Tuesday 21 April 2009

The Southall Story

A project has started which tells the story of an extraordinary place. The 'Southall' in the title is a West London suburb in the UK which, from the late 1950s, saw one of the earliest and large-scale settlement of immigrants from the sub-continent. It also happens to be the town where my parents first ended up, in 1961, having left the green fields of Punjab, India, and where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

The project's aim is "to create an archival, oral and visual documentation reflecting a dynamic heritage...and to create a popular platform that will propel the story of Southall onto a national stage, with the aim of penetrating the consciousness of the British public.". The feeling here is that the community of Southall has made a phenomenal but under acknowledged contribution to UK music, arts and politics.

"Southall is also a place that has come to be affectionately known as Little India, but for many it is much more than that. Being a port, (Heathrow is a stones throw away), Southall has been a home to such diverse groups as the West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis in the 50’s through to the Ugandan Asians in the 70’s. Most recently, new arrivals include Sikhs from Afghanistan and Somalians."

The Southall story is being launched with a series of public events, performances and exhibitions. Things kick off on Friday 24 April, 7pm, with the launch event at the Dominion Centre, Southall:

Speakers include: Gurinder Chadha film director, Pragna Patel Southall Black Sisters, Kuljit Bhamra The Southall Story, Dalawar Chaudhry TKC, K C Mohan Progressive Writers Association.
Live performance by Vasda Punjab Bhangra Dancers, Kiranpal Singh.
Admission by invitation only.

The Southall Story is headed by Artistic Director Kuljit Bhamra and Creative Directors Shakila Taranum Maan and Ammy Phull. Kuljit Bhamra gives his take here. You can visit the website to read more about the project - though it's incomplete in places there's some interesting stuff especially on the pages about Southall''s 'time-line'. It's brought back a lot of memories (see former musing on 1960s Southall cinema), too numerous to write up properly at the moment, but, for now.....

I remember under the ‘The Boyle Law’ being 'bussed out' from Southall to attend primary school in neighbouring Northolt (also known as 'NF country' then); I was also taken by my mother on the march in 1976 following Gurdip Singh Chagger's murder - I have a vivid memory of everyone chanting with great gusto 'Enoch Powell bakara' ('goat') which was obviously a devastating slur! We were also on the march in 1979 which sadly resulted in the death of Blair Peach. In my Southall sixth-form soon after, the school common room would buzz with tales of the NF 'invading Southall' and various of us dashing off to join various groups. It was where we learned about politics and society. Thinking about this period, I came across a great video clip which includes news footage and interviews from the time - it's further down this article on the The Langar Hall site.

I hope there's a lot more to come from The Southall Story - it was a project waiting to happen.
Top two photographs courtesy of David F. Gallagher at lightningfield.com

UPDATE: there's a FREE screening of a film in London on 21 May 2009 about how Southall organised to resist racist and fascist attacks between 1976 and 1981

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Nawal El Saadawi in conversation

Last Friday I had the pleasure of hearing Dr Nawal El Saadawi - Egyptian writer, doctor, activist and feminist are just some of the labels used to describe this remarkable woman. She was 'in conversation' at a event at Goldsmiths, University of London, as part of a three-day Race in a Modern World conference there.

It was at the age of seven, she told the packed audience, that she became aware of inequality in the home with her brother. Whilst she did more housework, more schoolwork and was "more intelligent" the brother got to roam free and be feted by the family and society (yeah, we know about that one...). The experience burned into her the desire to express injustice - she did this by writing. At first a letter to God - but she didn't know his address and he didn't answer. She then moved on to stories and eventually, award-winning novels, writing about the rights of women and of the poor, with criticisms of sham democracies ('mere voting is not democracy...') and oppressive religions. Her most well-known novel, Woman at Point Zero, was published in Beirut in 1973 and she has clocked up over 40 novels altogether.

She spoke about a relationship between "creativity and dissidence" - if you feel injustice and you feel you can't do anything, then "at least you can write". And this she did, at a great personal cost of censorship, imprisonment and exile. In 1981 Nawal El Saadawi publicly criticized President Anwar Sadat's policies and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. She was also on a fundamentalist 'death list' following publication of her novel The Fall of the Imam in Cairo in 1988.

El Saadawi also had much to tell us about capitalism, patriarchy and imperialism - none of it flattering of course. Having been in London whilst the G20 theatre was going on two days before, she said she saw the posed photograph of Brown, Obama and Sarkozy and they looked to her like "the gang of the world", trying to solve a crisis which they created. She would tell them what to do, we were told, "but they wouldn't let me in".

She regaled us with a detailed tale of how the original manuscript was stolen, years ago on a train to Belgium, of her most recent novel, Zina, The Stolen Novel, (2008). Dr Nawal El Saadawi spoke with great humour, intelligence and, perhaps belying her 77 years, with a little occasional mischief. I'm glad I went to see her, it was an inspirational experience.

You can read more about her here, at her publisher's website here and, if you want to, a Guardian interview from yesterday, here .

Wednesday 1 April 2009

London Calling: G20 and 'Jobs, Justice and Climate'

Londoners may have noticed SOMETHING happening in town today. The G20 summit is being held in London this week to discuss 'the global economic situation' while at the same time thousands of people have been protesting in the streets of London in relation to causes around tackling poverty, the recession and climate change. This was proceeded by a massive Put People First march on Saturday 28 March.

As far as the three broad strands of 'jobs, justice and climate' go, there's not a lot to disagree with. But what do the protesters specifically want? The BBC has quotes from various of the campaign groups involved. Sounds good, as I say, but the devil would be in the detail of course, and crucially whether those in power - in government, in business and elsewhere - are willing to change the status quo. How is all this to be achieved? How much pain will it involve and for which interest groups? On the hopeful side, some of these cosy groups themselves are starting to suffer as a result of the economic situation and may therefore be more moved to implement change on the economic front if not quite on climate. It would be good though to think that someone is listening and taking note of the strength of feeling expressed on the streets this week but given an earlier post, things are not looking hopeful.

Still, the personnel have changed (for Tony, now Gordon; for George, now Obama) and these two new leaders, at least, are thought to be more progressive and concerned with social justice than their predecessors. And seeing as I have been tracking The Great One, it would remiss not to note that today was of course Barack Obama's first time in London as Pres. According to Jan Dalley on Newsnight (at 40.45 mins) last night Obama can still enjoy a honeymoon period in Europe for a while longer though she reckons the shine's worn off in the USA. Some though reckon he matters little in any case, mere figurehead that he is for other powerful groups and interests whose views must prevail - I meant to post a while ago this typically frank assessment of Obama by John Pilger in the New Statesman. Hmm, I always enjoy reading Pilger and often agree with him but on this I'd like to wait and see about Obama. Anyway, I digress, a bit...

What do you think about the summit and what the protesters want? Ultimately only history will reveal what part, if any, this week's events will have played in sowing the seeds of seeking a new way of organising society and the way that we all live together across the world. Because let's face it, capitalism in its present form is just not sustainable.