Southall: Little India

I was rather piqued last week on my way to Slough, when I saw a signpost in Gurmukhi at Southall railway station. What was it about this community of Punjabis that had managed to make such a mark in the heart of London? So off I went this weekend, to see Southall all by myself.

I felt at home, the moment I got out of the station and saw the huge Gurudwara outside. People walking around in colourful salwar kameezes— the typical sequinned ones you get only in Punjab — in orange, yellow and red — and the ubiquitous pagdis. I hardly spotted four Englishmen in that predominant Asian crowd. Punjabi was being spoken everyone and Sat Sri Akal was the most common greeting around. It felt so comfortable to ask directions in Hindi. Yet my eyes did spot a surreptitious little poster at the bus stop which proclaimed “Khalistan Zindabad. Never forget 1984″ making me wonder whether there were still anti-India sentiments running there. The people I met though, didn’t make me feel that for even a second.

As you walk down South Road, you come across the famous Glassy Junction, the first pub in the UK which accepts payments in Indian rupees. There was scaffolding all around it. I was tempted to take a look inside, but my conservative Indian upbringing stopped a ‘good Indian girl’ from entering a pub! Maybe a few months from now when I am a little more rugged I’ll dare to make that trip again!

Further down you have the Himalaya Palace Cinema which had huge posters of the Punjabi film- Sajna ve Sajna which will be released on the 3oth of November. There was Bally Sagoo’s mugshot interposed with Preeti Jhangiani, Dalip Tahil and Vivek Shauq. I was too early, and the cinema was still closed, so I walked up to Broadway.

Broadway is full of Indian food stores and shops displaying woollens, sarees and salwar kameezes. The prices of the woollens are tempting, but there is always a voice at the back of your head telling you that it is “Made in Ludhiana” and you’d probably buy it cheaper there. The salwar kameezes start from ten pounds, but I found the sarees exorbitantly priced. You can find loads of shops selling costume jewellery, trinkets and Punjabi-style embroidered jootis. And yes, finally here you will find the much needed Ladies Tailor here to get your salwar kameezes and blouses stitched.

Between the Palika Bazar, Balwant emporium and other such Indian-owned shops you also find sweet shops like Chhapan Bhog and  Kebab centres. Jhatka and Halal are prominently displayed on shop windows. After strolling around for an hour, I entered Chandni Chowk- a restaurant where the final moments of today’s Test Match between India and Pakistan were being played out. A huge screen showed Sky Sports and the crowd was in animated conversation. When India finished 32 runs short of a win, the biggest grouse against Ganguly was that they would have to arise early again tomorrow to catch the match in the wee hours of the morning!

Craving to eat authentic Indian food, I ordered hot aalu parathas for breakfast and got great mint-dahi chutney and achaar to go with it. I waited for a moment pondering whether to use the knife and fork- and then decided that if I couldn’t eat with my fingers in Southall— I couldn’t do that anywhere else in the UK! Finger licking experience! And most of all I was thrilled to find good chai. Else here, when you order tea with milk- they spoil the whole mazaa by pouring cold milk down the concoction— making it an awful lukewarm drink. And yes, I did get gajar ka halwa packed too.

When it was almost noon, I walked backed to Himalaya Cinema to catch Saawariya (review here) . Inside the lobby, I could spot carefully pinned up photographs of Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ajay Devgan and a distinctly uncomfortable looking Amisha Patel posing with the owners and their families. I wanted tickets but the person at the counter wanted me to wait till the Gurbani cassette stopped playing! So off I went to Poornima’s next door to pack some great Tandoori Chicken and biryani which looked very tempting. I had to wait until some second generation Indians picked Indian sweets- not knowing what they were called: ‘I want two of the white one, and three of the round orange ones and three of the white round ones’!! Exasperating!! Understandable if they were local English folk — but Indians unfamiliar with barfi, laddu and rasgullas?!

After the movie, where the total audience including me was of seven people- I decided to scourge the Indian grocery shops. Sarson ka saag was everywhere, so was mooli (labeled muli– not radish!). You found makke ka aata and bajre ka aata, gajak and paneer, lots of frozen parathas. And this was the first store where I found four large yoghurt cartons for one pound. Tempting not to succumb to buying everything you wouldn’t use.

Well, Southall was really fun. I’ll go back there when my shopping list is really long and when I want to eat more parathas and kebabs.

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