New Face of Britain
saw Shahrukh Khan, Priety Zinta and Rani Mukherjee go past
me on a red double decker bus. Well not quite in person
but a great big hoarding of the film "Veer Zara"
plastered all over the side of the bus. This example is
just the tip of the iceberg in the way Britain has changed
in the last few decades and is still evolving into a multi-cultural,
multi-faith society. We could even call it the new face
of Britain. No matter which sphere of life you look at,
whether it is business, television, cinema, music, couture
or cuisine, British Asians have managed to make an indelible
impression on the British cultural landscape. Nowadays,
the sight of mosques, temples, deshi restaurants and corner
shops are all too familiar in most parts of the U.K. When
I say British Asians, I am using the term rather loosely
and actually referring to Asians hailing from the subcontinent.
This is not to exclude the rest of the British Asian population
such as the Chinese or Japanese who have also made a huge
contribution to the way Britain has changed but the focus
of this article is the role played by South Asians in particular.
when we talk about food, there is no lack of Indian/Bangladeshi/
Pakistani restaurants to cater to our need for a deshi
diet. But it gets better than that. When I was growing up,
one had to go to special "Indian" or "Pakistani"
shops to buy basmati rice, daal or spices
but these days we just have to pop down to our local supermarket
and have the luxury of choosing between numerous brands
of basmati rice or all the spices we need for the
particular "curry" we might be cooking that evening!
In fact one of the most popular dishes in the U.K is the
famous Chicken Tikka Masala. According to one set of statistics,
23 million portions a year are sold in Indian restaurants.
Journalist and restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab claims that it
was actually created when a Bangladeshi chef produced a
dish of traditional Chicken Tikka only to be asked "where's
my gravy?" by an English customer. The response was,
supposedly, a can of Campbell's cream of tomato soup added
with a few spices and viola, the masala element
was born. Even my son's favourite pizza is -- yes you guessed
it, Chicken Tikka pizza!
shops these days are flooded with eastern promise. Ethnic
jewellery, pashminas galore, dresses decorated with zardozi
or intricate bead work and household goods that remind us
of handicraft shops from home. Henna tattoos are commonplace
and wearing bindis and "bangles" are
considered fashionable. In fact last year British actress
Helen Mirren even wore a sari to the Oscars! The world of
music isn't far behind with Bhangra infiltrating
the music charts and up and coming artists such as Rishi
Rich and Jay Sean making the cross over to main stream pop
music. It is not unusual to hear certain deshi
songs wafting out of non deshi shops and people
not even batting an eyelash at the choice of music.
mentioned earlier, Hindi cinema has now made the transition
from being shown in very few and very specific theatres
in a predominantly Asian area to having several performances
a day in national theatres. Then of course with films like
Monsoon Wedding, Bend it Like Beckhem and the latest Bride
and Prejudice making a big splash in the media, the shift
seems to have begun in a huge way. The musical stage production
Bombay Dreams -- a collaboration between A.R. Rehman and
Andrew Lloyd Webber has also resulted in the British public
being given an insight into our singing and dancing film
culture. One only has to go to the Famous Madame Tussaud's
Wax Works Museum to find Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwaria
Rai gracing the hallowed halls.
go on and on giving you examples of how British Asians have
made a mark for themselves not just in the world of business
but also the service industry. I would be doing ourselves
a disservice by not mentioning the ever-growing number of
professionals such as doctors, lawyers, bankers etc who
are an integral part of the British economy. In the 50's
60's 70's and possibly even up to the 80's, Asians were
considered as "immigrants" and "outsiders".
Wearing saris or turbans might have produced looks of distaste
and being brown would have made one a bit of a curiosity
but these days the face of Britain itself is changing with
British Asians creating their own niche in society. This
is not to say that racism and bigotry does not exist but
with the ever increasing exposure to different cultures
and ways of life, the Britain of today is a far cry from
that of the last 50 years.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004