Southampton Communities: Indian

The second in my series of the many different cultures that go to make up my city.

Derber room

Kuti's Royal Thai Restaurant

As a significant part of our Southampton population, I would need to write a book to explain all the different groups plus a history of India, which I don’t feel qualified to do.

Definition of Indian

There are many living in Southampton who define themselves as Indian. Indians immigrated here way before the Partition of 1947 that divided their land into India and Pakistan. Many Indians living here have never even lived in India nor been on holiday there. Indians might have settled here from Australia, Fiji or Africa. Many Ugandan Asians, that came as refugees in the 1970s, might define themselves as African Indian. Many Indians have been here for generations and although they might be British-born and fully integrated, define themselves as Indian by their strong culture and historic roots. They might call themselves British Asian, English Indian, British-born Indian, or define themselves by their language Hindu, Gujarati, their region – Punjabi or Keralan for instance or their religion Sikh, Indian Muslim, Jain, Brahman, Indian Buddhist etc. All foreigners who have come to settle in Southampton more recently are referred to as Freshies by the people who have lived here a long time. One usually tries to guess by the clothes worn, from the way trousers are pressed to sweater-styles as to what group they belong to – but this isn’t always a correct assumption. Many who have just arrived from India, are often more western in their dress than people who settled here in the sixties. More often than not it is by their accent.

I shall mention the Pakistani and other communities at a later time but the predominant group in Southampton are Sikhs which make up about 1.3% of our city’s population.

Sikhs

Maharajah Dulip Singh
Maharaja Duleep Singh 1845

In the 2012 census 2799 Sikhs were listed as living in Southampton.

We have to go back to the time when the British colonised India and Prime Minister Disraeli bestowed on Queen Victoria the grandiose title: Empress of India.

The first Sikh to arrive in Southampton was the Maharaja Duleep Singh in 1854. He visited Queen Victoria frequently at her Osborne House residence on the Isle of Wight and she became Godmother to his children. Queen Victoria later commissioned talented Indian architects, particularly Ram Singh, to transform parts of her residence and gardens into a ‘flavour of India’. Today much of Britain has a flavour of India, from our seaside piers to rose gardens – not to mention adopted words in our language and our cuisine, which British call ‘curry’. Southampton is a prime example of this flavour with a beautiful Royal Pier which has been leased to Indian restaurateur Kuti, and spacious parks with tropical plants.

People raised here also greet each other with the phrase Acha Mush – Acha a slang word from hindi for ‘I’m good’ and Mush (of Romany origin, meaning mate) which is now an affectionate slang term for a fellow Sotonian.

royal victoria Hosptial Netley

Netley-Sikh-troops
Sikh troops recuperating at Netley from injuries sustained in the first world war. Photo thanks: Marion Ivey/The Guardian

Queen Victoria had a large military hospital built in Southampton in response to the Crimean War. This she visited frequently by sailing boat from her Isle of Wight palace. The hospital was later known as Spike Island (the remains of which can still be visited in the Queen Victoria Country Park). In 1894 one entire floor of the main building was given over to Indian troops, one million of whom served in the British Military.

In the hospital grounds, a concrete platform, or ghat, was built at the side of a stream for cremations, after which the ashes would be tipped into the stream and borne back, spiritually, to join the waters of the Ganges.

Gradually Sikhs settled in Southampton from this time in dribs and drabs. Their caste system fit in well with the Victorian class system. It was mainly middle class Indians that arrived in great numbers in the 1950s and sixties to take up work in Southampton law firms or as doctors in the National Health Service. The photos immediately above are of Sikh festivals and two temples (Gurdwaras) in the Bevois Town area of Southampton.

SOL5.9.15 Juniper 14

I have happy childhood memories growing up in a predominantly Indian community. My best friend’s brother married an Indian film star and our street threw out the red carpet, celebrating the wedding for three days and nights. This beautiful celebrity taught me and other children how to dance, Bollywood-style. It is my Indian neighbours I have to thank for opening my eyes to libraries, teaching me to swim, yoga, how to make a perfectly round chapati and the perfect cup of tea.

