Southall: Few Traces of London left

by Denisa Morariu

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On the streets of Southall, everything is Pakistani, Indian or Afghani; all traces of London and British culture are left outside.

The streets are full, despite the rainy day. Colours everywhere and people cross the streets the Indian way: without waiting for the green light to appear. On the dirty side pavement, tens of stalls are full of food and clothes. Men talk to men, women talk to women.

There are around 70.000 Asians in Southall, a neighbourhood first created in the 1950’s by the working class that moved from South Asia to London.

The living standards are quite low, but the sense of community is what prompts the residents to live here.

Asians and British “like milk and sugar”

In almost four hours, not even one British face appeared. The red buses were the only reminder that this is still London.

But Jazz, a young Sikh from India who sells Indian films, says Britons do visit Southall. “We have one or two British clients every day. They come for the Bollywood movies”, he says.

He also said that most visitors are still Asian people, from countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Unlike many shopkeepers, Jazz doesn’t live in Southall. He says he prefers it that way because it is more peaceful and quiet.

Many people who own shops in Southall also live in the neighbourhood. Raj moved from Pakistan to the UK ten years ago. He has since lived and worked in Southall.

He says he would never leave outside the area, because Southall has everything he needs. “Even more than in my own country”, he adds.

Raj thinks that by concentrating in one place, the Asian people are not trying to escape from the British community. In fact, he says the two sides complement each other.

“It’s like sugar and milk. If you take out the sugar, the milk is tasteless. We give taste to the Britain”, he explained.

“They don’t want us to be different”

Almost all women refuse to talk. Asked whether they can answer quickly to very few questions, they look at the men in the shop where they sell and then refuse kindly.

But after long persuasion, Salma from Afghanistan agrees. She lives in Uxbridge, but comes daily to work in Southall. “I could never live here, I don’t like it. There are too many people, too much rush”, she says.

In her opinion, Asian people are breaking away from the rest of London by living in their own neighbourhood.

That is the same view that Rekha from India holds as well. From behind piles of multicoloured bracelets and earrings made of stones, she says the British people are racist.

“They think every culture should be the same, they don’t want us to be different”, says Rekha.

Opinions are divided and might remain so. But in the meantime, the people of Southall continue their lives, with every cultural artefact they need available.

They most certainly feel at home, in the little India of Middlesex, London, where their interaction with British culture remains low.