Kanwal Prakash Singh and Richard Hamilton

Recorded September 13, 2007 Archived September 13, 2007 01:19:17
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX003054


Kanwal Prakash (aka KP) (68) tells his friend Richard Hamilton (80) about surviving the violent partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and later coming to American to become an architect.

Subject Log / Time Code

15 million people were relocated during the partition of India and Pakistan, KP was eight years old.
Remembers every gunshot from night of September 8th, 1947, family hid in Sikh temple.
KP’s family was scattered during move, but all survived and found each other in Punjab.
Went to University of Michigan, met wife Janice.
KP describes his spirituality in relationship to love of art and architecture.


  • Kanwal Prakash Singh
  • Richard Hamilton


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00:10 My name is Richard Hamel. So now I'm 80 years old. Today is September 13th 2007. We're in Indianapolis, Indiana and I am a longtime friend of the teller of the story today. I am k p Singh. I am 68 years old today is September 13th 2007. We are in the city of Indianapolis and eye doctor Hamilton is my spiritual mentor and my very dear respected friend.

00:47 KP yeah, you and I have both been in this city for about 40 years slight differences there, but you had a very significant life before you came to this country. Why don't we begin with that in the tell us about your home? And what is most Vivid in your memory about that?

01:06 Well this journey before I came to this city of Indianapolis and Country of United States really began in West Pakistan. I was born in the city call Jenna Walla, which is near Lahore, which is the old capital of the undivided state of Punjab. And at the time of the partition. I was approximately 8 years old when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 47 August 15th, 1947, when the sub-continent of India was partitioned into India and Pakistan and also the journeying at that time was really kind of Faith something that has stayed in my memory. I come from a family of 7, we are how we have five sisters and then we have two brothers. My parents were off modest background. My father was an intellect a linguist is color a teacher and continues to be

02:06 Guiding Light I even now even though he has passed on by the time of the partition was unlike any that the normal child goes through and the rest will probably has no not enough knowledge and insight into what happened there. It wasn't a peaceful day my location of the boundaries of the two countries. There was almost fifteen million people that changed hands and chain territories and Holmes and it was not a peaceful migration from one side of the border to the other almost 1.5 million people lost their lives in the smell a in this horrendous a difficulty that very much there because people were ethnically cleansed from one side of the other to go to the country of Pakistan. The new boundaries of India and it said that stayed with me for good reasons. Not not bad reason good reason that I am one of the luckiest ones

03:04 And I'm talking to you. Dr. Hamilton 60 years later. It was on September 12th. We left our home. So today is have almost wonderful. It is to really gonna look back at the journey that look dark and dismal and unpredictable than uncertain to the kind of life and and opportunities that I've had here a little more about what that meant to you as it has a young person very young person and how painful it must have been to be suddenly uprooted. I it was a time of great Terror and a great horror because every day they were new episodes of Weiland's stabbings fire bombings fights in any kind of genocide that was taking place. It was a time that released

03:58 To a young child that was young mind. It was a time of great uncertainty which was further compounded by that each parent a to instruct their child and my parents had to do it for me that in case you are in that kind of a difficult situation how to take your own life. And so it is it was a time of great Peril then came September 8th 1947 when almost 20,000 people were machine-gunned in our hometown. These are people that were already uploaded from the surrounding Villages and has sought refuge in this town of 50030 will be safe here. And this would be the transfer point to the new country of India new boundaries of India. And so I can still hear 60 years later. I can still hear every gun shot of that night which started about 4 in the afternoon and continue through head on down.

04:58 September 8th 1947. How are you together as a family in that. And in the median of the weeks immediately following that yes, we had left our home which was across the alley it was a very short Ellie that face the Sikh temple. So there were the entire family had gathered are hoping that this would be like a fortress and not only asked him for about three hundred other people who had taken refuge in the temple. So we felt that we would be safe. We will die together if that's what what might happen here. And so 4 days after this massacre that took place we were moving at certain that we would be the Escape because it was a very hostile type of environment that prevailed there and as luck would have it on on the morning of September 12th a Jeep for the four six soldiers.

