The following is a letter written by an Indian Station Master to his boss. The language used by the Station Master shows his utmost loyalty to his employers plus his contemporary Indian ability to use flowery language.
"STATION MASTER'S OFFICE,
April 4, 1905
To The Traffic Manager,
Most Honoured and Respected Sir,
I have the honour to humbly and urgently require your Honour's to relieve me of my onerous duties at Londiani so as to enable me to visit the land of my nativity, to wit, India forsooth.
This in order that I may take unto wife a damsel of many charms who has long been cherished in the heart-beats of my soul. She is of superfluous beauty and enamoured of the thought of becoming my wife. Said beauteous damsel has long been goal of my manly breast, and now am fearful of other miscreant deposing me from her loftly affections Delay in consummation may be ruination most damnable to romance of both damsel and your humble servant.
Therefore, I pray your Honour allow me to hasten India and contract marriage forthwith with said beauteous damsel. This being done happily, I will return to Londiani to resume my fruitful official duties and perform also my natural matrimonial functions. It is dead loneliness here without this charmer to solace my empty heart.
If your Honour will so far rejoice my soul to this extent, and also as goes equally without saying that of said wife-to-be, I shall for ever pray, as in duty bound, for your Honour's life- long prosperity, everlasting happiness, the promotion of most startling rapidity, and withal the fatherhood of many Godlike and lusty children to gambol playfully about your Honour's paternal knees to heart's contentment.
If, however, for reason's of State or other extreme urgency, the Presence cannot suitably comply with terms of this humble petition, then I pray your most excellent Superiority to grant me this benign favour for Jesus Christ's sake, a gentleman whom your Honour very much resembles.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Not only did I approve of this quaint effusion, but wished Gokal Chand the best of luck with his romance and application for leave to Bombay. I knew" Cruicky" would be hugely entertained and would add this letter to his collection. Later, I heard that Gokal Chand's leave had been granted; and, when next I saw him, a purdah woman shyly peeped out at me from the depths of his quarters. I wondered if she was as beautiful as her husband claimed! I shall never know. (Foran [Cuckoo] p. 183/4)
Laying of the foundation stone of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Nairobi. The foundation stone of the New Gurdwara (below) was laid by S. Mohan Singh, S. S.S.Mehta, S.Kartar Singh [on behalf of his father S. Atma Ram Singh] , S. Jaswant Singh Bilkhu and S. Labh Singh Sagoo.
Sikh Temple MAKINDU, on the main road from Nairobi to Mombasa.
Maharaja Of Patiala Yadvendra Singh being flanked by S. Labh Singh and S. Kirpal Singh Sagoo, who was the first Sikh to receive the OBE in Colonial Kenya.
|Kirpal Singh Sagoo meets the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Indian High Commissioner and the late MP Tom Mboya are also in the picture.|
|The Patiala Pavilion of the Nairobi Sikh Union Club was officially opened by the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadvendra Singh on his visit to Nairobi during the 60's. Right is a photo of him receiving a 'Saropa' from Sri P.S.Kanwal during his visit to the East African Ramgarhia Board. Secretary H.S.Sahota is on the mike.|
When the Europeans tried to make East Africa progress and prosper, the Ramgarhias then in East Africa played a very important role as far as the building of houses and railway lines was concerned.
As East Africa advanced economically, the Ramgarhias were rolling in money and became owners of colossal buildings and businesses. Their children had all the facilities for a sound education. Most of them went overseas and returned as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals.
The East African Ramgarhia Board, Nairobi.
The Ramgharias in Nairobi achieved prominence by assisting in the erecting of Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Gurdwara Bazaar, Gurdwara Landhian and other Sikh temples. Before long there emerged other small Sikh sects and each sect began to work for its own people. Sardar Hem Singb Ji Amritsari and Sardar Kehar Singh Ji Kalsi, the then leading contractors in Nairobi thought of forming an organisation of the Ramgharias and in 1934 the "Ramgharia Board" came into being.
The Ramgharia Board soon began to function and some leading figures began to preach the aims and objects of Sikhism. Various religious ceremonies were regularly celebrated and with assistance of hard working and- religious minded volunteers the Board was able to complete 101 "Paths".
