“The Indian community is part of the colorful, multicultural society which cities such as London take great pride and celebration in.”
When traveling it’s hard not to find yourself enraptured by the world we live in. Each of the world’s locales has a unique character; every country, city, or other landmark is like no other. That being said, none of them exist in a vacuum. And with each year that passes the world seems to grow smaller and smaller. People can go and live anywhere they want, provided they have the money to do so. As a result many find themselves in places radically different than where they were born. In a previous article I examined what it’s like to be African-American in Japan, however there are countless other examples of travelers, expats, and immigrants finding a new home in a country with a very different culture than theirs. Some immerse themselves in the culture of their new homes—while others bring their culture with them. And some, such as the UK’s Indian Diaspora, do both.
India’s modern history is closely tied to that of the United Kingdom. In the 19th century the British Empire ruled over the entire subcontinent; it was not until 1947 that India gained its independence from the crown. In the seven decades since then the two countries have taken different paths, but they maintain very close relations. Many Indians have immigrated to the United Kingdom, and today British Indians are the country’s largest ethnic minority. They have had a tremendous effect on the culture of the United Kingdom, as well as the character of its major cities. London and Leicester in particular are home to large communities of South Asian people.
Mandavi Kaushik is but one of many immigrants who enjoys life in the United Kingdom. “It’s just such a beautiful place,” she says. “There’s so much to see and do there. You could go shopping, visit a museum, or even just explore and take in the scenery.” She came to the United Kingdom fourteen years ago; nowadays she runs a popular fashion and lifestyle blog called The Red Notebook. Like many British Indians she resides in London, a city with a large population of immigrants from South Asia. Most of London’s Indian community resides on the western end of the city, with the district of Southall being known as “Little India.” As a very cosmopolitan and diverse place, London has many opportunities available for people coming to live and work there. It also acts as a gateway to Europe – though Mandavi notes that Brexit might complicate things.
Despite successfully integrating into British society, immigrants from India maintain much of their cultural identity. The children of immigrants also carry on their cultural legacy, and many – such as blogger Victoria Das – consider themselves more Indian than British. On her blog London Ki Ladki she closely follows South Asian fashion and culture, as well as the latest Bollywood movies. “My background heavily influences my side-line hustle in blogging,” she says. “The blog is my outlet to share my passion for South East Asian culture and share knowledge about what is going on in events, London dining, Bollywood and the UK’s fashion scene with others.” Victoria sees life is London as liberating, and notes that while both she and her friends’ parents tend to be more conservative, being raised in Britain has given her own generation a more liberal outlook on life.
British Indians have had a profound influence on British culture as a whole. Both Mandavi and Victoria mention that Indian holidays have become big community events. Diwali – the Festival of Lights – is held every autumn in Trafalgar Square; the city’s mayor is always involved in the festivities. Holi and Eid are also widely celebrated. Indian food has also become very popular, with chicken tikka masala becoming one of the country’s most popular dishes. The exact origin of the recipe is unknown, but it was either created in India or developed in the United Kingdom by Bangladeshi and Indian-born chefs. Many popular British movies such as Bend it Like Beckham and Slumdog Millionaire were created by Indian directors, while movies and music from Bollywood are increasingly popular. “The Indian diaspora is making a huge mark in the creative/media scene,” Victoria observes. “For a creative like myself who works in marketing it’s exciting to see this shift.” But perhaps the single largest influence India has had on British culture is the United Kingdom’s love of tea. During the 18th and 19th centuries Indian tea made its way to Britain, becoming a major cultural touchstone in the process. Were it not for India, it’s very likely there would be no “tea-time.” While India has made quite a mark on the United Kingdom, their cultural exchange goes both ways: the game of cricket is huge in India, to the point that Mandavi jokingly compares it to a religion.
Despite all that Indian immigrants have achieved in the United Kingdom, Mandavi does note that there are still some undercurrents of racism and xenophobia. The situation has only worsened with the increase of racial tension that has spread across Europe, as well as the success of Brexit. “The mood is definitively different after Brexit,” she says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty among minorities here as to what comes next.” Mandavi describes it as a “closing down” of the country, preventing people outside the United Kingdom from being able to chip in. Despite everything she remains optimistic, hoping that everything will work out in the future.
No matter what happens, there’s one thing that remains obvious to me: the world will keep shrinking. People will keep traveling to and fro, experiencing new places as they do. If there’s one thing that stood out to me during my examination of travelers, expats, and immigrants in countries populated by different cultures or ethnicities it’s this: despite some racism and xenophobia, overall they are treated with respect. Despite the dark shadow the United Kingdom once cast over India, today Indian born immigrants, expats, and travelers are accepted. As Victoria says, “The Indian community is part of the colorful, multicultural society which cities such as London take great pride and celebration in.” To me, it’s a sign that although we still have much to do, we can take comfort in the fact that quite a lot of progress has been made. And while borders may close, we will always be united in the experiences we share with one another.