05:58 Came by knock the door at the temple and said you have 5 minutes to leave this this Center 6 Center and we will take you to the Caravan that is moving about a mile from here. So our first experience after leaving the temple was in moving to a caravan. That was a Biblical proportionate stretch for miles and miles at people absolutely having nothing but they left their place is just the way the war with their lives. And so I'll let you know as I look back at it and I have to come back to 60 years later how marvelous it feels to be right here. I was speaking about that the difficult experience but also sharing their wisdom and knowledge anyway to to generation to come that bad things that happened to us or not to be taken as negative energy, but they can be a force for the greater good and for me sitting here and thanking the lord and having blueberry this morning he is

06:58 Like a blessing everyday, there's a new blessing that I cherish. You spoke about biblical proportions in referring to that forced migration and the displacement of people so much of that is going on and in our lives time all over the world, but you yourself then lived for a time as a refugee on the road. And where did that take you in? No way to do be displaced to another place within the new Punjab is that right that entire family was scattered, but we ended up ultimately several months later in the place in the city of Punjab Ludhiana. And that's where the family finally gathered the parents were. We did not know if they have survived we did not know several relatives if they were missing finally as God would have it that we all survived and with complete honor intact because they were all kinds of Horrors that were committed on both side of the border that are very painful to even talk.

07:58 And but we had no job no home. No Hearts no money and my father finally accepted a job with the military as a educational teacher in the Army. And so we would love Punjab and then went with this an army division from Punjab into Central India and then to Deep South and that's what my first Recollections of that life in India war and being with my family members with several of my siblings and trying to put together what all had happened and restarting life from ground zero to do new languages that we had to learn. We got the language of the new reasons were different and to adjust to New Life and challenges on this part of the world are a very well-off family. We have three large homes and properties in

08:55 The city that I was born in and know we had we were living in tents are we are doing anyone room hall seven or eight of us which serve both as a study area and living room area and dining room area and some time during rainy season also the kitchen area so everything but over time that became then your home for a while and you were able to renew your educational price young man. My father being an educator Dr. Hamilton, he was insistent that there's only one thing. I'm going to give you and that is as much education as you can possibly handle. I will borrow I will do what I need to do and he said that's one ornament. That's one gift. I want to give you because Dad will set you free. And so I am still an educated learning I guess so to speak. I started a liberal arts degree in Punjab. Then I went into School of Architecture and it by five years of a bachelor of architecture and master of technology in Regional planning at IIT. Kharagpur.

09:55 Paternoster MIT and that I was still not done so I came to this country and on August 24th 1965 to pursue at 4th college degree at University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Now, obviously that was a major shift then in your life as you moved away from those early years and came to this country natural enough in terms of pursuing further education, but what else entered into that you're coming to this country was that a family supported the idea. It was a inspiration that came from all my teachers and mentors. I had an Indian Institute of Technology many of the teachers are American guess that would come for several months. In order to teach many of them are from England and Russia and Germany. And so they inspired they put their seed in in my head that wouldn't it be wonderful that it before you settle down with a planning job in Ark?

10:55 It's a job that you took to three years of training and maybe another degree and you know in America and so many of my colleagues that are two three years ahead of me dead already gone taking your training and come back and I thought it would be marvellous and my father was absolutely in favor of it that he said if that's what you want. I will support that video. Now, you're not yet in the story and Indianapolis. You landed first in Michigan, right? I landed in Michigan and I went to University of Michigan Ann Arbor. That was a enormously I think enlightening experience to see people from all over the world at one campus and to meet people and to learn that there's a lot more than than just all being Asian or Indian and it was during that. I met my future wife badge University of Michigan who was the school of design and School of Architecture and design shared that complex at that time. That's a wonderful story. You know, you finished some extra work in Ark

11:55 Text Cheryl at work and an urban planning. Is that right? Right now? I'm at as I took City Planning and then they move down to the city of Detroit. I ever had still 18 months of training. I could take before returning back to India that was about that was the plan that was the researcher mended. But the once I met a friend that I want to do they have and hold and cherish for the rest of my life. That plan was a shout out to the side for a while. And so we began to seriously after 40 years talk about immediately decided that I was not going to return and I took my permanent residency rather than the student visas I had so that I could stay longer than 18 months if I need to and so the one thing led to another then I almost did not complete my full 18-month in Michigan and accepted a job at the city in the city of Indianapolis.