The keen interest and the co-operation of the public enabled the Board to organise and successfully carry out 17 conferences. Leading Ramgharias from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania took part in these conferences. The 18th conference was held in 1960 under the Presidentship of Sardar Tara Singh Ji Dogra at Eldoret. In this conference some new rules and regulations for the improvement of Sikh temples were passed and after the conference great steps were taken to foster unity amongst the Sikhs.
In 1958 the Ramgharia Board had its elections and Sardar Bakhshish Singh Sian was elected as the President. Under his management the Board made quite a lot of progress and more people began to show interest and soon the Board bought a 31/2-acre plot at the junction of Fort Hall Road and Juja Road for five lakhs. Quite a substantial amount, which had been collected by the previous management, helped the present committee to pay for this plot.
At the 18th conference in Eldoret it was unanimously decided that a Sikh dispensary should be opened for the benefit of the poor population regardless of caste and creed. Because of the high fees of private doctors, a need for a dispensary was greatly felt and soon the first Ramgharia Sikh Dispensary was opened on the 18th of November, 1959, by Sardar Jagat Singh Matharu (Director Jagat Singh & Sons). Soon it was felt that a similar dispensary be opened and on the 2nd of September, 1962, another dispensary was opened in Eastleigh Section 11, about two miles from Nairobi, by Sardar Hari Singh Ji (M/s. Hari Singh & Co.) [Below]
Facing the Ramgarhia Board was a three-storied building the ground floor of the building had shops, while the first and second floors had residential flats where quite a few families lived happily paying yearly rents. Two of the shops on the ground floor were converted into a dispensary. About 500 patients visited the two dispensaries monthly. The city Council also showed a keen interest in the improvement of the dispensary after having known that the dispensary was for people of all races.
A library is a great source of knowledge. It is place where via newspapers, books and magazines one is able to know about what is going on all over the world. A community that does not have a library restricts its development. The governments of almost all countries have opened public libraries for the benefit of its citizens. Keeping this in mind the Ra-mgharia Board decided to convert one of the shops in the three storied building into a library. Soon the library was flooded with Hindi, Panjabi, Urdu and English books. The opening of the Library was done on the 13th April, 1959 by Sardar Kartar Singh Ji (Directorate: Bansal Brothers, Nairobi). The Africans made a very good use of this library.
Facing the Ramgharia Gurdwara was an empty space. Many suggestions for making something on this plot were considered and it was finally decided that a beautiful social hall be built. With donations from various people in the form of cement, sands, wood, etc., a beautiful hall was built. A substantial donation towards the building of this was from Sardar Hardial Singh Ji, (Directorate Hardial Singh and Bros. Ltd.). Sardar Kartar Singh Ji Shankar Wallah laid the foundation stone of the building. The hall had a 3-feet high stage with a beautiful curtain. At the back was a gallery. The Hall, which was soundproof, had a capacity of 2,000. 'Gurpurb" functions, marriages and other social and religious occasions were celebrated in this Hall. The Hall was one of the few good Halls in Nairobi.
From the above achievements it was obvious that the Ramgharia Board had been very active and helpful. Apart from building dispensaries and libraries the Board had been and is giving scholarships to intelligent students who cannot pursue their studies due to lack of finance. The Board is proud of having helped to make quite a few doctors, engineers and lawyers, now playing a very important role in the development of this country. The Board has been assisting widows and orphans by providing them with accommodation and other necessary requirements.
|Councillor Bakshish Singh Sian, past President Ramgarhia Board, Nairobi.||Mistry Santa Singh Road Contractor - member Ramgarhia Supreme Council.||S.Tarlok Singh Nandhra, a renowned architect and past President Ramgaria Board.|
The following article has been taken out from a magazine printed in 1982.
The Ramgarhia Sikh Community is deprived of a respectable and pioneer personality, Sardar Hem Singh Bhangra who passed away on Friday 25th March, 1983 after short illness. His life Span of 58 years was full of pleasant smile, good sense of humour and bubbling laughter which will always be remembered by his family, relatives, friends and colleagues.
Sardar Hem Singh Bhangra was bom on 2nd April, 1925 at Raikot, Punjab, India. Where he received his education and passed matriculation. He arrived in Kenya sometimes in 1947 to join his father Mistry Santa Singh Bhangra, a respectable personality in Civil Service during the War time when he had assisted the Authorities to recruit thousands of Asian Manpower in all trades and later a successful businessman as a Saw Miller.