Further reading:

The Sikhs in Southampton by Ranjeet Singh Shahi

Spike Island – Memory of a Military Hospital by Southampton writer Philip Hoare (Harper Collins paperback)

Corrections: I do not profess to be an expert on the cultures that make up my City. I am happy to take any corrections or additions to my posts.

If you read General G Tony’s comment, you will realise that I have had to adjust my post. I assumed that British piers were influenced by Indian architecture. I have been informed now that they were more influenced by Versailles in a Rococo fashion. However the Prince Regent was a great fan in of Indian architecture and he himself influenced our seaside culture.

 

 

Southampton, Polish Capital of Britain

Southampton Communities: Polish

I have been meaning to do a series of all the wonderful different cultures that make up the people of my City for some time. With so many xenophobic comments about immigrants during the EU Referendum, I think this is long overdue.

P1100987

According to the statistics of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland, the first Polish refugees to Britain numbered just over 460 in 1851 and over 200 left the country.  At that time the general number of Polish refugees numbered about 800 people. The refugees from Turkey came to different English ports: Liverpool, Leeds and Southampton. Many of them decided to emigrate to US. There were further waves before WW2, in the fifties and in the early noughties. Polish immigrants now make up 10 per cent of the population of Southampton.

This programme was made for Channel 5 in 2014 when the biggest influx of Polish where celebrating 10 years of living in Southampton.

As well as the changes mentioned in the film clip, some of the changes I have noticed are the Catholic churches being full again on Sundays, family picnics along the rivers and on the common (something I haven’t seen since the sixties) and a great respect for the elderly – something I think the traditional English could learn from.

 

 

Europe – Brundecided

Should we remain in the EU?  Should we leave Eurovision?  Will we be kicked out of the Euros?

Daily Mail Euros Wallchart
Daily Mail Euros Wallchart

Europe is dominating the British media at the moment. If it is not The Euros (European football) its debate about a crucial vote on 23rd of June, as to whether Britain should exit the European Union (EU) branded as Brexit, or whether to remain (Bremain).

brexit-jigsaw-750x320I am a person who usually decides on things quickly, but this vote has me bench-crossing frequently. The Media predicts that we are split 50-50 on this decision. And there are advocates for and against, across the political spectrum.

I lived in other European countries for 18 years of my life and took full interest in the politics of the country I was in and voted where I could. I have voted for my MEP regularly from the beginning even when the majority of British never bothered.

The main problem, as I see it, is that Britain has never taken the EU seriously, putting it on par with Eurovision. Britain has taken part in Eurovision since the late 50s. It later became obvious that the winners were not those with the greatest talent, but those with the most political clout, voted for by neighbouring partners.

While most countries send their best performers to Eurovision, Britain, after feeling let down, started sending unknown singers or our once-good, but now has-beens. Any talented British act would lose kudos if they took part: you wouldn’t catch The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Adele… going anywhere near.

Similarly with the EU, and to our great expense, we have left it to fringe MEPs (Members of European Parliament) to make decisions for us. Many did not even bother to turn up in the beginning. Embarrassingly anti-EU MEPs such as Nigel Farage (enigmatic speaker and far-right-winger) got voted in and used luxury Cunard cruise-liners (he brush passed me to board so I know) to travel to Brussels meetings and verbally insult ‘Beaurocrats’.

EU flags

As the EU has grown, encompassing many more countries that we didn’t sign up for – (Just like Eurovision – since when has Australia been in Europe?) more economic demands have been made of Britain. With increasing numbers of EU immigrants arriving daily on our small island, especially in the South East and Europe’s borders straining with refugees and economic migrants, plus suicide-bombers blasting-off worldwide – now everyone is sitting up and is being forced to make decisions.