12:55 Is the lovely lady I know is that right? Yes until it's just a bit about her background now because she has her own story. Yes. She has it on sweaty how to assess his great-grandfather came from Czechoslovakia on the mother's side. And on the Father's Side, they are French and Scottish and she was born in Bay City, Michigan right next to Bay City, Michigan Saginaw it wonderful lady who had already traveled around several countries that before I met her as a part of her summer breaks and summer trainings and so on a person who is a linguist a person who has both a touch of Jewish background in our ancestry and Catholic background ancestry and recently found that there may be some other strains that are part of our solar system.

13:55 Who is that a world citizen? So to speak and I felt bad and there was a lot of things that I think licked in the end that friendship for that. We saw that we enjoyed some of the same kind of fun things about travel and people and learning and poetry and music and education little doubt about the origins of the other kind of worldwide home that you represent you and your family here in Indiana and we'll get to that in a little bit. But I want to know more about coming to Indianapolis specifically what brought you here in gentleman friend of mine who was a friend of my cattle you remember Michael I do he said that my cattle who is with the Department of Mental development. The his office is looking for some additional planners. Why don't you go and see and apply for a job there?

14:47 And so I did and I was offered a job as a senior planner for the city of Indianapolis on September on October 2nd 1967. My hair was my first day so pretty soon that's going to be 40 complete years for me or looking blade years and they do not pay us and so I accepted that job and I was on that in that position for almost four and a half years before I decided to want to do something different and Dad came because I saw so many historic buildings are being torn down to make room for parking lots additional parking spaces. And I said no that can't be we got a young civilization and our history. Our culture is in our structures in our markers in a Remnant softball for the Pioneers created and it ought to be integrated and preserved and enhanced for future uses. So I thought I would let me take my own.

15:47 Introducing it to drawings. And so I moved from the city hall and began to create these drawings of historic landmarks courthouses structures churches and synagogues to maybe sometime a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a word can be worth a thousand pictures. So I was trying to use both my ability to communicate verbally as well as to writing hand through imagery to emphasize that this is not just like a brick-and-mortar day. I enshrine the very essence of our Pioneers. We will talk more about that in a minute because you said a lot of things in those who comments about combining the artistic and they and the engineering in the historical and the culture and so on but you also began to talk about we meeting we Hoosiers we Americans in your language now, I know what you feel about that KP how strongly you feel about that.

16:47 But you you left a culture that is much older than American very rich culture very wonderful civilization that what the NNU really have returned. I know from time to time, but what are the elements of that that you in anyway regret or miss that culture and that background out of what you came? Let me give you a longer answer on that. You have raised a very important the first after newspaper then I started with the city hall. Carry the small blurb. Did you see it Urban than a bearded man looking every bit like in Mara's are reviewing a children's exhibit at 7:30 in the morning in the city hall and and somebody brought it to my attention. It was under did you see did you and I said, oh my God, what is that man doing here?

17:47 No, it is not them. It is me I need to learn about them before they learn about me. And that is I'm the newcomer on the Block. So I made it a point that it's not about me. It's about we and that is if I learn everything I need to learn about their architecture the history that cultural desperate. I am hoping the day there will be time rule for them to learn about other people that come in migrated to this community and I have never kind of digress from that responsibility. Anyway that we is is is Palmer Eye is not apologizing eagle and together by the different face or different cultures are different people are different elements of us that we can enhance the very spirit and essence of humanity by looking at us as together rather than individually and in the same Focus I have about

18:47 What city is no threat, it's it's not an adversity diversity is our new fabulous and great Frontier of opportunity. And so a lot of my efforts have been in the area off of integrating and preserving and enhancing the cultural image the presence of other people as one of the founders of International Center as one of the early pioneers of India Community NC community that that the guy that we need to mainstream our energies, even as we speak we preserve and Spotlight the wonderful things that make us who we are our culture is not about the tribunal the beard of this or that our culture is the very essence and if that Essence can be preserved while you are still absolutely fabulous American then it is a added gift to a culture add a gif to our texture and tapestry then that it takes anything from us.