Sardar Hem Singh Bhangra proved to be an asset to his father in the business and gradually took over from his father with successful planning of expansion of business of Kapsabet Saw Mills now a well-established business under the name of Bhangra Saw Mills. He further marched ahead with prosperity with God's Grace as Building and Civil Engineering Contractors in the name of Construction Engineers and Builders Ltd. and Come-cons Africa Limited with the association of his able and hardworking Sons Sardar Parladh Singh Bhangra, Bahadur Singh Bhangra and his nephew Kuldip Singh Sira and are established as reputable Contractors.
During his best years in business as me as an enthusiastic Social Worker, Mr. Bhangra earned reputable Credit and Scored popularity and established Cordial relations with various Communities of Asian Origin and Government Leaders which prompted him to contest Civic elections during 1954/1955 which he won with heavy majority and rendered his Services to the Council selflessly and tirelessly. He also Served on International Organisations like Lions Club and Masonic Lodge. AllSikh Societies had great faith and always looked forward to him for his valuable guidance and advice.
Sardar Hem Singh Bhangra who was a staunch Supporter of E.A. Ramgarhia Board, a member of Ramgarhia Supreme Council, Ramgarhia Elders Council, and Patron of Ramgarhia Health Centre and Ramgarhia Trust Fund, had played a key role in keeping the Ramgarhia Community United as well as generous Donor for all Development Projects of the Community and other worthy Causes of National Welfare.
During his Life time he adopted a Noble policy to assist financially and in Welfare matters less fortunate families irrespective of their Caste, Colour or Creed and has left many a grateful behind him.
|A Fund Raising Raffle in aid of Ramgarhia Health Centre was Organised, the Draw of which took place on 25th February, 1982 when Sardar Hem Singh Bhangra presided over the Function along with the Guest of Honour, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Honourable Charles Njonjo, M.P. and gave generous donation for this worthy Cause. (see above photo)||Ramgarhia Sikh Leaders with the President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi (1982)|
An Historic photo of the opening of Gurdwara Ramgarhia Railway in 1903, and the photo below of the committee who celebrated 100 years of the Gurdwara, (photos -courtesy of S. Balbir Singh Kalsi, ex treasurer Ramgarhia Board Nairobi)
THE ATROCITIES OF DICTATOR AMIN IN UGANDA
It was during the 1950's that the British Royal family members started visiting East Africa, and in this repect Princess Margaret, the Queen sister visited Nairobi. The people were very enthusiastic and gave this beautiful Princess a resounding welcome. All the Asian communities built gates on the nearly 2 mile long Government Road to bid welcome to the Princess. Here we show some of those gates built by the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. But the best gate was built by the Sikhs as can be seen. The artist Hari Singh Bansal was responsible for this masterpiece. He also built another gate for the Namdhari Singhs in 1959, which is also shown. He was also responsible for building the Gurdwara at Makindu and some Mosques and Mandirs in Nairobi and in other parts of East Africa.
Sikhs pose in front of the Muslim gate with the Khoja Mosque in the background.
The Gate of the Ismailia Community - a very prosperous community with the blessing and leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan.
This gate was built and decorated with paintings by S. Hari Singh Bansal (seen here between the ladies). This gate was built in 1959 to welcome Satguru Partap Singh Ji to East Africa. Hari Singh Bansal was also responsible for the building of the above Sikh gate to welcome Princess Margaret.
A huge African tree somewhere near Arusha with a Sikh pioneer.
A fall near Moshi (Tanzania) - one of the spectacular scenes in Africa. There is a saying that if 'you have not seen Africa - you have not seen anything!'
Nearly two tons of dead rhino lie in the foreground of this picture as mute evidence of the car's encounter on the Nairobi-Mombasa road.
Another scene on the Nairobi-Mombasa road.
An international sign post at the old Nairobi Airport.
The following story has been sent by Dr. Gurjinder Singh Bhari (living in U.K) about his great grand-dad Bhaia Ji Narain Singh who emigrated to Kenya in 1898 AD. We thank him for the information.
Narain Singh Bhari (well known as Mistri ji)
Born approximately in the year 1863 in India, Pind Verka
He initially lived and worked in Lahore at his Massr's furniture shop. While working at the shop he was taught carpentry and joinery. He later signed up to go to East Africa to build the Uganda Railway.
He came to Mombasa, Kenya in 1898 on a two-year contract with the British Government and commenced work as a carpenter at the Makupa Railway Bridge. Makupa was also the site of the first Sikh Gurudwara in East Africa.