I have seen, in person, how the division between the rich and poor is growing wider throughout Europe. Those heading the top of the EU political committees, being wealthy bankers, do not need to be elected. So if you don’t like what they are doing you cannot vote them out. This is my main worry with the EU. (Unfairly, even in Eurovision those countries who put up the most money automatically get to the finals, although this doesn’t automatically make them winners).

I believe in Democracy and do not want to become some sort of United Colors of Benetton that could easily be taken over in the near future by gangsters in a type of Mafia (I share exit thoughts here with left-winger, the late Tony Benn).

Since WW2, Churchill (a Conservative that I agree with here) felt that there should be a United Europe, especially with regard to defence and security. But is this EU working towards this aspect?

In India everything stops for tea.
In India everything stops for tea.

If we had taken the EU seriously at the beginning, it might today, have been something that we feel proud of.

As it stands now, I feel that we share more similarities with Commonwealth countries like Canada than we do with, say, Italy.  Commonwealth countries who we have historically traded with from India to Australia, not only share our similar views on democracy but share English as their common language. The World Wide Web (thanks Tim Berners Lee) has made it easier to communicate and the world is, metaphorically, shrinking.

On the other hand, most of the EU’s ‘green’ ruling that British politicians have dismissed as ‘beauracracy’ I am supportive of.  Because of these rules, Britain is leading the development of a communal ‘Big Science’ and we are producing alternative energy sources, our carbon omissions are down, our seas are cleaner, we recycle, we have more freedom, we are striving for equality of people and an end to repression of peoples because of their race, religion or sexuality.

Conchita Wurst - winner for Austria of Eurovision 2015
Conchita Wurst – winner for Austria of Eurovision 2015

I also loved the fact that Conchita Wurst won last year’s Eurovision for Austria and quite enjoyed Croatia’s song this year. If you don’t regard any of those wins as political then think again!

My dilemma now is: Is it better to REMAIN and hope that Britain will work within to strive for change, or is it too late?  Versus:  If Britain decides to LEAVE to keep our identity, will we come out of the frying pan and into the fire? What extreme unsaid right-wing policies might be implemented if we do?

So are there any others out there still undecided?

I welcome any comments or debate – but please don’t be rude!

Snap as Seen 1: Boat with Discarded Alien

Boat with Discarded Alien, from Discarded Objects series © Southampton Old Lady
Boat with Discarded Alien, from Snap As Seen series
© Southampton Old Lady

Refugee Crisis: What The Media Is Hiding

Originally I only wanted to use my blog for “no comment” posts on political issues. But I am feeling more pressure now from other bloggers to speak out before WW3 starts. I am sure I am not the only one confused by the refugee crisis. And why the US is wanting to bomb Syria to help Syria?  And wanting to topple Assad instead of supporting him against ISIS? Coming up with that old ‘weapons of mass destruction’ thing, yet again?  We fell hook, line and sinker for it the first time – but surely we cannot be fooled again? I spent weeks trying to find out more and realised that there is a much higher agenda, which sadly, my country is also involved in. I am certainly no expert on the situation, but I thought the best way to find out more was to find someone from Syria to explain. So here she is – I found her on WordPress and hope she does not mind me re-blogging her site.

I do not have any political agenda here. The only link I have with Syria is that I won trip for two to go there in a raffle when I worked in Cyprus, near the Green Line in 1989. I was advised to give the tickets away to a Turkish couple as there were no diplomatic relations between Britain and Syria and was informed it might be dangerous for me.
I welcome any sensible comments on this subject, plus suggestions for other sites to visit, as long as they are not abusive, or party political. Please do not confuse this reblogged site with mine in any feedback. Thank you.

UPDATE: Not much of discussion here – however there is a discussion going on the this Sicilian Housewife’s blog – which makes for interesting reading: http://siciliangodmother.com/2015/09/24/the-italian-refugee-crisis-in-numbers/?c=10184