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Suresh Singh, The Cockney Sikh, On Zoom

June 18, 2020
by the gentle author

Stefan Dickers and Suresh Singh will be in conversation on Zoom tomorrow, Friday 19th June at 6pm, showing Suresh’s family photographs and discussing his book A MODEST LIVING, MEMOIRS OF A COCKNEY SIKH. All are welcome at this free event which is part of Newham Heritage Month.

Click here for more information and tickets

Suresh Singh has been wearing this tank top since 1973

Perhaps everyone has a favourite piece of clothing they have worn for years? I always admired Suresh Singh’s jazzy tank top and I was astonished when he told me he has been wearing it for nearly half a century.

Suresh’s father Joginder Singh came to London from the Punjab in 1949 and the Singh family lived at 38 Princelet St longer than any other family in Spitalfields.

In our age of disposable fashion, the story of Suresh’s treasured tank top is an inspiring example of how a well made garment can be cherished for a lifetime.

“My mum made this tank top for me in 1973 when I was eleven. She had friends who all knitted and they had bits of wool left over – what you would call ‘cabbage’ –  so mum collected all these balls of different coloured wool. Otherwise, they would have been chucked away. She kept them in her carrier bag with her needles that she bought at Woolworths in Aldgate East. They were number ten needles.

Mum said to me, ‘Suresh, I’m going to knit you a tank top.’ I never asked her because dad had taught me that I should always be patient, but I think mum saw the twinkle in my eyes and she knew I wanted one. I had asthma, so it was to keep my chest warm. She knitted it over the winter, from November to January. Mum never had the spare time to spend all day long knitting, she had to do it in bits as she went along and keep putting it away.

Mum did not follow a pattern, she just looked at me and sometimes took measurements. It started getting really huge, so I said, ‘Mum, it’s going to be too big.’ She had a sense of scale, she did not draw round me and cut a pattern. Mum never did that. She replied, ‘You’ll grow into it.’ The idea was you would slowly grow into new clothes.

When my tank top was finished, it hung down to my knees and the armholes were at my waist, but Mum was adamant I would grow into it. I loved it because it was all the rainbow colours. There was red, then yellow, then black, then pink and that really beautiful green. It was so outrageous. No other Punjabi kid had one like it. They all wore Marks & Spencer or John Collier grey nylon jumpers, but I had this piece of art. To me, it was a masterpiece. It was so beautifully made, it was mum’s pride and joy. When I wore it, people would exclaim, ‘That tank top, mate, it’s classic!’ I would say, ‘Yeah, my mum made it.’ Sometimes, because it was too big, I could pull it up and tie it in a knot at the front.

Mum made it with such love that I have always kept it. Eventually, my children wore it, but I am claiming it these days. It is a one-off. What made the tank top special for mum was that she was making it for her son. People often say it is a work of art but mum never went to art school. She picked up the tradition of making something for your child. She put so much love into it and I wear it today and it is still really nice. It gives me comfort and it keeps my chest warm.

It has got swag, you know what I mean?

It fits me now.”

Suresh and his mum at 38 Princelet St

Suresh Singh aged four

Suresh Singh & Jagir Kaur at 38 Princelet St (Photograph by Patricia Niven)

You may also like to read about

A Modest Living

At 38 Princelet St

A Hard-Working Life

Joginder Singh’s Boy

How to Make A Chapati

A Cockney Sikh

The first Punjabi Punk

A Sikh at Christ Church

Three Punjabi Recipes


Click here to order a copy of A MODEST LIVING for £20


9 Responses leave one →
  1. June 18, 2020

    Just the best story, beautifully told. Swag indeed!

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 18, 2020

    I have been to a couple of these talks ‘live’ and can thoroughly recommend them. Suresh and Stefan have a real rapport and there is always lots of good friendly banter.

    And of course it is a wonderful chance to hear more about Suresh’s back story, especially about his parents who come across as very special people.

    The book is also great, and is beautifully produced.

    It is just a pity that Zoom technology won’t allow us to enjoy the delicious food which is usually served at a Suresh event…

  3. Leana Pooley permalink
    June 18, 2020

    I loved reading this. Wonderful remembered detail – the wool kept in a bag from Woolworths in Aldgate East. The number ten needles. Who would ever think of a tank top as a precious family heirloom?

  4. Spencer Smith permalink
    June 18, 2020

    Wow! What a truly great story. This colourful tank top, made and received with such love & affection. It wouldn’t look out of place at the V&A!

  5. June 18, 2020

    “The Modest Living” and the Pictures are Amazing!! Thank Y0u So Much!!???????

  6. Amanda permalink
    June 19, 2020

    Oh! what an amazing story – l’m so happy the tank top finally fits in 2020 ?
    Aged 11, to save buying another in 2 years, my mum bought my expensive school uniform blazer large enough to grow into, but l never did.

    At 16 l was still a tichy 4’3″ and the blazer looked like a huge bathrobe.
    She took up the hem 4″ so the pockets went past my knees.
    My hands were always invisible.
    My school pals never stopped laughing.

    l cannot wait to ZOOM in at 6 this evening for more Suresh family history.

    What a gorgeous baby and how beautifully his mother dressed him at four … the mini knitted waistcoat .. the immaculate shoes …

    And today Stylish Suresh 〰️ really has got swag and a great eye for my very favourite jewel colours.

  7. June 19, 2020

    Saw this talk at The Bishopsgate Instiotute – was wonderful.

  8. Cherub permalink
    June 19, 2020

    I love this tank top story, it’s so cheerful and makes me grin from ear to ear. Suresh’s mum must have loved him very much because it shines out of this lovely piece.

  9. June 19, 2020

    I LOVED this zoom event. What a brilliant raconteur! I’m buying his book of course 🙂

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