His colleagues were his elder brother Mr.Prem Singh and three others.
After finishing his contract while working with railways on the main line which was running from Mombasa to Kisumu, he boarded the train back at Fort Ternan, which is halfway between Nauru and Kisumu. He was offered an extension of his contract, but seeing his colleagues depart at the railway station, he joined them and returned to India. While working on the main line they had a tough life because fear of wild life, sickness, jiggers in their feet and had to live in tents. He then travelled between India and Kenya a few times before he returned to settle permanently in Kenya.
On his return, Bhaia ji (as the family lovingly calls him) started working in Limuru for British East Africa Saw Mill (popularly known as BEA Saw Mills) and worked for three years. While working at B.E.A. Saw Mills he was taught saw milling by Mr. McClure (a Scot) and became a saw doctor. In 1906 he started working in Nairobi for Equator Saw Mill, which had their branches in Maji Muzuri and Sabatia. Colonel E.S. Grogan ( Grogan Road, below River Road, in Nairobi was named after him) was the owner of these Saw Mills. Mr. Narain Singh worked for the mill for approximately 23 years. The newspaper cutting from the Sunday Post Newspaper indicates the high regard held by Colonel Grogan for Bhaia ji.
After working with Equator Saw Mill he worked with various small-building contractors. Eventually in 1929 he opened his own construction company.
By this time he was already a grandfather to Manmohan Kaur who would be affectionately known as` Mohni Panji' among the ladies because of her satsang every week in Pangani for Babe Nanki and was very close to Bibiji ( Bibi Balwant Kaur) who is the head of Bebe Nanki movement. His son Piara Singh was an ardent sportsman and won many trophies for motorbike races. His elder son Gurbux Singh later joined him in his construction company.
The cutting from E.A. Standard newspaper dated 2nd. November 2000 shows the corner of the building now Commonwealth House on Moi Avenue (formerly Government Road near Harding Street), which had offices (around 1950) of Narain Singh Gurbux Singh Ltd. (Below)
There was a furniture shop at the ground floor belonging to Mr. Bassan (see below in OLD MEMORIES)-who later initiated renovations to Sikh Gurdwara in Makindu.
Enclosed is also a photograph showing Chevrolet model 1940 belonging to the family all equipped for a "Safari" journey either to Mombasa or Kisumu. In 1950 most of the roads were dirt roads and it was very easy for somebody to get bogged in mud. (Below)
Bhaia ji was involved in the building of projects in Kariokor, and Kaloleni African Housing Estates (for Nairobi City Council), and extensions to the National Museum and Nairobi Club. In 1932 he constructed the General Hospital in Nyeri, Kenya.
Two beautiful houses apart from others were built in Nairobi one for Mr.Erskine on Riverside Drive and the other was for the Official Residence of the South African High Commissioner on Nairobi Hill (now Kibera). Well known architects M/S. Blackburn Norman designed the Commissioner's house.
Bhaia ji had a quarry near the present Mater Hospital in South 'B'. He used to supply ballast to the Nairobi City Council and also to the Uganda Railways at Voi and Taru. At the quarry he had a workshop where he made his own furniture and joinery for the construction projects he was carrying out at that time. At the quarry he also had a small 'shamba' and planted yellow maize and kept a few dairy cows.
Mr. Narain Singh was very respectable person among the Sikh Community in Nairobi. He was Chairman and a trustee of Siri Guru Singh Sabha Nairobi for many years. He used to arbitrate in feuds between families and friends. In the earlier days he used to live in his own house near what is now Landhies Road. The house was well known and became famous by the name of 'Ardu Walla Verrah' because it had some peach trees in the courtyard. Even now people still remember the house by that name and older generations may refer to the family as the 'Ardu Walley'. Mistri Narain Singh was a very generous person and always helped people in difficulties. He used to let people stay in the house free of charge for a few days when they used to come from India to Kenya.
In 1948 he moved to the house constructed by him and his sons in Parklands. One of his sons, Gurbux Singh Bhari is the patriarch of our family. He is 93 years old and lives in the same family home in Parklands.
Bhaia ji had seen some of his great grand children before he passed away in 1963 at the age of nearly 100years and left the family with pleasant memories and rich teachings. His great- and great-great- grandchildren live in Kenya, the US, Canada, the UK and India.
