Letter from New Delhi
Noted Former Kenyan Newspaper Editor, Kul Bhushan, reviews this heritage calendar with exultant memories of his 45-year stay in this country and personal relations with many of the outstanding Sikhs pictured on its 12 pages
“Thanks for providing me with the calendar on Kenyan Sikhs,” said Sayantan Chakravarty, the editor of an NRI magazine INDIAN EMPIRE, “Even Obama may like it, given his Kenya connection.” Of course! But the US President would relate to it even more if the heading on the cover was ‘Sikhs in Kenya’ instead of ‘Sikhs in Africa’ which is too much for just one of at least 54 countries.
By all means, this large – 15 ins. by 24 ins. – calendar for 2013 presents a pictorial history of how the Sikhs have contributed to the establishment of modern Kenya and its progress since independence in 1963. Rare photographs poignantly tell the saga of Sikh contribution to nation building.
When Bicky Singh presented me with this calendar, I was delighted to find so many familiar faces I had known personally and interacted with during my stay in Kenya. After the first three pages about their contribution up to World War I, the stories of my lasting friendship and professional associations with many of them flooded my memory.
January, Dhows and Railway: Sailboats called a dhow have been bringing Indians to east Africa for over 2,000 years. In late 19th century, the British brought Indian labourers to build the Kenya-Uganda railway line and Sikhs played a leading role in harsh conditions battling diseases and lions. But they succeeded to build ‘the lunatic line’ and stayed on to develop Kenya.
February, Askaris: This Swahili word means soldiers and the Sikhs are renowned as brave warriors. Three hundred men from the Punjab Rifles arrived to protect the railway and attacks by local tribes. The Sikhs also formed a large part of the police force.
March, World War I: As part of the British forces, 35,000 Sikhs fought against the Germans in Tanganyika carrying Guru Granth Sahib ahead of marching Sikh battalions in serious battles and guerrilla warfare.
April, Gurdwaras – Ten different gurudwaras in Kenya are featured with Makindu as the most prominent. This gurudwara in the middle of African bush on the Nairobi-Mombasa road is famous as a stopover for all motorists where they can pray and also eat guru-prasad.
May, Policemen: Distinguishing themselves in service, the Sikhs rose to top posts in the police and Kenya Air Force. The outstanding achievers are pictured here in full uniform and their honours.
June, Kalasingha: Every Sikh is known as Kalasinghs by the Africans. This mystery is solved with the photo of the Sikh from Patiala by this name who arrived in 1896. Other notable pioneers of this community are featured here.
July, Prominent Ones: Community leaders and spiritual guides of Kenya include Kericho Walla Baba in the small town of Kericho and became known for his spiritual guidelines and example.
August, Political Activists: Sikh politicians advocated for Kenya’s independence and human rights in the peaceful struggle for freedom. Outstanding among them was the trade unionist Makhan Singh, a close associate of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta.
September, British Honours: Kenyan Sikhs who made an impact on the global stage include Bhai Mohinder Singh honoured for his religious harmony; Gurinder Chadda for her films and Sir Mota Singh for his work in the judiciary in Britain.
October, Sports Stars: In motor rallying, Simba ya Kenya or Lion of Kenya, Joginder Singh won the East African Safari; Kugi Sagoo excelled at motor racing; and Surjit Singh in hockey, among others.
Kenya broadcasting had many Sikh stars like Pritam Chaggar, Chamn Lal Chaman and Bikram Bhambra; singers like Ragi Tara singh and Deedar Singh, poets like Sohan Singh and many others.
December, Creative Professionals: Photographers like Sir Mohinder Dhillon made their name globally, Ram Singh and Jaswant Singh locally; architects like Tarlok Nandhra and Harbans Singh were outstanding.
A small photo of Baba Hari Singh on this page hides many talents of this quiet and egoless spiritual devotee who was a master mason, master carpenter, indeed a master craftsman and, above all, a creative artist whose religious paintings adorn many Sikh and Hindu temples. He worked on Makindu gurudwara, Nairobi’s Pumwani mosque and Sanatan Dharam Temple with equal dedication and devotion.
I can write a volume about my personal experiences and encounters with these notable Sikhs and also propose the names of many more who merit inclusion here but this will be a massive task that is most daunting. All that is needed now is a sincere compliment for this project. Here it is: Kudos to the publishers for their hard work and meticulous research!
After publishing a similar calendar for Sikhs in Britain, this is the second publication in this series. The first is planned to be re-published as a coffee table book for a longer shelf life and it is hoped this one will also be re-born as another. Yes, with a revised front page for Sikhs in Kenya, President Obama will appreciate a copy of this calendar, so hurry up, before this year is over!
* Published in print edition on 14 September 2013