Makhan Singh Roy was the earliest living migrant to be interviewed for this book. He arrived in Gravesham in 1949. He tells a story of how fate intervened to bring him first to England and then to a town that he had never ever heard of, which he was subsequently proud to call home for many years.
In the 1950’s and early 1960’s Makhan Singh Roy was one of the leading lights in the local community and helped the growing migrant community in the area with finding jobs, translation, sourcing materials for staple Indian food and acting as a liaison with the authorities.
Life in India
“I was born in the village of Prag Pur near Jalandhar Cantonment in Punjab on the 8th of February 1925. My father was in the army in Sikh Regiment. I was studying for my B.Sc. degree from Punjab University before moving to Delhi in 1947 with my brother in law Piara Singh. We used to own trucks to carry clay to pottery manufacturing factories. One day we met a Police Inspector S. Kishan Singh who mentioned that he was in charge of issuing passports if anyone would like one. Three of us decided to apply, they cost us a total of 50 Rupees. After few days the passport came. We had no plans or idea of using the passport to go anywhere”
Makhan Singh Roy
In August 1947 India was granted Independence from Britain and the state of Pakistan was created. This led to mass upheaval which would eventually cost the lives of around a million people. Following sectarian riots in Delhi, Makhan Singh decided to move back to his home village in the Punjab where he felt he would be safer. He travelled with his other brother in law Jagat Singh. Once back at his village he wanted to finish off his degree. However due to the partition there had been created a number of refugee camps as Punjab is on the border with Pakistan to which students like him where drafted.
“In 1948 the government declared that those final year students who had worked in the refugee camps would be issued with degrees on their previous class work and thus the degree of Bachelor of Science was bestowed on me. By this time my father had retired from the army with a rank of Captain after serving for twenty five years. He was back in the village working on the farm. After my degree I was at a loose end as I did not want to work on the family farm but there were not many jobs elsewhere. I eventually ended up opening up a poultry farm”
Makhan Singh Roy
This was however not to last very long as fate was to intervene and shape the rest of Makhan Singh’s life.
“As the destiny would have it one afternoon I was at our (kooh) tubewell taking my afternoon bath when I saw an old friend Mohinder Singh Rai just by chance. He was on his way to his mum’s village Talhan. He stopped to have a chat and told me that a few weeks after his father had arrived back from England he had suddenly died of a heart attack, and that he was on his way to England to find out whether he may have had a house or some form of insurance as he had not spoken about any financial matters before he had died. Mohinder asked if I wished to go with him. He said it would only be a few months and that on our return we could open up some kind of business with the money we get from England. I told him that I would have to speak to my father and would give him an answer the next day. While I was talking to my father who agreed to me going my cousin Chanan Singh came to our house. I asked him also to come also as he had just retired from the army”
“In and around our villages it was unheard off for someone to go to England. It was generally assumed by people that only allow rich people or students were allowed to enter England. The news of our going to England spread like a wild fire within few days everybody was asking when we were going. We enquired about the cost of travel and how much money each of us would require. My father managed to give me one thousand rupees the rate exchange being seven rupees to a pound and that amount was enough to get me to London. The plan was to go to Bombay and from there arrange all the travel by ship through a travel company”