Prominent Sikh leaders with President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya.On left of the President is S.Sardar Singh Vohra and on his right is S.Balwant Singh Panesar. Behind the President is S. Sampuran Singh Bassan (black specs) on whose right is S. Didar Singh. And on his left near the African guard is S.Mangal Singh Bansal (watchmaker) and S. Gian Singh Jandu. (Some names are forgotten or not known - kanwal)
The members of the Sikh Community present Gutundu Hospital with a TV set. S. Sardar Singh Vohra and S. Sampuran Singh Bassan can be seen on each side of the President.
A scene of National & Grindlays Bank opposite the Bus Station in Government Road during the 50's.
Another view of the above with the Capitol Cinema next to it.
A scene of Government Road with the Kenya Cinema on the right 60's.
The New Stanley Hotel on Delamere Avenue. The building on the left was occupied by David Lyall Ltd. -The Omega people.
Delamere Avenue with the statue of Lord Delamere opposite David Lyall Ltd, the Omega people. The building on its left was demolished for the new Barclays Bank Government Road branch. This photo was taken before UHURU.
This photo taken in 1985 shows the Barclays bank building and a new building next to it. A complete contrast from the top picture.
Another view of the above pictures with the New Stanley Hotel on the right.
Delamere Avenue during the 50's.
The picturesque Nairobi with the Parliament House, Kenyatta Conference Centre in the background against the Uhuru Park.
A citroen car crossing a ferry at Kagera in Uganda.
A train winding through the great Rift Valley of Kenya.
An Italian built church in the escarpment (rift valley) between Nairobi and Nakuru.
A photograph taken in 1949 of the main street Nakuru.
The car! - the road! tell the full story.
The Jinja Bridge on the Nile.
Title of a book written by Vanoo Jivraj Somia about Indians of East Africa
Sikhs in East Africa are popularly known as 'Kalasingha'. I had always assumed that the word was a Kiswahili derivative until I discovered that 'Sardar Kala Singh' was the name of an individual who came to East Africa in 1896. He traveled all over the country meeting the local people and became a familiar figure. As he wore the distinctive male Sikh attire his 'tribe' became easily distinguished and well known. So much so that to this day when graphic artists want to depict a South Asian character, they draw a Sikh with his turban.
Most of the Sikhs in Kenya are descendants of the artisans and labourers who came to build the Uganda Railway for the British colonialists. These hardy workers were physically strong and highly skilled and most belonged to the Ramgharia sect. In 1908 when Churchill praised the Sikh soldier in his book, African Journey, he was referring to the smaller section of Sikh Jats. Both groups came from what was then the Punjab in northwestern India.
Best known and most famous of them all is Makhan Singh, the founder of organized trade unionism in Kenya. But even before Makhan Singh set foot in East Africa, Sikh workers were already leading the struggle for workers' rights. His father Sudh Singh was the main organizer of a group of railway workers, all Sikhs, who agitated for better working conditions. Some of his colleagues were Gurbux Singh, Ojagar Singh, Kishen Singh, Bhagwan Singh and Kaiser Singh. In 1921 Sudh Singh was dismissed from the railway for his activities.
After trying his hand at various trades, Sudh Singh set up a printing press. Other Sikhs became traders, contractors, builders, furniture makers, saw millers, motor mechanics, electricians, tailors and blacksmiths. Renowned as expert 'fundis', a stereotype developed of the Sikhs as a people of physical prowess but lacking intellectual know-how. Hence the many jokes about their escapades.
The stereotype is just a label and belies the reality. Makhan Singh was one of Kenya's most committed intellectuals who, in 1950, made the first call for uhuru. Previous to that, in the 1930s, Gujjar Singh had been president of the Workers' Society of Kenya and Hem Singh, president of the IndianContractors and Builders Association. In Dar-es-salaam, the secretary of the Asiatic Labour Union was Gurcharan Singh. By 1933, Naher Singh Mangat was a practising lawyer and a member of the Legislative Council. His son, J. S. Mangat, was the first South Asian to write a detailed and substantive history of the South Asian community in Kenya.
Chanan Singh was another outstanding Sikh. A brilliant lawyer and a great Kenyan patriot; he defended Kenya's freedom fighters. Amongst his many accomplishments, he was once parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta. Jaswant Singh Bharaj made guns for the Mau Mau. Narain Singh was editor of the Sunday Post and claimed that 'Asians originated nationalism in Kenya'. Jasmer Singh, at one time editor of Drum magazine, is a sports personality in the cricket world and Joginder Singh is a rally driver.
