Gopal Singh Chandan – A Short Biography & Memoirs by Amarjit Chandan. Centre for Migration Studies, Lyallpur Khalsa College Jalandhar; headed by Dr Darshan S Tatla. Pages 53. 2004. Email: 

Punjab Centre for Migration Studies has published 5 booklets to "highlight the lives of overseas Punjabis who have either made a substantial contribution to the society in which they have settled or have played a vital role in building Diaspora Punjabi communities' institutional infrastructure". One of the booklets focuses on Gopal Singh Chandan (1898–1969), a settler in Kenya who ultimately left the country of his choice. But he made significant contribution to the social cause, trade unionism and anti-colonialism.

An important feature of Gopal Singh Chandan: A Short Biography and Memoirs is that the biographer Amarjit Chandan, now settled in England, is not only his son but also a well-known writer of Punjabi. The publication, in addition to a brief description of the socio-political scenario of India and Kenya in the early decades of last century, helps its reader to know both the Chandans from close quarters. The translated version of the memoirs of the elder Chandan , though was an emotional journey for the son, provides its readers some valuable information about Makhan Singh, Ghadar Kirti activists in Kenya and Ishar Das. Ishar was an arrogant Legislative Councillor of Kenya who inflicted pains to his own countrymen and was later murdered by fellow Indians. One of the assailants, Bujha, had sought shelter in Gopal Singh's photo studio.

Gopal Singh Chandan. 1929


He was deeply involved in community work and played a pivotal role in the management of two Gurudwaras and one Sikh school, in addition to organizing Kavi Darbars, and the programmes of a literary society called 'Kavya Phulwari'. Gopal Singh became a whole-time activist when his middle son Swaran became competent in handling father's photo studios. Gopal Singh's support to Ghadar movement activists make his account really striking. His opposition to establishment of caste-based Gurudwaras and separation of electorate based on religion, makes his contribution remarkable, not only in the growth of freedom movement in Kenya but also in his understanding of ethos of humanistic Sikhism.

Gopal Singh Chandan (garlanded) and Makhan Singh (with glasses) on his right.
Nairobi. January 1950. Makhan Singh, the founder of East African trades union movement, spent 17 years in prison for Indian and Kenyan independence

Amarjit Chandan has also underlined his father's contribution in popularizing Punjabi language in Kenya. He was instrumental in introduction of subject of Punjabi in schools. Oriental courses like Gyani were also started and Gopal Singh enthusiastically brought Punjabi books from India for selling them on non-profit basis in Kenya, largely as a labour of love. Another contribution lies in the fact that he was in charge of the trade union activities of Kenya, when Makhan Singh was in India during 1940-1947. A man of the mass movements, he was also a good photographer and a singer who carried his harmonium from India. Portrayed as a devoted Gursikh, he was also a member of the Communist Party of India. Amarjit Chandan describes the painful reaction of his father on knowing that the son has embraced the Naxalite ideology in India. He regrettably writes that "I cry for my father with remorse and feeling that he was right." Gopal Singh's memoirs included in the booklet offer an interesting reading.

Amarjit Chandan. 2005

Written intensely from the core of his heart, yet based on facts and presented in a well formulated manner, supported by valuable photographs and a befitting glossary to decode cultural expressions, the booklet promises a material of great historical worth and literary importance. The genuineness of this effort must be applauded, though one wishes that the size of the volume were a little larger.

Atamjit Singh

[Courtesy: Hindustan Times. Chandigarh. 09 Jan 2007]
Atamjit Singh is a Punjabi playwright and is principal of ASSM College, Mukandpur, district Nawan Shahr, East Punjab


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