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The Sikh experience in 1970s Britain


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This post might make me sound like some nostalgic old git - I am always accused of sounding like an extra on the BBC 2 show 'I love the 70s / 80s' - and to be honest I am an Old Git !

These images capture scenes from the Sikh experience in Britain in the 1970s - The subtitle of this post could be "Things you don't see anymore"

Many of the photographs were taken by Dennis Morris in Southall between 1974 and 1977 - Morris is famous for his Iconic photographs of The Sex Pistols and Bob Marley (found in every Student House !)

Of all the Dennis Morris images my absolute favourite is this one :


* taken from Southall - a home from home - Dennis Morris Satinder Chohan - Olympus Cameras 1999

This picture of a smiling Ma ji from a Southall shop in 1975 - for me sums up the Sikh immigrant experience in Britain - I think everyone can relate to this picture - everyone has a Ma Ji or Bibi like this - or knows one - One who always has her head covered as if her chuni has been invisiblely stapled to her head ( modern women will agree that this is a lost art - modern chunnis are always slipping off the head ) This type of Bibi has a special 'winter coat' and is never without her huge 'Margaret Thatcher' handbag and big purse.

The picture also shows the now disappearing Classic Indian corner shop - with its stock stacked haphazardly - Colgate next to PG Tips ! . Copies of the Des Pardes in racks

Note the greenery in Ma Ji's hand wrapped in a sheet from a punjabi paper -note the advert for a flight to India for 125 pounds - sounds cheap today but a fortune then - Life in the 70s was hard with the 3 day week ,recession, blatant racism and the NF - but Ma ji's like these took all this in their stride - Smiling and always in Chardi Kala - all we are today is because of their hard work .

This picture shows a fine example of the so called 'african' turban - This style with a high peak is seen less and less - usually only among older Sikhs from East Africa .

This style was once seen as a 'caste' marker worn only by Ramgarhia Sikhs - pejoratively called a 'batki' pagh or 'Duck' style by some 'Jats' but nowadays it is worn by all sections. Youngsters now prefer smaller black turbans without starch and pins and a less pronounced peak or they wear modified Dumallas or Patiala styles.


* taken from Morris and Chohan 1999

'Ring-a-ring-a-Roses' - Girls playing in Manor House gardens - note the tight plaits with ribbons and flower power anoraks - if these girls wore those hoods / hoodies today they would get slapped with an ASBO and a Curfew by the council!!

The title of this picture says - ' Sikh children in Britain are often a mixture of East and west. They eat both kinds of food, keep their uncut hair and dress in Western clothes. When they speak they mix English and Punjabi words together . What the result will be by the year 2000 , time alone will tell.'

Well it's 2005 what is the result ?? any ideas ?


* taken from Meeting Sikhism - Owen Cole , Piara Singh Sambhi 1980

This picture shows a Sikh Publican from the Midlands ( N. Americans that means bar owner !) - it shows the way Immigrants adopted English Pub Culture


* from Focus on Faiths - Roger Street - 1974

In a time before i-Pods - a radio casstte was a prized possession - a link to India and Sikhi - before 24hr punjabi radio and TV - the only chance to hear Shabads and Music was on cassette - note the sparse decor the old bedstead and the Lino on the floor - and the suitcases under the bed ready for that trip to visit relatives or a much longed for trip to India.


* Morris and Chohan 1999

A Sikh Teacher in the 1970s


* Cole & Sambhi 1980

Istri SatSang - Ladies performing kirtan - note the early seventies style - Beehive hairstyles and thick rimmed glasses


* Sikhism - Cole & Sambhi 1973

The Phull family - here we can see the tying of boys kesh in plaits - a centre parting and a horizontal plait at the back of the head - affectionately known by my mates as 'The Handle' - this style is seen less today -though it is still popular among those who originally came from E. Africa.


Play - there was no Sky TV or Playstations in the 70s if you were lucky you had a train set or scalextric - more often than not you played tag or just made your own entertainment - usu. involved jumping on the bed !


Shopping on the Broadway - Many a saturday was spent on the Broadway - watching movies at the Century or Dominion - eating Jalebis . Eagle eyed viewers will see a poster for X-zecutive Soundz in the window - pioneers of the Daytime Bhangra Gig !


* all from The Sikhs in Britain - Allan de Souza -Batsford 1986

A sikh bride in 1977 - note the old pound notes


* Morris & Chohan 1999

In a time before 'who wants to be a millionaire' and 'the Lottery' a prize of "up to £1" was a big deal - note the classic immigrant experience of looking after siblings while also working in the family business !


* Morris & Chohan 1999

The Victory pub - Southall . If you ever telephoned a UK punjabi home in the 1970s on the weekend - the reply you invariably got was "Daddy / Baba pub nu giya " - 'he 's down the Pub ' !


* Morris & Chohan 1999

This last picture is of a Nihang Granthi performing Ardas - I believe in Gravesend, Kent - note the array of 70s turban styles - the Flower power pattern - The starched African style - The large wheel like style with big 'fifty' and of course the Dumalla with farla.


*from Holy Books - Robin Davies - 1981

Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane - most of you are probably too young to even remember the 70s !! some even the 80s !!!!!!! -

God I'm Ancient !

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I believe he was the first Nihang Granthi in the west , and still is around keeping up the marayada in his old age he has inspired many young Singhs into Sikhi, and upkeep the santhia/shastar vidiya maryada.