19:44 Listen to this story again. I I realize how how richly blessed we are by having you in this community and you've adopted that in his you just explained why you found such a great acceptance here because you've accepted this culture and you've entered into that never denying or an anyways, moving away from your own but adding that is an element into our life together. Now that happened with a wonderful generosity of spirit, but there must have been some more than just humorous incidents along the way that we're not always comfortable. Yes, that would have been good and bad incidents that have been the incident in terms of that eventual citizen. Are you going to abandon the articles of your faith or where your children born with turban and beard and and so on are you going to maintain it if you want to become a citizen, but then there have been the fabulous other events. We were looking for a place to get married.

20:45 And I am a seeker and Janice is bullet-head the Catholic and Jewish background and other day and cheese the personal medical nature. And so we talked to Melissa like the beautiful Church before I leave travel to India for the six salmonella stand because the family felt we need to get married here. So and so we selected the church at 38th and Meridian and the reason we selected was wonderfully Gothic and beautiful and I said why not but then we would know we did not know I mean if the minister rev over there would agree to Mariah. So we told him and he said if you do not have any objection to get mad and getting matted. I have no objection to marrying you in the in the tradition of the Methodist church, and we said why God that this is just fabulous. So along the way

21:45 They have been so many people who have who have stood by us who have guided us who are Mentor does you have been certainly a very important force in the life. Not only my life life of my children and then all our family and that is what really is great about this community that they are warm and friendly and there have been more wonderful experience is so childish and remembering take to the next life for me than any small trivia of them some intense rate nature that somebody might have an out of ignorance. I'd trust in this dress KP. I wish I could somehow inject into this story today the book on the art and spirit of KP Singh the wonderful collection of your work cuz he's artistic and Architectural drawings of so many buildings many of them in Indiana, but many all around the country and in fact around the world now,

22:45 How was it that with your training as an architect and a city planner and your investment in that education you really began to turn toward art and spirit both of which identify you so strongly in your life today, you're understood as an artist. And as a person of very deep spiritual grounding now it was that a move that was easy for you to make a yes. It was every incident that has come in my life.

23:23 That has is grounded in my childhood. I look back and dad and say how beautiful how wonderful and then Debbie fall bless bless her, you know that Amazon the great wonderful lady and the great important part of the Hammers communication KP would like to have a printed book of your drawings. I was telling you because I was thinking of September 16th 1947 being on a sidewalk with no shoes and no turban 80 year old and totally lost and I said my God, this is better than a Nobel Prize, you know, somebody's approaching that. They want to print a book of my drawings and I was able to persuade people that drawings are like photographs, you know, you can turn pages and you seemed photograph once or twice in your done, but I said if you if we add words and parts to this and that is something to read and reflect and meditate upon

24:23 Then I think the book of Harry Potter greater value and I was able to convince her that that is not allowed to go to Gexa pause the images along with my thoughts and writings and experiences and she agreed and I think a book in March called the art and spirit of KP Singh selection of drawings and writing that has been received very very well for all over the travel to and I am ready till about that gift. It was a gift that was given to me and we we have a saying in the Sikh Faith, you know, when God's grace is upon us and ramp is blessed on to us. And this was like a hundred blessing that came from Amazon Tabby pour in your own words what you said many times many different words that I in fact in one place. I remember you have said that art is prayer in another form that the connections are very very close in.

