I wasn’t born in Leith. I am what my mum used to call a ‘pinned on’ Leither. I may be associated with the port just outside Edinburgh through my dad and the lineage from his side of the family but my mum was from well beyond the south side of the city, a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the docks and the stunning views to Fife. They met at Duncan’s chocolate factory in the early 60s. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Where am I from? As far as I know – Scottish born and bred with Irish great-grand parents on mum’s side. I’ve never looked into my family tree but I believe my cousin did once – I wonder what he found out?
Last week, I had the pleasure of chairing two book events – both connected to the memoir – ‘A Silent Voice Speaks‘, published by Fledgling Press. The author, Trishna Singh OBE, was born in Glasgow before moving to Edinburgh in the 50s. She married her beloved Johnny and, like my family, settled not far from Leith and had five kids. Chatting with her in Waterstones, and The Playfair Library at Edinburgh University, she regaled the attentive audiences with stories of her upbringing, her marriage of love, and the incredible community hub she created, Sikh Sanjog.
We also discussed the 1947 Partition, The Beatles and other music that passed her by, the expectations on Sikh women within the community and the matriarchy within every culture, plus much more. More importantly, we discussed her family, what they mean to her, and the hope she has for them, now and in the future.
In the short time I have known Trishna, I have learned so much about her, her family and the commitment she makes to those in her community, regardless of their background or race. She is a credit to humanity and I only wish there were more people in the world like her. I have found a friend for life.
One question she sometimes gets asked is ‘Where are you from? and when she replies ‘Glasgow’, she’s then asked ‘Where are you really from?’ Assumptions are constantly made, lets all try to do better.
Trishna wrote this amazing story (I have permission to share it) about her life and how she sees herself in the world, I urge you to read it. She may consider herself as the wee Indian woman on the bus, just going about her day, minding her own business but I see her as a strong, empowered, family-minded woman who has bravely shared the ups and downs of her life, so far, in her own creative way.
The Wee Indian Woman on the Bus
by Trishna Singh O.B.E
Have you ever noticed her – the wee Indian woman on the bus?
Have you ever wondered who she is? Maybe you think, ‘She’s not been here long,’ or ‘These people just keep themselves to themselves.’
Well, can I tell you something? This wee woman has probably been here longer than you. She was born in the 1950s, to the first wave of people who came here from India when the British carved up their land and made them homeless refugees. She was one of the invisible children. Always on the sidelines, watching the world go by. Everything was always out of reach.
She missed out on the Beatles, Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley: she could only listen to the transistor radio when no one else was in. The Beano, The Dandy and The Bunty were ok, but The Jackie – oh no! That was out of bounds. She might be corrupted: she might start wanting the same things as the white girls! All she ever heard was, ‘We don’t do this, we don’t do that. We
are Indian.’ She wasn’t allowed to dream, because dreams were for other people. Her life centred around home and school until she was 13 when school became a distant memory, but that memory is still very clear in her mind today, 54 years later.
What does she remember? The smell of the classroom. The teacher’s clear voice introducing her as, ‘Our visitor from a faraway land.’ That always made her laugh! She was born in Glasgow, and the school was at the end of her street! But it was fun to pretend and, by the age of five, she was bilingual. The desire to keep learning never left her. By the time she was 12, it began to sink in that she was different. The other girls and boys were out playing after school, going to Mission schools and Sunday schools. Sometimes she went with them and sang along to, ‘Climb, climb, sunshine mountain…’ But there was a slow realisation of, ‘I am not like them.’ Home life was like living in the village in India that her mother had fled, but never really left.
Learn to cook, learn to clean, learn to knit, sew and embroider. Learn not to ask too many questions. Life was a ‘sweet prison’: everything was restricted and there was no freedom to go out, no freedom to be with people her own age. She grew into a young woman in that sweet prison, but she never stopped dreaming or asking questions. What does she remember? Not India’s green fields, cool water ponds and breezes. No. Her memories are of Glasgow tenement backyards, playing kick the can in the street with her wee pals. Sitting at the corner of her street, pressing a penny into the hot tar. Smelling the cut grass of Richmond Park on a sunny summer’s day; walking through the park from the Rutherglen Road end, with the sandpit and the swings on the left, the rockery and the big swings on the right. Best of all, she remembers walking onto the concrete bridge that links the park with Glasgow Green and the shows. That was the best time!
Every summer she was told not to go without a grown-up, but she still sneaked across the road and into the fair. She can still smell the candy floss and the toffee apples: she can still hear the noise, and the music still rings in her ears.
See that wee Indian woman on the bus? She’s not thinking of India: she’s remembering a childhood lost to a culture that was alien – even to her.