Thank you Ellie for writing this great blog about our recent event!

I think it is important to recognise how folk songs across South Asia and theatres of war allowed people to communicate in a largely non-literate society. Folk songs were used to persuade men to enlist:

“Here you get old shoes, there you’ll get full boots, get enlisted
Here you get torn rags, there you’ll get suits, get enlisted…”

Yet they also portrayed conflicting messages, like this one regarding anti-war sentiment:

“Don’t go Don’t go
Stay back my friend.
Crazy people are packing up,
Flowers are withering and friendships are breaking.
Stay back my friend.
Allah gives bread and work
You wouldn’t find soothing shades anywhere else.”

In order to highlight how songs and poetry portrayed these themes, we held a poetry and music event on Sunday 24 April in conjunction with the Pak Cultural Society in Walthamstow. It was great to see so many of the Pakistani community there, along with child performers who sang powerful songs in Urdu about how war affects the lives of children. Many passionate speakers spoke and recited poems they had written about WW1 and South Asia. Many came as a surprise, focusing on the sheer realities and hardships of war from the soldier’s viewpoint, either based on familial knowledge or imaginative interpretation (drawing parallels with later wars from memory).

Listening to the musician playing the South Asian chimta, and seeing how the familiar sound drew the community together on the day, allowed me to imagine how troops could have made similar instruments in their free time, making similar sounds, allowing them to ‘cure’ some of their home sickness, to boost morale. We know of one man who wrote to a friend begging for a flute : “You must, you simply must, get one from somewhere. I have no need of anything else. But this you must manage as soon as you can.” And now I can understand why.

See the video below and let me know what it makes you think of. What parallels do you make?

Video poetry

Image courtesy of Mirza Raja