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Interview with Sandip Raha and Dipak Kundo of the Wales Puja Committee. The interview was recorded on 17 February 2017 at Radio Cardiff.
The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.
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We will now begin recording the interview with Sandip and Dipak.
● The recording takes place on the 17th February at Radio Cardiff.
● The volunteers present is Lara Taffer.
And this recording is going to be collected as an oral history and will be part of the Chronicle
Project, a project led by VCS Cymru and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
LT = Lara Taffer (interviewer), SR = Sandip Raha (interviewee), DK = Dipak Kundo (interviewee)
Transcript of interview
LT: So Dipak can we start with you? Would you introduce yourself?
[0:27 - 1:37 : Dipak introduces himself]
DK: Yeah, my name is Dipak Kundo and I have been with this group in Cardiff, it’s called Wales Puja Committee since 1978 so from that point I have been involved in doing lots of things for this group, organising events or helping other people out, sorting out the finances and talking to people outside the group and representing the group to outside bodies, things like that. I’m pretty happy that I was involved with this group and the group has I think got stronger and stronger over the years, it’s a very small group but I think our activity has been - in the beginning it was limited but the we delved into other areas of activity and we are pretty well known now around the communities we live in here.
LT: Sandip would you introduce yourself?
[1:40 - 2:56 : Sandip introduces himself and the Wales Puja Committee]
SR: I’m Sandip Raha, I’m a hospital medical doctor I actually work in Bridgend but I did live in Cardiff from 1980-1996, and then I moved to Bridgend. I am very much involved with Welsh Puja committee which is a district charity, mainly for Indian groups, completely voluntary and I have been associated with this organisation since 1990. I am the current chair of that group and we have been doing quite a few projects over the last 15 years, particularly other than our religious and social activities. Some of those projects have been funded by the Arts Council Of Wales and recently we are in the middle of another project which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it’s called heritage of clay image making. And we have been trying to capture the history and heritage of this festival being celebrated in Cardiff and South Wales for the last 43 years by our organisation.
LT: And could you tell me how you got involved with the Wales Puja Committee, how did you first hear about it?
[3:02 - 3:44 : How Sandip got involved]
DK: For me, I came to Cardiff with a new job in 1978 and that was the first day of the Puja festival so I was searching for information about Puja. Durga Puja is like Christmas within the Christian community, it is so important to us, so I found one and I visited the Durga Puja being held very close to the city centre, and I got involved from day one and I just said “can I be of any help?”. I started doing a little bit of help form that day and I thought I could not get out of it yet.
LT: What kind of tasks were you doing in the early days? What kind of events did you guys put on?
[3:51 : 4:22 : Summary of tasks]
DK: We used to do Durga Puja mainly, we started doing Saraswati Puja, the goddess of learning, and then we added Kali Puja later on. Those are the 3 events we have been organising right from the beginning. The other events were added on later when we could put the time and money into it.
LT: What happened at the events?
[4:24 - 5:10 : Durga Puja]
DK: What happens? Durga Puja - I believe personally that the religious festival is alright but it’s much more important from a social point of view. We meet friends, get new acquaintances all the time, so meeting people to me, once a year, is important. And meeting old friends - it is very good to know them and kind of becomes nostalgic at a later stage.
LT: How has the group changed from the early days when you first got involved, to now?