He left the dal panth to go to come to the uk and teach paath, many of his students in the uk are very solid and well versed in Gurbani and Kirtan and remian humble such as Sukha Singh one of many students that shines through.infact his links with Sikhi teaching and the granthi network have been benefical to people that have had the chance to be blessed by a Gurmukh Nihang.

If the sangat would like more info please post

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this is an amazing post!

please give more info on baba anup singh!

what made him want to come here?

how has he kept up maryada?

was he married? is he still part of the dal?

I am interested in the experience of this individual

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OMG this brings back some memories. Especially the auntie in the corner shop! I remember the big purses and the kottees that all bibis wore. Ahh Southall... I miss my old pind in some ways.

By the way, this guy is stylin!



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Freed, another classic posting. A few thoughts.

THe Dennis Morris collection of his southall pictures (he was inspired by southall as he rose the bus back from the early Bob Marley Gigs as the bus inevitably stopped at teh Southall bus Garage) is now at Gunnesbury Park Museum - they bought most of the collection from Morris shortly aftre the Home from Home book was published. Dennis Morris was the Picture Editor for The Evening Standard and is abig name in photogrpahy. I have head him talk about these pics and he is very affectionate about Southall and was interested in doing a follw up - not sure what becam,e of that. I am also deeply interested in Southall and a few years backk I ha a young photgrapher document southall shop fronts. THese absolutely calssic shop front stacked up to the roofs with merchandise or delapidated and un-changed since the early 60s were being slowly "neonised" by an intiative by Ealing Council to give shop owners grants to modernise their shops. THe impact was that many of the classic shop fronts were lost and some of Southalls faded 60s glamour was lost - so I took a few pics of that.

THe victory pub is no longer there in southall is it ? I think that is where a young sikh lad was murdered by NF youth in the early 70s? it was real wake up call and really frightening - especially for my family as we were living in neighbouring Northolt where the fascists taht murdered the boy lived. I can vaguely recall a massive funeral frm Havelock Rd gurdwara?

Morris also deals with the "bussing" out of INdian kids from southall to neighbouring Northolt, Greenford, Yeading Hayes etc. There was a policy that no school could have too may asian kids - so once a quota was filled the rest fo the kids (like me) were bussed out to some ofthe most racist boroughs in London fro primary school! the book bought back lots of memories.

FReed, take a look at a book called "Home Front" - its about Birmingham's ethnic communities (I think) - there is a great pictiure in there of an old soldier living in surburban Birmingham


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I remember the Murder of Gurdip Chagger by Neo Nazis in Southall - It was in the big drought of 1976 - it was a big wake up call for everyone - I remember not being allowed to go out to play for a while - All parents were really scared. Where I lived there were very few black and brown faces - us kids were very much affected by politics - the NF and skinheads were everywhere - At school half the boys wore the skinhead 'uniform' of ox blood DMs, brown laces and ben sherman shirts- it was trendy - even I had one of them green bomber jackets and a fred perry shirt. I have a vivid memory of sitting- with Fiona , Angela and Manoj, the only other non white people in my year- on the school field at play time - the day after Thatcher was elected - and all of us saying - that's it we're gonna be 'sent back' - we were 9 - so all our parents must of had worries.

I don't want to paint the 70s as a nightmare - yes we had troubles - but for me it was a glorious time - for me the 70s were filled with long hot summers - playing out til it was dark and Music - a passion that hasn't left me - started off by 'Slade'

then Bob Marley , The Clash and then the Ska / Mod revival of The Beat , The Specials , The selector etc. - I am still a Vinyl record fanatic (Bit of a sad mix of ska ,eighties and Sad Indie Kid - I must be the only Singh who was and is a big Smiths/Morrissey Fan! - all mixed with Punjabi and a bit of Hindi and Raag!) - for me the best time to be had in the 70s was going to town on a Saturday to buy a new 'single' 7" and playing it to death on our rickety old record player.

My nephews and nieces are fascinated by my records - its always 'Mama put one of those 'black things' on' !!

Our house was always full of people and full of music -Shabads, Punjabi Hindi and English.

Great Days !

** Amandeep thanks for the "Home Front " tip - will look it up !

The 70s was also a time of politics - I was struck by something 'tSingh' wrote in another post - about being the only Singh at some anti war / poverty demos - I remember always going on demos in the 70s - some IWA ones some Labour / union ones some anti Racist and some Sikh related - Motor cycle Helmet vs Turban and the right to wear turbans at school.

'tSingh' is right I think we've become complacent and too comfortable - I remember going to a benefit meeting for the Miners during the strike and this woman from Huddersfield gave me a hug and said Sikhs helped to feed us during the tough times of the strike - she said the Gurdwara first provided Langar - a bit unfamiliar she said ( it was the 80s - the days before the tikka masala explosion !) - and then gave English food - - We ALL need to keep this sort of sewa up.

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The 70s and 80s were a difficult time for those of us who lived in England. But at the same time when I think back it always brings back fond memories and in a way Im glad I went through the hardships of racism because it ends up making you a stronger person. The first 10-11 years of my life were spent on St Johns Rd in “puraana†Southall. I remember the Southall riots well. We moved to Jallandher 1983 and moved back to England in 84 after the Golden Temple incident. We moved to Greenford which was quite a horrible place (Golf Links Estates… why to the biggest dumps always have the poshest name!?!?). That place was full of NF and we experienced hardcore racism there. Still went to my old school in Norwood Green though (Wolf Fields Middle School). Moved to Wolverhampton in 85 to Whitmore Reans which was another pretty desi area. Less racism there. We had a “Auntie dhi shop†across the street where we used to take our spending money to buy monster munch crisps and choc-dips. :)

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