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     Volume 4 Issue 36 | March 4 , 2005 |

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Straight Talk

The New Face of Britain

Nadia Kabir Barb

I just 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.

Nowadays 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!

The 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.

As I 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.

I could 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.


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