[5:29 - 8:12 : Background of some of the events of the committee]
SR: I knew about the group in 1981/82 when I was in Cardiff a few years, because I knew Dipak at that time and he got me introduced to the group, I went away from Wales and came back in 1990 Cardiff, with my job and I got really involved with the group. He actually managed to get me into being a secretary within a few months of being a member of the group. And that was sort of a learning curve for me (DK: We could not let a good worker get out of it). The group is totally and completely voluntary, we don’t have any paid members and most of us, almost all of us are professionals, either I.T, accounts, business, medics and we have full time jobs, but we do this out of our interest, out of pleasure, out of (DK: Perhaps social needs as well) yes social roles and integration. And the way it has changed, back in 1990’s we used to do just three festivals, which are Hindu festivals and Durga Puja, Dipak mentioned is an Autumn festival for Hindus. It’s celebrated in a big way in eastern India and even all over India, and it’s the worshipping of Goddess Durga who is the incarnation of good, and it’s the win of good over evil that is celebrated over a 5 day period of an Autumn festival. And we have this 5 piece image which we worship, worshipping is very important but the main thing is the socialising for 5 days, particularly afternoon, evenings, we have culture programs, our members, their children, their friends, our family put on shows like dance music and drama. And people enjoy entertainment, we have a lot of cooking done on the premises, we tend to feed over 3/400 people every day in that festival over a 5 day period. So as the years went by the thing obviously grew more and more, and now with the social media, Facebook, Whatsapp, internet, everything else we have quite a large number of people coming from South Wales, South West of England, Midlands over those 5 days.
[8:12 - 8:32 : Social media and followers]
DK: I think at this point if I can mention we are a large followers aswell, who cannot come to the event but they are keeping in touch with us to know about the event, how it goes and things like that (SR: On social media). Yeah, It’s quite a lot of people who could not come.
[8:33 - 10:57 : festivals and planning projects]
SR: And as we are doing these 3 festivals, the second one he mentioned: Saraswati Puja, which is Goddess of learning, is usually done in February just a one day event. And the third one is Kali Puja, Goddess of power and destruction to be honest and creation, and that's done in late Autumn/ November every year. We used to do all 3 events in Cardiff but nearly 15 years ago due to logistics of doing events in Cardiff for 5 days and the cost involved we moved to Caerphilly, we do it in Penrheol community centre in Caerphilly (DK: over 20 years now). We have probably 30 very active volunteers in our group, but there are more than 30 members, and a lot of people take annual leave during the festival of 5 days, I have been taking annual leave for the last 20 years so that I can spend all my time during the festival there, and that includes planning, decorating the hall, managing the image, cooking, shopping, entertaining people, keeping everything tidy and clean afterwards, it’s quite a hard job and actually after our main event of Puja you feel like you need a holiday [Laughs] because you have been there since 8/9 o’clock in the morning till midnight, you may come home for an hour or two to get fresh and then go back again in the evening. And we do it all out of pleasure, out of our own choice, nobody forces us. With the three projects that started, but now in the last ten years we have done lots of other projects, we have done Mela’s (DK: More than that I think) - yeah 15 years - we have done Mela’s, Indian Mela’s where we showcase Indian food (DK: Like a street fair), like a street fair, we have done three of them in St. Davids hall in Cardiff, and one of them we did in an old library in Cardiff which is the Cardiff history museum now. And we have done other events like this clay image making event we are doing, this is the third time we are doing clay image making, which involves; planning, finding a venue and commissioning two artists from India, clay image makers.
[10:57 - 11:27]
Dk: It’s quite a hard job to organise things, it’s a question of choosing the right artist to do the work, and then getting paper work sorted, it’s not an easy job, it’s 2 or 3 people that work really hard to formalise things and making sure that the visa can be obtained and things. We’ve never had a problem yet, but you never know.
[11:28 - 13:16 : Clay image making, and more projects]
SR: I mean these artists aren’t really artists in their own right, they are not run of the mill clay image makers like in Calcutta, where some of the artists make clay images in hundreds during the Durga Puja festival mainly. But these are exclusive artists and they come here and we have to provide and arrange accommodation for 4 weeks and all their looking after for 4 weeks, and they actually start right from making a wooden frame first, then hay, clay, paper mache then painting, decoration and all those things. The last project we had was between june and july last year 2016 (DK: June 14th to July 6th. . . no sorry, June 2nd to July 4th). We did it in Bute town History and Art centre and Bute street and then that image was transported to Cardiff History Museum for display for 2 weeks. And then we worshiped that image in our Autumn festival in October, last October, and we’re still going through that project it hasn’t finished yet, because in this project funded by the heritage lottery fund, we collect the history of this festival, how it started in Wales back in the 70’s as Dipak was mentioning, who were the people involved, talking to them, taking digital recording, history from them, collecting old pictures and video clips, and archiving it. We are going to make a whole archive of that.