Sikh philanthropic institutions are much admired. The Sikhs have a worldwide tradition of building rest-houses and providing food. The service is open to all travelers and the temple at Makindu on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway, is the best example of this. The Khalsa schools and hospitals cater to the ordinary wananchi as well as their own community members. Sikh professionals and businessmen are active in service organizations such as the Lions and Rotarv.Class differences have generated much debate within the Ramgharia community and between the Ramgharias and the Siri Guru Singh Saba, an organization of the Jat Sikhs. With modernization the dividing lines have become fainter but it is this presence of a large working class that has endeared the Sikhs to the African masses. Devoid of the caste prejudices which so often handicap the South Asian psyche, they are able to socialize and mingle with their fellow African workers. Their hardy physique and outgoing demeanour, their willingness to share a drink or two and their camaraderie enables them to cross cultural and racial barriers. Familiesraised by Sikh men married to African women are scattered throughout Kenya.
Sikh women have made great strides in education but they, like their South Asian sisters, are still bound by their cultural traditions. They are largely active within the women's wings of their gurdwara and communal milieu, conducting prayers and collecting funds for charity.
Almost two-thirds of the Sikh community in Kenya emigrated after independence. Nevertheless those that remain form a dynamic and vibrant group of Kenyans who continue to make their mark, and are much respected, on the national scene.
(The above article taken with courtesy from a brochure by Gurdwara Ram. railways centenary celebrations)
Sikhs and other asian staff by the Uganda Railway engine - around 1930's.
Poets of 'JAI HIND KAVI MANDAL' Nairobi. Photo taken in 1946. Third from left seated is Pandit Laxmi Narain Shastri 'Gardish' - a prominent figure in Nairobi. Harjinder kanwal's father P.S. Kanwal is on the extreme right seated.
Photo taken in 1930 - Members of Kavya Phulwari
From LtoR sitting: Gopal Singh Chandan, Prem Singh Mastana Jogi, Ragi labh Singh, Giani Gian Singh Mahilpuri & Sita Ram Mangal: Standing LtoR Makhan Singh, Bishan Singh Bara Pind, Devinder Singh Dev & Meharban Singh.
This photo and a short Biography of Gopal Singh Chandan has been sent by his son Amarjit Chandan, which outlines a brief history of the days in Kenya during the 1930/40s. We are very grateful to him for such an important and interesting information ( to order a copy of the book please write to Dr Darshan S Tatla
Centre for Migration Studies
Lyallpur Khalsa College
. To read and see more memorable pictures click for pdf file.
1942 - Machakos, Kenya - only a handful of Sikhs were there at the time. Kanwal's father P.S.Kanwal second from left sitting and Mr. Mastan Singh Mangat, standing in middle.This photo is of members of the Machakos volleyball team and nearly all the Indians residing in Machakos at the time.
P.S.Kanwal with his group of musicians enjoying in Kitui, near Machakos in 1945.
Young Harjinder kanwal -fourth from left with his father P.S.Kanwal who played part of Raja Harish Chandra in a play -'Satyavadi Raja Harish Chandra' staged at Machakos on January 5th 1946. Members of 'Machakos Youth League Dramatic Society' can be seen in various drama uniforms.
Talking about dramatic societies and art in Kenya, who can forget the name of Harbhajan Preet, who being a teacher in City Primary School, was an excellent actor who later on became a good director. The following article was printed in the Standard on January 16, 1986 on the sad demise of another very talented actor - Rashpal Panesar (below) - a student and then a teacher of Eastleigh Secondary School - (see section Miscellaneous -ESS).
This article was written by Nigel Slade.
"I knew him: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." (Hamlet)
In these still dawning days of 1986 a shadow has fallen with the quiet passing of Rashpal Panesar, one of the most gifted comedians to brighten Nairobi's stages. He was only 37 years old. Death can affect us of the theatre in two different ways. On the one hand it provides the material for much of the drama on and through which we work. The true actor uses it as a means to evoke emotion without himself being affected, no matter how much he may seem so.On the other hand, when it is real and concerns a fellow-thespian, it touches us in special ways over and above those normally occasioned. One of these is the profound sadness that never again shall we enjoy the deceased's own proficiency in the art we all love so dearly.
