Narindra Singh Sehmi – Report

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Born in Nairobi (Kenya) in a Sikh home I was named Narindra Singh Sehmi.  However, over the years following I am now as Nindi Sehmi.  In Victoria I am also called Sehmi Sahib.

Schooled in Nairobi, then trained as an engineer, and in 1950s studied in England and qualified as a professional architect.   Careered at senior levels in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Nairobi (Kenya), then in England and finally in Victoria (British Columbia).

I emigrated to Victoria in 1974, joined a private practice as an associate, later worked in the government managing design projects for hospitals and senior care homes.

Arriving in Victoria I found the rather large Indian community (essentially Punjabi Sikhs) were not in any perceptive way involved with the main stream communities.  Focus of their interests being centred at the Sikh Temple (and some others later at the Hindu Temple).

Seeking to establish viable business contacts, amongst others I met with members of the then Victoria Cultural Association of Canada, comprising a handful of members, pertaining to be the elite.  The Association barely projected very little of import in the way of public community or cultural activities.

I got involved with the Association when (around 1975-76) the then Association president, Raj Pageley, asked me to design an Indian float for the May Day Parade, which I designed but also ended up building it.  There after I became a member of the Association and stayed with it for a decade of years.  I made efforts to broaden the membership, creating social events and publicising Indian cultural festivals.   During those years I joined several main stream social and cultural organizations as a volunteer, and on board, at one time being a board member of about thirteen organizations.  I then came to be known as “the Indian” and was much sought after as such.

I monitored viable teams with good support from all members.  Several members devoted full time to manage the functions.  To name some.  There was the veteran Haji Charania who kept us corrected constitutionally, his wife Rashna Charania, Preeti Ahluwalia, Chaman Singla and his wife Chanchal Singla helped by latter’s sister Goodie Singla.  One of the most diligent board members was Kalpana Roy who spent hours of her time to train our young girls to perform Indian dancing, with musical accompaniment by the ardent musician Nindi Sehmi (who even learnt to sing Bengali songs for her).   We had a virtuous graphic artist , Bhatacharia, who taught the kids painting and preparing paper toys.

One of the engaging members who came in from the early days was Willie Swami who came from south Africa.  He was an impromptu bongo player, rendering Indian songs and had no scruples to go on stage and perform quasi Indian classical dancing.   He was an active board member with the International Cultural Association (the ICA) and of tremendous help integrating our activities and functions with other cultural organizations.

The major outlet for our performances was the annual Folkfestival put out by the International Cultural Association at the Centennial Square where the girls performed and displayed Indian classical and folk dances.  There was a primitive kiosk to display Indian arts and crafts and selling Indian foods.  Almost all the food was prepared at home and brought to the kiosk, a major contribution by the Singlas who would prepare the foods at their home and bring these to the site. Much  later a re-designed kiosk allowed cooking on site. 

The other two major events were the Diwali and Vaisakhi dinner evenings.  These were held in social accommodations, all foods prepared and cooked on site. These events in later years developed into dinner and dance evenings, much later followed by the Bhangra dancing.

Gurdeep Sundher followed my years as the active board member (President, Secretary, Treasurer et la).  She was socially very active and took great interest in mobilizing community members and youth to come on board and enrich the activities of the Association that was later named India Canada Cultural Association of Canada (then abbreviated as ICCA).   She was an ardent volunteer and organizer and aimed at fostering the ICCA to team up with other main stream society activities.  She held office as President for well over twelve years and was a major contributor to the growth of the Association.

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