[13:16 - 13:34 - others opinions]
DK: We are also trying to get some information of local people, how they feel about our project, how they feel about our festivals, because everybody is welcome, anybody can come in and join us.
[13:35 - 15:08 : Involvement of schools]
SR: I mean this project this year, we had 3 schools involved in Cardiff and Radyr comprehensive, Cardiff High and Llanishen High and the year 8 and 9 Art students, they came and we went to the workshop to learn, what this festival is, what the goddesses are, what clay image making in India is, and then those students came into our clay image making project, participated by making small art object with an artist present, and it has come off in a big way. We’ve had Cardiff Metropolitan University second year art students involved, half a dozen of them came and participated hands on while the clay image was being made. We are planning to launch a film this year sometime in May about the whole project including our partners, we collected a lot of interviews, we are doing some evaluation of our project at the moment and we launch a film in May. Hopefully we’re planning to launch it in Chapter Art Centre in Cardiff one afternoon, so the project will finish by the end of May and all the collections we are doing are being archived to the People’s Collection Wales website for anyone to access free of charge.
LT: Sounds very exciting, lots of cool things. Do you have any favourite memories of the events you’ve put on?
[15:15 - 15:23]
DK: Lot’s of them I think, each of us has got loads of them [Laughs].
LT: Does one stick out in your mind that you might be able to share with us?
[15:26 -15:35]
DK: Lots of things . . . Funny ones or normal ones? [Laughs]
LT: Funny ones are good too.
[15:40 - 16:40 : caterer demanding cheque]
DK: One of the most funny ones, we ordered some food from the caterer and the caterer comes in at the door and said “Until I get the cheque the food is not coming in”, it was a very awkward position at that time because we didn’t have the money to spend, because we were collecting money from the people who were joining us, at that point we didn’t have the money, so all I had to do was write a personal cheque to him to get the food in and I never like doing that, we didn’t mind, if he [points at Sandip] needs to spend some money, he will spend it from his pocket, I will do the same, and other members would. But the way he asked for it, it hit me, it did hit me, he said “Until I get the money, food is not going in”, that was one of the main ones.
[16:43 - 18:19 : running out of food]
SR: I mean we have a couple of things which happen, like in our festival particularly in the evening, we don’t have an invite list, any number can turn up. One day in the evening it could be 150 and the next in the evening could be 300. So how you cook for people you don’t know the number (LT: How do you plan?), we have 2 kitchen officers, they’re very capable. Before the event we have lots of committee meetings, planning numbers, we think “Okay it’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday so there will be more people coming in the evening”, so we’ll do 300 or 400. And, I remember one occasion when we actually cooked for 150 people in one evening, this was quite a few years ago, and by the middle of the evening when the program was still going on, the whole hall was totally packed, you couldn’t move. The standing capacity was 300, so it was actually going across 300. We actually panicked and obviously our kitchen officers disappeared into the kitchen, and because we do shopping for the 5 days; like rice, lentils, all the spices, oil, those sort of things, all Indian cooking, all vegetarian. They had to use up the next two days worth of rations for one evening, and they managed to cook for over 150 people in a matter of one hour.
[18:19 - 18:33]
DK: I think I’d be proud about that, that we managed to cook one and a half hours extra food for about 125 to 150 people. And all the members were all volunteers.
[18:33 - 19:55 : Bed & Breakfast mishap]
SR: And all the people who were guests didn’t know what had happened. They just had the food. So that was one thing, the other thing was the first time we did a clay image making project in Cardiff Library, those days, it’s Cardiff History Museum now. We brought these 2 artists from India, and we couldn’t find any accommodation for them so we had to book them in a Bed and Breakfast in Newport Road. They both went into the Bed and Breakfast, we booked them in and everything, and 2 days later they said “I don’t think we can stay here Dr. Raha, because we are not used to cooked English breakfast and we can’t eat that in the morning” [laughs]. (DK: I remember the name, it is a Bed and Breakfast called Linx [laughs]), it is probably not in business anymore, anyway so then we had to actually take them out from there and move them somewhere else, and even that Bed and Breakfast, we eventually ended up buying take away Indian food for them. (DK: And getting home made food to them every night [laughs]). We had a rotor of members didn’t we? [laughs].
