Death is a loss to our community
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses the death of a local community figure in his exclusive Recorder column. He writes: IN August 1952, a 21-year-old from Kerala, South India, sailed to Singapore in search of opportunity. He died in Newham last
EAST Ham MP Stephen Timms, this week discusses the death of a local community figure in his exclusive Recorder column.
IN August 1952, a 21-year-old from Kerala, South India, sailed to Singapore in search of opportunity. He died in Newham last month.
Last Friday, a large crowd met to celebrate his life. I recently met with his daughter, now a technical manager with Unilever; and his friend for almost 60 years, Mr K. Gangadharan Nair, who shared a house with him in Singapore and then for a while in Newham, and who now lives in Shrewsbury Road. We leafed through his meticulous diary, black and white photographs and thick files.
He was Sankaran Pushpan. I knew him best as Secretary of the Transport & General Workers Union Retired Members Association (RMA) Manor Park Branch, which he set up after retiring from Ford.
The branch meetings at Sree Narayana Guru Mission in Barking Road - near the football statue - attract about 60 members. Every one of them travelled from South India after the war to work for the British in Singapore, and then in the 1970s came to work in factories in East London.
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In October 1952, Mr Pushpan started as a typist for the British forces. He enjoyed his work. Later he taught Pitman's shorthand in the evenings. He was active in the Army Civil Service Union. One photo from Singapore shows him on a picket line in November 1961.
In 1964, he married Ratnavalli. They lived in Singapore and had three children. When the British left Singapore in 1971, Captain T. Short wrote him a letter of commendation: "The Section functioned under pretty trying conditions which would have tested the patience of even the most placid soul . . . it was noticeable that your sense of humour never failed to assert itself, which at times is more than I can say of my own."
Mr Pushpan stayed on in Singapore as a barrack accountant before coming to Newham in 1976. He worked at Ford for 17 years until retirement on medical grounds.
In Newham, Mr Pushpan was tireless. He typed letters and completed forms for old and young in the South Indian community who called at his house without appointment, night or day, right up until his death.
Crossly rejecting an initial refusal, he obtained a grant for a weekly lunch club at the Trinity Centre, now continued by the Malayalee Association.
And for the RMA, from 1994, he produced minutes in three languages, English, Tamil and Malayalam; organised coach trips around Britain and Europe; and corresponded indefatigably with people like me, about, for example, increasing pensions, improving Newham's public conveniences, why Labour should select Ken Livingstone as Mayor, and improving bus services to Newham General Hospital.
His efforts led to buses 300 and 276 being routed inside the hospital grounds - though he was cross the 147 did not do so too. He carefully filed every letter and reply.
Why does our community in Newham work, despite people originating from so many different parts of the world? Mr Pushpan's example provides an answer.