June 2022

The Lascar Project – final stretch!

This is a new, collaborative project funded by the Arts & Humanities research council, with the aim to explore the untold stories of South Asian sailors (otherwise known as Lascars) working in the UK during the British Empire.
This research project is run by Aqsa Arif, interdisciplinary artist, Malini Chakrabarty filmmaker/artist and Kulsum Shabbir, writer/journalist. We are working in collaboration with OSCH to help uncover the hidden histories of the lascars and the legacies they left behind. In this project, we will focus on combining our collaborative research into a short experimental documentary film. Through our individual research we will explore our own creative outcomes that will feed into the bigger film, creating illustrations, poetry and blog posts.

A change of plans

Early in May, our research team had a meeting to discuss the future of the project. Due to the short time frame – with June fast approaching – we decided to turn our idea for the short film into a zine instead, as this was the best way to showcase our work in a creative manner and in time for the seminar on the 16 of June.

Interview with Mr Asif Shakoor

While the idea for the short film had been scrapped, we still very much wanted a first-person narrative to be included in our creative output. We all felt very passionately about this, as, in all our research, we often felt that the individual stories of these Lascars were overlooked and they were all lumped into one big group.

We managed to set up an interview with Asif Shakoor, an independent researcher based in England whose grandfather had served as a Lascar during the First World War. He provided us with the perfect story – the legacy of his grandfather, Mahomed Gama. This interview is included in the zine and details the life of Mahomed Gama, his journey as a Lascar, and the important role he played in the First World War.

Magazine planning

We decided to name our magazine ‘Yatra’ – translating to journey. We felt that this perfectly encapsulated our research journey as well as the journey undertaken by the Lascar sailors.

We decided to take 6 pages each to fill with content. Malini wrote a raw and honest reflective piece about her research process and the emotional toll it took. Her piece details the bravery and self-reflection required to face the delicate task of telling the stories that don’t belong to us. Aqsa presented her visual poetry, with bold, colourful photography to match. She is also currently in the process of editing her short film of spoken word poetry, which will hopefully be available soon on the OSCH website, along with other resources for further reading. My pages included the interview with Asif Shakoor, as mentioned earlier, and some detailed insight into the plaque that started this whole project.

Next steps

Our next task is to get the finalised layout sent to the printer in time for the seminar on the 18th of June, where we will present our research and the zine!

Recommended reading

If you’re looking to learn more about Lascars in the meantime, here are some resources we recommend!

Our migration story – reading time: 8 mins

Photographic collage featuring lascars – reading time: 3 mins

Advertisement for P&O and British India Lines steamliners – reading time: 2 mins

Lascar sailors – reading time: 10 mins

Seafarers of WW1 – reading time: 5 mins

The Hinds family – reading time: 5 mins

Image of SS Khiva – reading time: 2 mins

Images from top to bottom:

Lascars at the Royal Albert Dock in London, Port of London Authority,1936 - Port of London Authority Magazine,1936

Three lascar crew of the P&O liner RMS Viceroy of India, Marine Photo Service, 1930-1939

Additional images courtesy of Changemakers.