[19:55 - 19:57]
DK: Can we stop here a minute please?
LT: So may I ask you what motivates you to volunteer with this organisation?
[20:10 - 20:42 : social satisfaction]
DK: I suppose it’s the satisfaction to me, I feel it is very nice and enjoyable, and we collect memories from back home, these are small things but it gives me a lot of pleasure to be part of it, talk to people and ask them this or that, having a chit chat or something and I enjoy the time while we are in the event.
[20:44 - 22:30 : passing traditions on through generations]
SR: I mean for me one of the motivations Dipak just said, but also we have now lived in this country more than we have in India and this is our home, but we want to pass on some of the tradition and knowledge and experience we got to some of the next generation. And we have got younger members aswell who have come from India maybe 5 years ago or 10 years ago and they have also got new ideas which helps because our ideas that come from India are probably 30/40 years old, and the new generations ideas are more recent. But a combination of that and passing onto the next generation, like when my kids and Dipaks kids who are very younger participated, they have an idea of what the festival is about. And they can tell their kids maybe, and we have people bringing their grandchildren. And they’re performing, theyre dancing they're singing on the stage, they're seeing the festival being done, image being made, so they have got some idea of tradition and what the heritage actually means in this situation and that's actually a big motivation for me to participate and try to pass that on, so that those generations also understand, because living in a western world like this is very difficult because you're exposed to all sorts of stimulation and all sort of media all the time. And it is very easy to forget your routes, so I think that's my main motivation.
LT: Do you have any advice or words of inspiration for people to get involved in volunteering, be it your organisation or just any organisation. What would you say to young people today to urge them to volunteer?
[22:45 - 23:12 : open minded]
DK: I think I would say that to get involved with these kind of events, know other people and their background, their culture, so that they can mix with people with an open mind. You learn from them and try to let them know what you are, what your background is and things like that so that the relationship between the communities we live in is much better.
[23:13 - 24:21 : hands on experience]
SR: Yeah, I think volunteering opens a different aspect of your personality, your attitude to a society and understanding of different types of people, different types of society and multiculturalism. And without volunteering it is very difficult to learn that, we have social media and everything else to learn from but when you actually experience that hands on, face to face it’s different. So I will certainly say that it may be difficult for younger people with young families, but there are stages in your life where certainly you don’t have young kids anymore, or you haven’t got kids, you're just single or alone, whatever, and those sort of situations where you’ve got time I think it’s a great thing to do volunteering. And I am certainly thinking of volunteering for other groups, other than just our group of volunteering.
LT: And if you had to define volunteering, how would you define it?
LT: It’s a tough question [laughs]
[24:38 - 24:54]
SR: Yeah, I think I would define it as, you do something in totally open mind that you like doing, you’ve got enthusiasm of doing it and you believe in it aswell. So those are the ways I would look at it and define.
[24:54 - 24:56]
DK: And you are not being payed for it.
LT: And how do you think volunteering for Wales Puja committee has helped you get to know your community better? And to get to know the Cardiff community better, or the South Wales community? Or do you think it has?
[24:15 - 26:18]
SR: I mean certainly initially we’ve got a great community we know, which is our group of Wales Puja committee, the people who come to the wales Puja committee events and functions, so there's one circle. The wider circle through our project we have got to know a lot of people, from local people and local organisations, I’ve mentioned about schools, we’ve mentioned about Peoples Collection Wales, Cardiff History Museum, we have got very close relationships with St. Fagans Museum, we have projects there as well, and there contacts and their community when we we go and participate in workshops or their events, it actually opens up your door even bigger. And those actually have helped open our eyes as well, rather than keeping ourselves just within the Indian community, I think that's how it has helped.
