By Jatinder Singh | HISTORY | SINGAPORE
I can still recall the overwhelming glow in our late Father’s eyes — ”Father” was the endeared we siblings addressed him as. It was always the very elation of his mood that blossomed when travel plans to our village Suropadda got confirmed. The ‘double-consciousness’ in him, a sourjoner loyal to both his host nation Singapore (Singapur), and the soil of origin, The Punjab formed an astounding reality for our entire family.
The excerpt above is taken from my informal correspondence with Mr Sarjit Singh Suropadda, the eldest child and son of Sardar Fauja Singh Suropadda. Mr Sarjit Singh informs that his Father arrived in Malaya around 1945 together with his brothers from Punjab via Calcutta. Mr Sarjit Singh was later born in November 1946 in the then Malayan Johor state.
Photo above was taken when Mata Basant Kaur visited her sons in Singapore around 1950 and it shows: Standing from Left: Sardar Inder Singh, Sardar Chanan Singh, Sardar Fauja Singh, Sardar Dewan Singh and Sardar Sulakhan Singh. Seated From Left: Sardami Pritam Kaur (Mrs Fauja Singh), Sardami Bhan Kaur (Mrs Chanan Singh), Mata Basant Kaur Ji (Mrs Hukam Singh) and Sardami Dhan Kaur (Mrs Inder Singh).
According to the Census in 2011, information with regards to the location code or village code of Suro Padda (Suropadda) village is 037790. Suro Padda village is located in the Baba Bakala Tehsil of Amritsar district in Punjab, India, renowned for The Golden Temple Sahib. It is situated 22km away from Sub-District headquarter Baba Bakala and 40km away from the district headquarters of Amritsar . As per 2009, Suro Padda forms the gram panchayat of Suro Padda village. (Source: Wikipedia).
The total geographical area of the village is 139 hectares. Suro Padda has a total population of 804 peoples. There ere about 172 houses in Suro Padda village. Batala is the nearest town to Sum Padda. In fact. another popular landmark town Mehta Chowk has also now grown in size; with its popularity accruing to the famous Mehta Sahib Gurduwara.
SARDAR HUKAM SINGH S/O SHER SINGH
Sardar Fauja Singh and his family’s lineage stems off from Sardar Hukam Singh, a proud father of seven strong and healthy sons in that historical era of India where daughters were socio-politically generalized as less favorable or even taboo!
As we can notice from the photo above, his five sons migrated to Malaya / Singapore. The remaining two, eldest Sardar Bhan Singh and the youngest Sardar Karam Singh, never left the shores of India. The only travel mode in those days was by sea taking about 15 days in total to reach Singapore after travelling from Amritsar by train to Calcutta. Historical fact suggests that the two most popular ships used for this long-hauled migration was the “Rajula and Santhia”.
Sardar Chanan Singh, being employed as Watchman, with Guthrie & Company in Singapore and carrying on part-time money lending, agreed to a unanimous decision in 1955 to go back to Suropadda. Before leaving, he handed over his money-lending business to his younger brother, Sulakhan Singh. He was to build houses for Sardar Fauja Singh, Inder Singh, Dewan Singh and himself and Sulakhan Singh (joint ownership).
The responsibility was adhered to with full effort, wit and passion by Sardar Chanan Singh. Four double-storey mansions with solid foundations and impressive structure were erected, with a common opened sited roofed verandah. These unprecedented Havelis were described as the pride of the Land and of far superior quality as compared to the typical houses in farmland Punjab during that period.
More remarking still, is the continued reality of a revolving psychosocial phenomenon that social scientists term as “Myth of Return”: The houses remain to exist in the same form they were built and maintained. When described, they crystallize in our minds as images of the tall and handsome brother, joining arms in one straight row to welcome all back home!
MYTH OF RETURN
While the standards and style of living in Singapore progressed across time, the Pind never took a backseat but remained as the ultimate destination of return. No compromises took place in the remittance of funds for urbanization of the agrarian scape, or maximizing yield from harvests. Thekka (land leasing) and so on.
All of them were busy earning a living those days either as Watchmen (Jagas) and that was when Standard Chartered Bank coined their TV advert as “Big Strong & Friendly” Sikh Doorman.
Some even did money-lending either full time or as a side-line to make ends meet until their children were of employment age. In fact my Dad and even his cousins started helping out their parents while still in secondary schools doing night duties at some locations while sitting under roadside lampposts doing their school homework or giving tuition to younger siblings. Those struggles and experiences still linger in their minds.
He says he cannot erase those precious memories of the then Ministry of Health in Palmer Road and those solid godowns belonging to Gian Singh / Hira Singh & Sons in Trafalgar Street. Landmarks like Trafalgar School, Mariners Club, CPF Building in Anson Road and Enggor Street are now extinct.
In 1984, covert participation in politics of the home of origin during the notorious post “Operation Blue Star” turmoil in Punjab had also significantly manifested in the daily lives of Sardar Fauja Singh and his “Pendu’ networks who mapped themselves as the representatives of the ‘Majha’ communities in the Sikh Diaspora.
The short narrative below best explains the sociality:
I would make a telefilm to best describe how there was never a day where Father would take his mind off our village while he rooted himself and us into the Singaporean identity. At a time where media access was remote or even absent, the Gurduwara as a community nucleus allowed updates of the respective regions and villages. “I will go soon and see” was the rhetoric each time, followed by long moments of silence and deep speculative thoughts about the village. Every activity stood still at home, the moment there was the briefest mention of Punjab on national TV News bulletins. We as children educated in English medium: automatically transformed ourselves into interpreters with the occasional cheek to harmonize any harmless report that we knew would stir anxiety and stress!
Madam Pritam Kaur, wife of late Sardar Fauja Singh, continues to reside in Singapore at age 92 as the only remaining member from the sojourning Suropadda family of Seven Brothers. Even while suffering from severe dementia today, “Man Ji” recognizes fairly accurately black and white photos of her matrimonial village, Suropadda, with occasional tears of nostalgia formed from days as a teenage bride, to a trajectory of leaving the homeland (impacting contact with her own paternal family and siblings) to live in Police Quarters (Malaysia) and then in a kampung (Malay village) at Trafalgar Street, Tanjong Pagar, followed by resettlement to a towering Telok Blangah HDB [Housing Development Board] flat. Her vicarious memories often distorted by her dementia could be difficult to comprehend, but if patiently deciphered would unveil stories of her “Pind” and its fondest fragments such as her beloved pet cow, a protective snake, and how all her children looked like and behaved as toddlers.
The family’s initiative to contribute this article serves as a continued commitment to the historical allegiance as Majha patrons of Gurduwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. This article also aims to textually archive a History endowed with priceless value and memoir.
We hope and pray that the indomitable Suropadda Spirit continues to evolve and revolve across their generations to come partaking continued Sewa.
[Author Jatinder Singh’s dad, Sarjit Singh Suropadda, was the co-chair of the SGSS100 Organising Committee and also chairman of the Radin Mas IRCC]
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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