By Satwant Singh Brar | The Guardian (UK)
My father, Jaginder Singh Brar, who has died aged 79, was a founder member of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, the Sikh temple in Southall, London, and went on to use his experience to lead the establishment of a thriving Sikh community in Reading.
As one of six founding trustees, he rallied the few dozen Sikhs in Reading in the early 1970s to buy a spiritual home. They needed £26,000 to buy the property. Trustees used their homes as security to borrow £12,000. The rest came from a two-year fundraising mission led by my father.
At the time, Sikhs in the UK were campaigning against a ruling forcing Sikh men to wear a helmet while riding motorcycles. The fight led to the Motorcycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act 1976. On his fundraising trips, Jaginder would recite poems in support of the campaign – including one that ran “This is the turban that fought the last two world wars without the helmet; no one cared back then, so why now?”
He was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, one of six children of Naranjan Kaur and Dalbara Singh, who was in the British military police. When Jaginder was nine his father retired and the family went to live in India. Between the ages of nine and 17 he studied, farmed the land and was a skilful kabaddi player. At 17, with a one-way ticket and his father’s blessing, he went back to Malaysia. There he learned to read and write English, and to drive cars and trucks, and had various jobs, including chauffeur at the Burmese embassy.
In 1962 Jaginder returned to India and married Surjit Kaur, a seamstress. It was an arranged marriage: their fathers had been in the military police in Malaysia together. Later that year, with opportunities few and far between in India for Sikhs, he moved to the UK, living in Southall. He was a lorry driver working on the M4, which was being built at the time.
After two years he moved to Reading, where a friend ran a bakery, and my mother came over to join him; she went on to work as a volunteer at the Gurdwara. They would often welcome families new to the country to stay in their home for days, weeks or even years.
From 1976 Jaginder worked as a driver and loader for British Airways; he took early retirement in 1992, but walked into another job at Cater-Air within weeks. He left there after five years and then worked on the rail-air buses between Reading and Heathrow, then finally bought a black cab and worked until 2003.
He particularly enjoyed travelling and cooking.
My mother died in 2006. Dad is survived by three daughters, Baljit, Rajwant and Sarbjit, by two sons, Randhir and me, by seven grandsons, and by a brother and a sister.
The article appeared at The Guardian on 23 March 2018. See here.
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