25:23 Life and somehow you have you convey that to people you meet regular Lake you've been deeply honored because of your art around the state and around the country many honors have come to you if you remain so grounded though in the Sikh Faith now not a lot of Americans do not understand the Sikh Faith very much was this ecumenical world and bracing Spirit, which is so much incarnate in you. Is that a departure from your seat Faith or is that a part of the faith that it's best secret that is younger than Christianity Buddhism Jainism Hinduism Islam. It is only 539 years old.

26:18 And the fundamental of the Sikh faith that I believe in somewhere. I try to exercise everyday the basic Foundation of that sanctity of all Traditions respect for all life that God is The Fountainhead of all knowledge and wisdom and so all wisdom, even if we don't agree with them, they are have all been inspired by a force greater than any of us and so my my if it is not any any departure from that when we think about the echo of similarity that continues to have a break through each Faith then I know that while I may continue to embrace a particular tradition that I am finding the same Brotherhood light and echo in every fear. Are you become a spokesperson of course for that faith in this community so that when people think or hear the word to seek

27:18 Skp sing in the Indianapolis Community. Now that Community has grown significantly, of course and you represent that still is that is that sometimes difficult to be so identified as a representative of a particular religious community?

27:38 Well, I like to think of myself as Hoosier an American first and foremost. I was born in India. So that's my country of birth. Which of course my hometown is in Pakistan by faith is something that is my connection with my Creator and in my case. I am I am respectful of every 5th edition. I have no qualms about worshiping at in a synagogue are joining the family at that North Church in the Hindu temple of the Sikh temple. I am perfectly comfortable because the light of God is everywhere just do your Echo might match. That's perfectly. All right, we have had along with of course the great influx of folk Punjabi Sikh community in the last few months certainly some exciting new new newcomers into our community that are contributing many wonderful ways as intrapreneurs. Businessman supporting things are almost 200.

28:38 Of them are going to be walking with Asian American Alliance because of some persuasion. They took a little persuasion that you need to mainstream yourself. You cannot be a block by yourself. And so far to my effort has been and continues to be that all of us working together can dispel ignorance can Bridge gaps can breathe that the Disco difficulties that we sometimes feel that comes out of unfamiliarity. Our suspicions are preconceived notions are stereotyped the images that we carry and if we work together we can certainly be better Hoosiers better American better human beings tell us about the Janus now little bit and then the two of you have two young adult sons now, I who live in this community and carry on in many ways though not themselves easily identified. They they do not wear a turban in our midst.

29:38 But they carry on the kind of commitment you've made in the health areas don't they say a word about that? We have two boys their names are very much from the Indian tradition jayprakash, which means the the the Comcast off the victory of light or Darkness. So he has a very big important Meme and in some ways he is he's very proud of their name and he tries to do in his own way the very spiritually deeply and good person who has as you know, you have mentored him and the younger boy is that I've been to the Paul who is a research associate at IU school of medicine and the he is in stem cell research. So both of them are anchor the one he had the st. Vincent Hospital in the pharmacy and the other at the IU school of medicine and Janice peaches.

30:38 Happy birthday school. So she's mentoring all kinds of kids who will be great leaders someday because of the kind of wisdom and kind of experiences that she brings stool to the students as a person with many dimensions of learning and culture and an understanding and and even within the home we had a multi-cultural multi-family many different collections many different showings and so forth of remarkable buildings the world over if you had other than the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I know that must be the first answer you would give the best but what makes a particular space holy to you.

31:32 How are is there a particular place would it be and retire Golden Temple or somewhere else that you would find the greatest sense of peace and identification in your own life.

31:48 For myself is yes to Golden Temple of Amritsar which is the st. Peter in the Vatican of the six is certainly as a seed that is the seat of the Sikh faith and the special Mecca of the six. So it's certainly very important. But when I look at other places which many of them in my drawing on your walls in your call Cathy Russo Spirit where I selected drawings of many traditions and place them in one drawing with quotations from the scriptures of each of these faith and the general top and the bottom of that drawing which is that this is the collective spiritual Heritage of mankind and the right to enjoy and worship and celebrate is is all Humanity to enjoying peace. I am deeply moved when I am standing under the Rotunda the Dome appointment Colangelo St.

