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Stories to tell: Celebrating meaningful music in South Asian culture

This month is South Asian Heritage Month, where communities and organisations across the UK make time to commemorate, mark and celebrate South Asian cultures, and the history and identity of British South Asian people.

SAHM was first celebrated in 2018 and each year explores a different theme. This year’s theme is ‘stories to tell’ and will shine a spotlight on the stories that make up the diverse and vibrant community of South Asians people.

Those of you who know Playlist for Life well will be familiar with the work we do in using music to help people living with dementia reconnect with stories and memories from throughout their life.

Surrinder, our Communities Officer, who was born in the Punjab, India and moved to the UK when she was just over two-years-old, reflects on the soundtrack that shaped her childhood memories growing up in Leamington Spa in the 1970s.

Surrinder Bains, Communities Officer at Playlist for Life

“I remember my mum would sing stories to us as children about her life in India. Including the long arduous journey from Pakistan to India on foot during Partition. I also recall her dancing at family wedding. Toward the end of her life, she lived with dementia and gained a lot of comfort from watching films and religious prays in her first language, Punjabi. Punjabi was my first language too and Mary Mary Quite Contrary was the first nursery rhyme I learnt in English when I started school in 1969. I remember really struggling with a new language.


My dad remembered the first song by The Beatles he heard when he arrived in 1963, She Loves You.

Most Sunday mornings we would walk as a family to the Clifton Cinema to see a Hindi movie. Mera Naam Joker was a film that was incredibly long and seemed to go for hours. I recently downloaded the soundtrack from the film. It was always something we did as a family and looked forward to at a time when there was very little on British TV for the Indian community.

Pictured: Surrinder as a baby and adult with her mother

Surrinder’s Stories: A personally meaningful playlist 

Ardas – The Sikh Prayer

I was brought up within the Sikh faith and my earliest memories are of hearing this prayer. It was sung at both my parents’ funerals and when the ashes were scattered. Immediately I hear it and am transported to being a young child hearing it for the first time. I have memories of hearing it at other times growing up, such as at the Gurdwara.

Zindagi ek Safar Hai Suhana – Kishore Kumar


I remember watched Kishore preforming on Television on the above show and loved this song. I would often sing it and remember seeing my mum laughing.

Chal Chal Chal Mere Saathi – Kishore Kumar

This song brings back memories of when my dad first brought a radio in early 1970s, and he would tune into a local station where Indian songs were played. All the excitement of seeing this wonderful machine that played music was fascinating to me as a small child. The radio host would have this catch phrase ‘Hello Brummies’. Later I learnt that this was referring to anyone from Birmingham.


Chalte Chalte Yunhi Koi Mil Gaya Tha – Meena Kumari
There was a TV programme called Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan on Sunday mornings devoted to the Indian community living in the UK. At the end of the show, it always ended with a song and these were two from back then. It was something we all watched together as a family and memories of connecting.

Do you have sounds that take you on a journey of your life? If Surrinder’s story has  inspired you to create a personalised playlist, our free resources are available in Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati and Bengali

Pictured: Surrinder’s father and mother