My first year at UC Berkeley, I enrolled in a course offered once every four years: History and Culture of Afghanistan. From then began a safar of desperately seeking every possible grain of knowledge pertaining to the country.
However, I remained deprived on one aspect – the Sikh community of Afghanistan. After doing countless presentations based on whatever I could find, I discovered Pritpal Singh’s efforts and depiction from a Sikh perspective. I was elated. Mission Afghanistan finally introduced the Afghan Sikh community to the world. Following up on Mission Afghanistan’s coverage of the plight of Sikhs living in Afghanistan, ‘Hindu Kush to Thames’ sheds light on those who have emigrated. Skillfully filmed and directed by Ariadne Bechthold, this is a one-of-a-kind documentary on a non-Punjabi Sikh immigrant population.
Once known for its thriving trade routes and culture, Afghanistan has now become known for its turbulent political history, causing many Afghans to migrate. Most of the migration is said to have occurred during the Civil War years and under Taliban rule. Of the more than 50,000 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families that lived in Afghanistan, of which about 3000 were left according to Rawail Singh, deputy head of the Afghanistan Sikh and Hindu Community Council. Thousands of miles away from the homeland however, a small community of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have preserved the culture and traditions of the dwindling community.
In this documentary filmed and directed by the multi-talented Ariadne
Bechthold, Pritpal Singh focuses again on the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, but this time through the lens of Afghan immigrants to the UK, particularly Southall. By carefully juxtaposing the life left behind, with life in their adopted homes, the sacrifices and struggles are masked with vibrant displays of faith, music, food and dance. The documentary also presents rare video footage of the Sikh traditions in Kabul in the late 80s, alongside Ardas in the nearly empty diwan halls of Kabul today, and the vibrant and overflowing hall of Gurudwara Southall, London.
With touching depictions of the dilapidated mandirs and gurudwaras in Kabul, and impressive retention of their roots throughout generations on foreign soil, Bechthold and Singh share the story of immigrants who are rarely covered in Afghan mainstream media, or Sikh media.
Sikhs have been a vital part of the Afghan community. With interjections by historian Harbans Singh Handa, the audience learns of the various political positions held by Sikhs over the years in Afghanistan, even visiting the British home of the 3rd Sikh MP of Afghanistan: Gajender Singh. Other prominent personalities such as Inder Geet Singh are also introduced alongside second generation British-Afghans.
Strongly reflecting Afghan pride and ancestry, the documentary is primarily filmed in Farsi with English narration. ‘Hindu Kush to Thames is filmed and directed by Ariadne Bechthold with support of the Gharghasht Gharghakht, Afghan Voice Radio (UK) and Ajmeet Singh / Flo Studio. Reflecting the shared sense of nostalgia amongst all the Afghans, the documentary shows their connectedness with home. Often misunderstood to have immigrated from India, this is the story of Afghanistan’s religious minorities who have immigrated to London and made a name for themselves.