Shanghai North Railway Station Thursday, Jun 5 2014 

Shanghai North Railway Station

Not sure but there could be a Sikh/Indian in this image…

Kartar Singh Sangha – Old Shanghai history Saturday, May 10 2014 

2 days ago, I got an interesting email with photo attachments. The email  was sent by Jaskaran Singh Sangha and he had a very enthralling Shanghai Sikh history with family photographs to share. His grandfather, Kartar Singh Sangha served in the Chinese Maritime Customs Service and lived in Shanghai from 1919 to 1961 (way past the revolution) .  The photographs are a rich reminder of the Old Shanghai Sikhs. They too led valuable lives and such stories cement the fact that we need to preserve this aspect of Old Shanghai history, lest it be forgotten. Here’s a ca.1936 photograph from Sangha family archives that captures Old Shanghai Indian history in a two pronged fashion. One, there are the Sikhs, the former Shanghai Sikh gurdwara in the background, Jaskaran Singh Sangha’s grandfather , standing tall in the light overcoat and dark turban. Secondly, he is right behind a familiar and famous Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. It’s a moment that showcases the rich heritage that has been fast fading. 





Shanghai Sikhs Video footage Thursday, Apr 24 2014

“Shanghai Municipal Police and crowd on road. Student leader addresses other students demonstrating against appeasement of Japan by Chiang, and calling for war with Japan. Students carry banners. Students march on road with banners. Truck moves, followed by procession of cars. Crowds lining sidewalks. British military in large armed vehicles patrol streets. Shanghai municipal police block street. Indian troops and Shanghai municipal police march on street. Students arrive. Policemen and Indian colonial troops guard road, backed up by British military in large armed trucks.Chinese students march off the roads and sidewalks.”


Still image from the video. critical past

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.

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:

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.

In the colonies: Sikh worship. Monday, Feb 3 2014 

Photographs, in absence of substantial narratives help retrieve forgotten histories. With Shanghai Sikhs, the images are plenty and offer vital clues but sometimes you just have to peek over Shanghai’s shoulder to judge the context of the visual content. In Malaysia, Singapore , Burma, Sikhs were engaged in the British army or police and a odd picture of them here, a skimpy fact there help straighten a very potholed Shanghai Sikh narrative.

The British replicated their police and army system in the colonies and a handy blueprint was utilized in various corners of the empire. Quite like the modern  fast food franchises. Try going to McDonalds. The layout is same everywhere. The menu too…only few local elements make it different , I would imagine. For instance, in India, McDonalds offers tandoori style chicken nuggets . At least it did couple of years ago…The same theory applied to the British raj…engineer the “Tommy” framework, bring in the “natives”, some Sikhs, then just throw in a reference here  to the local language and a custom there and voila… hail the McDonald look of the British raj!


Above is a picture of a Sikh regiment in Burma praying to the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. In pristine white, praying, perhaps imagining what it would be like back home in their local holy gurdwara.

In British wars in the colonies, the Sikhs , in absence of a Sikh temple would have worshipped out in the open, put some borrowed, potted flowers in bloom on either side of the temporary dais, two soldiers holding the talwar would stand guard and others would sit, legs folded on a sheet or rug.. The granthi who was attached to the regiments would drape  a raised dais in decorative silk folds, and depending on the time of the days, keertans followed by the ceremonial robust shout celebrating the Wahe Guru would have rung the air.  It must have been a splendid sight.

Some Opium war/Boxer uprising visual narratives hint a similar happening in China. Then, of course one has to rely on bare bones that help conjure the image of a Shanghai Sikh praying out in the open, much before a gurdwara was opened, perhaps it was in a little house or in the police barracks where the festivals, like Guru Nanak’s birth celebrations took place, among other fellow  Sikhs, reminiscing of good times back in Punjab with family and friends.

Sometimes a picture can say so much and other times one has to trek the McDonald path that the Shanghai Sikh sojourners like their fellowmen in the colonies would have undertaken to retrieve their lost stories. One that left a strong British whiff but little scent of their own.

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