Sikhs in Shanghai on Scroll Tuesday, Apr 15 2014 

My piece on Sikhs in Shanghai was published on Scroll website. Here’s the link to the article:




Progress at snail’s pace Wednesday, Apr 9 2014 

In an earlier post I wrote about my interest in putting together a book on the Shanghai Sikhs. I have started writing and must say it has been a slow process. There were couple of sections (yes, my book has a skeletal structure divided into sections, etc) that required further reading and research. So, that’s the reason for the ambling.  There’s a rainbow somewhere and I am looking for it and will find it, perhaps, not on a rainy morning but in sunny skies.

But, before I start rambling a little too much, here’s a photograph (circa, 1937) from a college library that piqued my curiosity. What do you think is going on? 


Shanghai Photo Postcard. More picturesque with the Sikh policeman. Wednesday, Apr 2 2014 

Shanghai Photo Postcard. More picturesque with the Sikh policeman.

From New York Public Library digital collection on Shanghai.

Voyage from India to China Wednesday, Mar 26 2014 

For Sikhs recruited for policing in early twentieth century in Shanghai’s International Settlement, sea voyage from Calcutta to Hong Kong via Singapore, thence to Shanghai took at least 14-16 days. Given the weather gods were kind over South China Seas. Why Calcutta and not Bombay? There’s no definitive answer to that as some may have boarded a steamer in Bombay but Calcutta was a natural choice as here passenger steamers to China were more frequent and also because the distance in nautical miles to China was less when compared to Bombay.

From Punjab to Calcutta: Train (and maybe a bullock cart ride from the village to Lahore/Ludhiana/Amritsar)

Calcutta to Hong Kong via Singapore. Steamer. Singapore for refueling. 14 days.

Hong Kong to Shanghai : Steamer 2 days.

Now, this is just one sea route. Other possible routes were from Calcutta/Bombay to Malay, Singapore, Japan, Philippines, Ceylon and not necessarily directly to Shanghai. It could be from Penang, Singapore, Kobe, Yokohama, Manila, Colombo to Canton, TsingTao, etc.


Poems on Shanghai (1907) Monday, Mar 17 2014 

Here’s a verse that caught my eye. It was a poetic prediction and related to Public Gardens in Old Shanghai. A “sign” that was purely racial banning entry to Chinese and “dogs” hung on its gates. Quite similar to signs in British India that implicitly or explicitly banned Indians at clubs or other places.  Perhaps, the poet, one Robert William Little, foresaw the fate of the glorified foreigner.

Verse from poem, ‘Amalgamation:’

“I said I’ll go into the Public Garden:-

A tall policeman warned me from the gate;

“Reserved for Chinese,” when I asked his pardon

Was all that he would state.

Little also wrote on the Bund, the North China Daily News, Shanghai Mercury, an itty-bitty line mentioning the Sikh policeman, etc.

Check the poems here at:

More on the sign that hung on the gates of Public Gardens in Shanghai International Settlement here:

Guide to Tientsin (1907) Thursday, Mar 6 2014 

 Browsing for information on British Concession in Tientsin  (today’s Tianjin), I came across this mini guide published in 1907. It does not have much on the Indian community that flourished here but provides a framework and layout of the Tientsin area & businesses including few pictures devoted to Astor House Hotel. Not surprising as the guide was presented by this “well-known, first-class hotel” located in the British Concession. Click on the link below to view the guide book.


Muslims in Shanghai. Friday morning prayers in a mausoleum. Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

In Year 2011, I visited a Islamic maqbara in Shanghai (Puxi area) and had the opportunity to listen in on their Friday prayers. A maqbara is a tomb. In YuYuan, there is a historical mosque. Muslims too were present in Old Shanghai. From India, Bohras and Ismailis made their mark but left no tracks. That’s how it is with Old Shanghai. Faded histories.

Canadian Steamship Shanghai guide Thursday, Feb 27 2014 

Canadian Steamship Shanghai guide

Via Flickr

Ghadr in Shanghai Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 


Ghadr pamphlet, TNA, UK.

There are brilliant books out there on Ghadr, the Indian freedom movement in early twentieth century that originated in San Francisco, California and touched all nooks and crannies of British colonies where Indians served in several capacities, Shanghai too played a key role in the Ghadr development. It was a convenient port, a layover for Ghadris coming from USA/elsewhere to India who brought with them literature that was distributed in the local Sikh gurdwara. Sikhs formed a large proportion of the Ghadr movement.

Komagata Maru incident further cemented the nationalistic fervor and triggered the plotting and planning to throw off the British yoke of repression. It failed, the plot was unearthed with the help of spies and revolutionaries were sent to jail, hanged or shot.

Coming back to Shanghai and other British enclaves in China, Ghadr did not vanish after collapsing in its initial foray. The spirit of Ghadr was revived and sustained through publications and editorials.  The anti-British message and sentiment was crystal clear. But, yet again it was defeated with pro-British Sikh employees and agents.

Shanghai chapter  is mentioned several times as a part of the entire Ghadr enterprise but has not been studied in isolation.  Who was involved in Shanghai helping forge the movement, in its second wind again who were the key players. Who was printing the spirit rousing Ghadr message? Who were the agents intent on siding with the British?  These questions have been vaguely answered or kept aside to present the more prominent aspects.

In Shanghai Sikh history, Ghadr played a crucial role, it had its birth and renaissance but the key players and supporters have hardly found their place in the sun.

Snow and Fire. Sunday, Feb 16 2014 

Last week, despite the slushy snow in USA I made the journey to UK  (after flight cancellation reducing my stay to 5 days) to collect information on Shanghai Sikhs from The National Archives. Since past few years  (at least 4 years) I have been more than occupied with the forgotten story of the Indians who lived in China prior to 1949 and specifically the Shanghai Sikhs. I intend to write a non-fiction narrative and this journey was essential.

I visited the The National Archives and the British Library and processed enough research material to be able to present in a book form. My last day the The National Archives in Kew was  “interesting.”  I was in the middle of examining a file with original documents when news of fire in the disused water coolers nearby, broke. From inside, we could see  the smoke from the flames darkening the white skies. Firefighters showed up and all visitors were bundled up in the lobby. After 2 hours the building was declared safe but closed for public safety for the rest of the day. Fortunately I had recorded what I needed to know….of course there’s a chance that some information is lying there unnoticed.

Enough adventure but I am glad I made this trip because many loose ends got tied up neatly and securely. Now, to finish writing my book….

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