"Where be your gibes now? Your gambols?" asks Hamlet of the long-departed jester Yorick. It is now that sorrowfully we ask these questions of Rashpal.
I do not think that Rashpal was ever formally trained. What he came to know of stagecraft was purely from practical experience, the business of "getting up and trying it". It was thus that he developed his own brand of comedy which put him in demand by many groups and which had just begun to win him a reputation amongst audiences.
I adored his style. He was never a deliberate comic. Rather he won laughter for the faint but noticeable "bewilderment" which characterised his playing. It was as if he was never fully au fait with what was happening (though in reality he was, very much so!) and he gained many more laughs For often appearing mildly apologetic for his puzzlement. I recall once discussing his style with a connoisseur of cinema.
He reminds me of a cross between Buster Keaton and Danny Kaye," said he. True - but Rashpal had more than just Keaton or Kaye about him. He had Rashpal! Anothar effect of an actor'a death on theatre- folks is toremind them that, though they do not know each other and have different ideas about theatre, they belong to a great, if unseen fraternity.
So will it be with Rashpal Indeed even more so- Rashpal was one of those very few able to cross the cultural barriers which so demarcate our different forms of theatre. Indian theatre, Kenyan theatre, Western theatre - he raised laughs for and with them all. He belonged to them all. It is fitting then that a special evening in appreciation of his memory will be held at the National Theatre next Sunday at 6p.m. Here is a wonderful chance for all of us, with our very different ways, to get together and salute a man who had only one way. and that was for all.
Off-stage Rashpal was a mild but sociable man, who never boasted of his talent. Like any artist he welcomed praise for his work but he was often puzzled by it. He once observed to me: "I just love the stage - any stage! If people love what 1 do, why, I can only love them in return." That was typical of the simple modesty of one who sought to be friends with everyone. When I go to the National Theatre on Sunday, I shall be full of memories of moments when he had me laughing uncontrollably. My mind will be sad but my heart will be laughing. That, I am sure, is how Rashpal would wish it.
At the time of his departure Rashpal was the Chairperson of "Natak". Some of his major roles were in:
1. Ramesh Mehta's "Undersecretary".2. Ramesh Mehta's "Khuli Baat" 3. Ramesh Mehta's "Roti aur Bet" 4. "Saray-ke-Bahar" 5. Shiv Batalvi's "Loona" 6. Waris Shah's "Heer Ranjha" 7. Allaudin Qureshi's "Chachi O Chachi" 8. A. Qureshi's "Parchhayian" 9. "Anarkali" 10. Shahnawaz Zaidi's "Woh Manzilen Woh Raastey" 11. Shanawaz/Allaudin's "Do Duni Paanch" 12. Shahnawaz's "Aankh Micholi" 13. Balwant Gargi's "Kanak di Balli" 14. Allaudin's "Aashiana" 15 Swinder Gulatis "Paisa paisa Paisa". And many TV skits and shows.
Sant Ishar Singh Ji Rarewale with Sangat members in Nairobi during his visit in 1951
Dr. Radhakrishnan, the President of India came to Nairobi during the sixtees,seen in an open car going through River Road with a Sikh Police Driver.
|The history of the South Asians in East Africa is not very old. It is only about 100 years since the first Indians landed on the shores of Kenya, namely Mombasa. The journeys in those days were accomplished in dhows which were the main source of transport and starting from Bombay the journeys could take as much as months to complete as the dhows depended on the state of the winds. It was after a lot of hardships that some of our ancestors reached Kenya to serve in the Uganda Railways which was being built from Mombasa to Kampala.
The Punjabis (Hindus, Muslims & Sikhs) were the main source of skilled and semi skilled labourers who worked on the railways. They suffered numerous hardships including the lions of Tsavo.
Do You or Your parents or Grandparents had any escapades, adventures, memorable incidents, interesting stories, their rise to fame or riches, old photographs or mementoes, souvenirs, brochures of Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika - magazines printed by gurdwaras or federations, clubs, schools, students etc. Any documents or photos about East Africa – anything!
I am in the process of writing a book on the ‘Punjabi Heritage in East Africa’ and I need information as much as possible. Just get in touch with me and send me the information (which will be returned after use). Your name will be acknowledged in the book.
Your assistance would help in inserting your ancestors’ names in the history of East Africa.
Harjinder Singh Kanwal,
Phone: 024 7631 9483