A unique oral history website has brought to light several poignant stories of the Indian diaspora, including those of former Test cricketer Farrokh Engineer and hockey player Sutinder Khehar, the first British sportsman of Indian origin to lead an English team in any sport. Historytalking.com, the website, developed by former BBC journalist Vijay Rana, hosts recordings of first person narratives of leading personalities in the Indian diaspora.
Its latest addition is Captain Abbas Ali, an old Indian National Army (INA) soldier and freedom fighter. The INA was founded by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
“I saw Netaji (leader) alive after his alleged plane crash (in Taiwan)”, Ali says in his talk on the website.
Ali, a graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University, joined the British Army as a commissioned officer in 1939. A year later the young officer was sent to Southeast Asia to fight against Japan. But in 1944, after hearing an inspiring speech of Netaji Bose in Singapore, he joined the INA.
Speaking to Historytalking.com, he remembers the speech Netaji Bose gave in Yangoon (then Rangoon), on the tomb of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Ali claims that Netaji Bose did not die in the alleged plane crash in Taiwan in 1945 and adds that he met Netaji at least 10 days after he is said to have died.
Among other stories on the website is that of Virendra ?Sam? Singh, who headed Du Pont’sSouth Asia operations. After staying in the US for 35 years, he returned to his village in India and found it had changed little since he left it. He realised it would never change unless something was done. He opened a school for the girls of the landless farmers. He gives free food, free clothes, free education, free vocational training and Rs.10 a day to the children to keep them in school. Singh’sschool has now 350 girls. He has so far spent 250,000 pounds on this project.
Other stories include:
- Cricketer Nasser Hussain was not the first Asian to lead a national English team; it was Sutinder Khehar who captained the English hockey team in the early 1980s.
- If you were an Indian woman in England during the 1960s and wearing a sari, you would not be allowed to supervise English staff. Raksha Tandon was sacked before she could begin her managerial job only because she refused to abandon her sari in favour of English dress.
- In the 1960s, the Ealing Council in London had a policy of having not more than 25 percent Asian children in a school. To keep the racial balance right, young Asian kids were sent to schools outside Ealing.
- After playing an important role in India’sfirst Test victory at the Oval in 1971, wicket keeper Farooq Engineer thought he would be booed by the Lancashire crowds, where he is settled. Instead he got a standing ovation.
- Tennis ace John McEnroe could never tolerate a Sikh, Raghubir Singh Mahajan, umpiring at Wimbledon.
- Legendary Mushtaq Muhammad, the youngest ever Test player from Pakistan, now lives in Birmingham, passing on techniques of the trade to the future Asian stars of English cricket.
The website, Historytalking.com, was launched by veteran Saeed Jaffrey in June 2003, and aims to create a valuable online educational resource of oral history.
It invites people to volunteer information, eyewitness accounts and life experiences about some of the socially and educationally relevant events, social trends and cultural themes.
“Most of our contributors are senior citizens narrating their life experiences. While a large number of our visitors belong to the web-savvy younger generation. By bringing them together we hope to build bridges between the two generations,” says Vijay Rana, editor of Historytalking.com said.
New stories appear on the site every week – stories of courage and determination, stories of social discrimination and stories of the pioneers of the social and cultural movements in Britain.