LT: Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to add? Maybe how the organisation got started? Did you all just have dinner one day and say we should -
[26:30 - 26:53 : raising awareness of the committee]
DK: I think I would ask are there people who know about us? Through all the archive materials, if your interested we can be available at any time for answering enquiries they might have. But I would like for them to read about us, know about us, so that community relationship is improved.
[26:53 - 28:00 : how the committee got started]
SR: Yes, in terms of how we got started and things obviously I wasn’t there in the beginning but obviously we collect all the information and have a lot of information and as it happens, the whole thing started in somebody's house, 3/4 people talking about it and initially to be honest even up to 25/30 years ago I think most people who were involved actually forked out most of the money from their own pocket, and the thing was on a much more smaller scale. And now we completely survive on people’s donation and we have people giving donations out of their good heart, and we don’t have to twist their arms or anything we just announce it and people donate, and I think the way it has developed and grown is because people who are involved wanted it to develop and grow. So that’s the actual driving force.
[28:01 - 28:25 : donations]
DK: We don’t have any fixed donations it’s completely voluntary, they don’t have to give anything to us, it’s no minimum at all, some people can donate £1 for any of the functions. So that's why the relationship is much more free.
LT: Have there been any frustrations or disappointments over the years?
[28:31 - 29:02]
DK: Of course [laughs], we’ve always had some frustrations, I think we [points to Sandip] would say the same, sometimes we didn't have more than 2 members working on the whole area of things we have to do before an event. And it is frustrating believe me, because everybody is “Oh I’m busy, I can’t come down”, sometimes it can be quite frustrating. It’s nobody’s fault, sometimes it can happen.
LT: It’s the nature of volunteering
[29:05 - 29:07]
DK: It is, it is.
[29:07 - 29:54]
SR: If somebody has an emergency, I think one of the frustrations is that when you are actually planning yourself in a very articulate way and you are arriving somewhere for something that needs to be done in time, and nobody else is around, and everybody's supposed to come at that time and you are waiting for them, but it’s volunteering so you can’t really - it’s not their job that they are getting payed for. So you sometimes feel why am i here? Why is nobody else here? And that sort of frustration does come on, but I think as we have grown in particularly the last 10 years we have a lot of people who are sharing a lot of responsibility.
[29:54 - 30:04]
DK: The number of willing volunteers has grown, which is a good sign for a group.
30:04 - 30:26 : media]
SR: And also younger people have come in who are in media, social I.T. all sorts of things so this is obviously this is very important for any organisation these days, you have to have those people, if we have to contact outside the company for everything then we wouldn't be able to afford it and this is all done voluntarily.
LT: Do you have a hierarchy or a structure of how you organise your volunteers?
[30:30 - 30:33]
DK: Yes he [points to Sandip] can explain, he is the chairman of the group
[30:33 - 31:58 : committee voting]
SR: I mean we are a constitution, we are a district charity, our constitution is 22/23 years old now. And have a trustee, board of trustees, and the executive committee meets at least every 6 to 8 weeks and nearer events when we have main festivals, they meet every month to plan for everything and the executive committee have a chairman, secretary, there is a treasurer. Then we have entertainment officers and kitchen officers, we also have a media officer now, like a public relation officer and these are all formerly elected by a secret ballot every year, but most of the time we have just one person, there is no election but we still go through the formal process of nomination and ballot, so it’s a very democratic way, and in any of our meetings if any new proposal comes that we have discussed and not everyone agrees we just have a count and vote and show of hands. And everybody takes it very democratically, even as the chairman, if I propose something and it is turned down I don’t feel bad about it, it’s democratically done. There is a full structure for it.
LT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[32:02 - 32:05]
DK: No, I think we’ve covered most of the things.
LT: A lot of the questions that I have, you answered without me having to directly ask.
[32:13 - 32:15]
DK: It’s good to save your time [laughs]
LT: Good, well thank you so much for your time.
[32:18 - 32:20]
DK: Thank you very much for calling us.

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