhiana; father would often bring “foreign” gifts for his daughters when he returned home. He would buy bicycles, radios and other modern consumables, including a camera for his girls. My mother told me he was quite progressive in his thinking and despite us being girls, he wanted us to have the latest gadgets.…

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A decade after partition, they returned to claim their hidden treasure

A decade after partition, they returned to claim their hidden treasure
My grandparents, uncles and aunts on the day of my parent’s marriage. Jullandhar (now Jalandhar), Punjab. 1958

My grandparents, uncles and aunts on the day of my parent’s marriage. Jullandhar (now Jalandhar), Punjab. 1958 Image and Narrative contributed by Amita Bajaj, Mumbai My grandfather Dr. Gurbaksh Singh Nayar, or as we called him 'Papaji' was a well known practising doctor. His brothers and he owned a lot of real estate property in the North Eastern Punjab Province Sialkot's "Nayar Bazar" (now Pakistan). The market comprised of 34 shops with residences above. Nayar Bazar was a major section of the famous Trunk Bazar of Sialkot. Till the late 1980s, a board bearing this name of the Bazar was still on display. My grandfather and grandmother, Purandei Nayar whom we called ‘bhabiji’, had three sons. The youngest of whom was my father. In June of 1947, murmurs of communal troubles were in the air. My father was then a third year MBBS student of Balakram Medical College which was established by Sir Gangaram in Lahore. (It was re-established as Fatima Jinnah Medical College after it was abandoned during partition).Hearing of riots around the area, the eldest of the two older brothers, who was also studying medicine in Amritsar, tried to convince my grandmother to sell her savings, which were in form of silver bricks and the basement of their haveli (mansion) was stacked with them. Partition was imminent, yet my devout Sikh grandmother rebuked her sons, saying that should they sell the silver: "Loki kahangey ke nayaraan da divalaya nikal paya"! ("People will say that we are bankrupt!"). I was born in the 1960s, and had heard horror stories about Partition from my paternal grandmother, ‘bhabiji’. On August 14, 1947, the family was eating their brunch and actually saw the Sialkot police running away from the rioters…

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The cockerel-fighter from Punjab who became one of Africa’s greatest cameramen

The cockerel-fighter from Punjab who became one of Africa’s greatest cameramen
Sir Mohinder Dhillon, pictured on the deck of British Navy ship. Kenya. 1967

Sir Mohinder Dhillon, pictured on the deck of British Navy ship. Kenya. 1967 Image and Narrative contributed by Sir Mohinder Dhillon, Kenya The following text is a summarised and edited version of excerpts from an unpublished Autobiography of the contributor. Looking back over the 80 years, I wonder how, as a simple village boy from Punjab who never even finished school, did I end up in Africa, dodging bullets to make a living from shooting hundreds of kilometres of film in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. I come from the proud martial family of the Sikhs. I do not know the exact date of my birth, although my passport says 25 October 1931, Baburpur, Punjab. At the time, births were not registered, and parents habitually exaggerated the ages of their children in order to get them into school early and so have their own hands free during the day. Baburpur, formerly called Retla (the place of sand), was renamed after Mughal Emperor Babur who had reportedly camped near our village for a few weeks. My father, Tek Singh- My father, Tek Singh, was the first person in our village to get an education. He was an adventurous man, and in 1918 at the age of 17, he responded with enthusiasm to the recruiting posters for workers on the Uganda Railway in British East Africa. Believing that there was safety in numbers, he was joined by friends and former classmates from nearby villages and the determined young men collectively took up the challenge of seeking a better life abroad. This grandiose project of Uganda Railways would change the lives of the tens of thousands of Indians who left home for a new life…

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