32:48 His role and advise magnificent as beauty or standing in front of the theater in him in St. Peter's Rome are in any great place of worship Jewish traditional Hindu tradition because all of them are not just brick-and-mortar and stones and sculptures. There is a great deal of wisdom in trying the interpretation of Revelations that is identification. That is a great deal of for Spiritual knowledge and wisdom that is there for us all to really be moved from where we are to pay center in less than 2 is the god-centered within and you've collected within the last 2 years now and many of these drawings and put them in a wonderful calendar form, which has had a very wide distribution among the Sikh community in this country. And now I believe well beyond this country calendaring and putting into in calendar for him this

33:48 Markable collection of our architectural drawings, but it's also carries this your unique contribution in my mind at least of joining architectural drawing with scripted words that have to do with the face to dishes talk about that that emerging of them I come from a family of Educators and f r a n n i have embraced that principle myself. I believe that little bit of teasing information little bit of quotation little bit of thought that is integrated carefully has a part of the design into these drawings might persuade some of the viewers to want to know more in other words that these are not just drawing these apartments of information and introduction and they can lead if you were to to learn more about it and So Eun in so many ways. I put just you know it

34:48 Smallfoot note under each of these hoping that the reader would say that he would connect with Association the heater connected with the event. The person is the personality and he will say this is far more than just the home of President Benjamin Harrison AR. This is far more than the Rotunda off of US Capitol. That's so many laws and so many sacrifices and so many wisdoms have come and they have walked this Corridor and they're light and their spirit and their wisdom is still and shine. So I look at architecture as not only in terms of the material but influenza is enshrined the collective wisdom of many the skills of many talents. Many that have contributed to its completion then by putting it in that Spirit we have every reason to think some of their wisdom would be transferred back to us.

35:48 I'm going to go back for just a moment then and I remind us that you you began by talking about an incredibly painful episode in your young life that does marked you clearly through the years and there must be a lot of grief connected with the not only the loss of of parents over the years. But with the loss of many things in your life, I happen to know that not very long ago. You also lost a significant collection of your own artwork and yet you do not seem to dwell upon that what what is the wisdom that informs the way you've met with these in a way horrible memories and real grief. Not only if a personal kind but your grief for the conflicts that have I'd still in our in our culture had how do you how do you come through that kind of grief?

36:41 The scriptures are very explicit that you travel from here getting nothing. So I know that no matter what I create is going to stay here. And I remember the child when we lost everything we owned and I came to this country. The 44 lb of one suitcase that I was allowed. Mostly they were books and one change of clothes and so are you remembering that that that's what happened almost forty-two years ago. I feel that things happen tsunamis come tornadoes come hurricanes come and things happen to life, but we must always have the power in the wisdom to move forward because they're still alive to be live there still achievement to be made and they're still memories to be cherished in the sense that how far have you come so you lost something it's okay just there's still more opportunity and wisdom to create new things.

37:41 Wanted to ask you about the what what gives you hope and what kind of hope you look forward to and I then I came across just yesterday KB this sentence of yours my journey.

37:56 Thus far these words appear in that to dance and tomorrow's Global Courtyards without being regarded as a stranger.

38:07 What does that mean? Do you that means everything that means that we don't no longer dwell on a person's skin color or Texture an accent or the color of his turban that we no longer draw on a person's property. It's meth withdrawal on the simple fact as is enshrined in the six secret scriptures and in every scripture is one Creator. He has created with all his children and he had deposited the same same Divine light emitting every one of them and each of them is worthy of our love and respect and when we come to that Plateau where we are recognized as a one-family one human family with what lots of textures and colors. I believe that that would be a day that is worthy to look forward to and worthy to give every ounce of energy towards that that dream and that possibility

39:03 Well, you you inculcate those things you articulate so well in your own life and that have the people of your community you're adopted community in the Hoosier land celebrate that each time. They see that turbine that once was greeted with what is this Among Us and now people know that thank you for that all mine to be to be considered as one of the Native. Who's your son's thank you very much.