An interview with Rav Singh of A little History of the Sikhs about history and our maps collaboration.
Two of our illustrated walks (guides) mapped out locations inspired by the Maharajah Duleep Singh story in both London and Blo’ Norton, Norfolk. These piqued intrigue in people who were interested in walking, history, the Anglo Sikh story, architecture, and nature. Around the same time, we were contacted by Rav, who was also connecting the dots and created walking tours based (primarily) on Anglo Sikh history in London.
A little History of the Sikhs has been growing strong for nearly six years. He wanted to enrich this history as an experience, beyond textbooks; rather a way to connect on a deeper sensory level. Rav does this through his dynamic guided tours which feature artefacts, guest speakers and a hands on approach. His aim is to bring history alive, especially for younger generations. We found a common interest in these walks and shared curiosity. Rav too digs beyond the surface; whether a statue, artefact, plaque or a sentence in a book to uncover history and illuminate it.
In 2017 we worked collaboratively, with him in London and us in Tokyo, on a Central London walking map and printed keepsake. Deep illustrated the map based on Rav’s research, we both worked on the copy and using Photoshop I designed it into a folded walking map ready for print. It serves as a way for people to keep reliving this history and even try the walks for themselves.
We recently had a virtual interview and catchup, here is what Rav said:
1) How did the ‘A little History’ walking tours start?
After teaching Sikh History as part of Panjabi language lessons at Karamsar Panjabi School, my wish was to make our class children connect and feel the history. They can (I hope) learn our Sikh heritage and history through books and presentations, talks and lectures – but through the walks, day trips, and study visits, it was clear to me that they can ‘feel and experience’ the history. By bringing stories of our history and heritage alive through the tours, I was hoping that future Sikh generations can appreciate our history and that I can embed a desire in them to learn more.
Through ‘feeling’ the history, it will hopefully remain with them for the rest of their lives, as they make their way in this world.
2) Which walk do you connect with the most, and why?
My Sloane Square to South Kensington walk in the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea is my personal favourite. The tour incorporates the Royal Hospital, The National Army Museum, St. Luke’s Church, and the museums in South Kensington.
Over the last ten years, I have been fortunate to form some wonderful friendships with staff at these locations, who have supported our ‘A Little History Tours’ in all manner of ways. My friends at these places help me to gain access to their sites, make use of their experts, and help our little initiative to bring stories and histories to life through the artefacts held in their collections.
3) What challenges have you faced with these tours?
I have begun to realise how important marketing is. After meticulous planning to develop and plan each tour, I am always at the mercy of ‘word of mouth’ and social media to reach out to people who may be interested in attending. You also become aware of just how busy families (grandparents, parents and children together) can be!
History is a ‘hard-sell’ and people do not know what to expect, so they do not really sign up. But once we have had a few people attending, then through ‘word of mouth’ others have been encouraged to give it a try. For my traditional Punjabi community attendees there are some clear obstacles and the common questions people are thinking (and do ask!) are:
- “Do we have to walk? Really?”
- “Can we not bring the car?”
- “Is there free food?”
To accommodate for every possible excuse (and we do have a high Punjabi community last minute dropout rate) we have:
- short-walk tour options
- pushchair and child-friendly tours
- wheelchair friendly tours
- provision of tour guide scripts for anyone who has hearing difficulties
- tours in multiple languages – English, Punjabi, Italian and French, with colleagues in the team also able to converse in German and Spanish.
I have always had a lot of moral support through various Gurdwaras and multiple WhatsApp groups, but would prefer people to give us a try and give me their honest feedback. Many of the people that I thought would attend tours from my various networks back in 2013 are so busy running their own voluntary activities that they do not have time to join us, or even press ‘like’ on Facebook! However, I meet so many new and interesting people on the tours, with their own stories which we share walking between locations, and ‘A little History’ family network is now beginning to form.
After nearly ten years of organic growth, we have a little more confidence in being able to ensure we can fill spaces on our tours.
4) How did you feel when you first went to Blo Norton?
I was advised by Peter Bance to visit Blo Norton and Old Buckenham during one of my Thetford tours, but could never quite manage it.
After seeing the guide map by London Odyssey and the number of locations associated with the children of Duleep Singh in Blo Norton, we have now been back on three occasions in recent years. I hope always to ensure we can visit the village within our Thetford itineraries.
On my first visit, I felt I had stepped back in time to the early 1900s: The church, picturesque houses, forest, fruit trees, and village roads were only missing the Duleep Singhs…. and maybe some horses!
5) How did the collaboration come to be?
It was probably September/October 2016 when I was researching additional locations in London associated with Maharani Jindan Kaur to knot together a walking tour, that I came across the London Odyssey website. I saw the London map, and some photographs of residences associated with the Duleep Singhs, and was struck by how chic the map looked.
I attempted to replicate the style and map out some of my London walks, in particular for the upcoming ‘Vaisakhi in the Square’ event in April 2017. I wanted to share the story behind the Havelock statue in Trafalgar Square, in particular the citation on the plinth. The citation memorialises the words of General Havelock to the Ferozepur Regiment of Sikhs during the mutiny of 1857.
I attempted to draw out a route in Deep’s style. However, in the end, I gave up and just contacted them via their contact us page, not expecting a reply!
After a few days, I received a response and what followed was a very early morning discussion about our work to walk through Sikh History in the UK. It transpired that Deep and his family had just relocated to Tokyo! After a few months of collaborative work between the three of us, our first self-guided walking map was ready in time for Vaisakhi 2017.
Over the last 4 years or so, it has been great to see their adventures in Japan and Sydney, and we keep in touch from time to time on our Sikh history (and other shared) interest through our little WhatsApp working group.
The production line for our other walking tours in London is now in full swing, as we have all been home-based for most of 2020.
6) What is your guilty pleasure?
I do enjoy statistics, sports odds and a little gamble every now and again (well every week!)
As a young man, I did end up in Las Vegas on about 5 occasions during the course of my degree studies. In addition to my formal degree, I ended up studying many courses to comprehensively understand the various games at the Las Vegas School of Gambling.
These ‘certificates’ I treasure now more than my postgraduate and professional qualifications – reflecting many ‘money, debt and life lessons’ learnt at the Paris, Venetian, MGM Grand, Harrah’s, Aladdin, Bellagio and Fremont Street casinos of Las Vegas.
In the end, a good loss every now and again, means I take a break for a few days, and revert back to one of the many ‘9-5’ mundane roles I have working in front of a laptop, to recover my losses!
Stay tuned for more maps and guides in collaboration with Rav, A little History of the Sikhs. Follow his page to find out about his upcoming tours and events.