Synthesis: Sikhs in Shanghai

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Synthesis: Sikhs in Shanghai

Post by Rashmun on Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:49 pm

Since 1884, the Shanghai Municipal Police began recruiting Sikh men from British India to man the chaotic traffic intersections. Attired in khakis in summers and heavy, dark coats in winter, the Sikhs never failed to attract attention. Their imposing frame, bushy beards and red turbans added the picturesque element to the very international port city of Shanghai.

In addition to finding employment as policemen, Sikhs worked as watchmen, earning money on the side as moneylenders. Indian Sikhs were also recruited for the British police force in Tientsin (Tianjin), Amoy (Xiamen) and Hankow (Hankou, Wuhan).

In the stalls of the Dongtai Lu vendors, I had to sift through stacks of photo postcards to find ones with Sikh policemen. In the eyes of Chinese, the Sikh policeman represents the humiliating British imperialism and thus earned the very derogatory sobriquet of Hong-Tou-A-san – turbaned number three, referring to their lowly placement in the social hierarchy of that era.

Unfortunately, for the very smartly bedecked Sikh policeman in Shanghai and elsewhere in China, their narratives are extremely blurred. The Sikh policeman who was a symbolic prop for the pompous British Empire in several of their colonies has remained very much in the periphery of historical chronicles and records. The dilapidated gurudwara, more than a century old, is the only testimony to their presence here.

Sikhs weren’t the only Indians in Old Shanghai. Parsi opium traders also made lucrative profits there. However, the stories of Dr Cavas Lalkaka, who was shot accidentally in 1909 in London by freedom fighter Madan Lal Dingra, and the journeys of photojournalist Sam Tata aren’t as well known as the exploits of Jamshetji Jejeebhoy, the Readymoneys and the Wadias, who used the profits of their opium trading in China to fund infrastructure in Mumbai. In fact, Shanghai once had a Parsi agiary. Shanghai was also home to Punjabi Muslims, Ismaili Merchants, Gurkhas and Sindhis, who were also frequently misclassified as Sikhs...

In early 1940s, the Shanghai scene was enlivened by the presence of Princess Sumaire of Patiala, a cousin of painter Amrita Sher-gill and scam artist to boot. A bigamist with a flair for losing money, she hopped around in various (and at times) dubious social circles flaunting her wealth and fashion sense. She was also labelled a nymphomaniac and lesbian by a British police official investigating her antecedents. A collaborationist under Japanese occupied Shanghai, she married a Japanese-American without divorcing her first husband in India.


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