By Zahra Ali
London, Oct 30: A visit to Southall is always a must in the build up to any event. Whether it’s to buy fancy new clothes, fireworks to light up the night sky or just to be a part of the atmosphere – the Broadway is the Asian epicentre for shopping in London. Visited by people near and far, it’s the place to be with Diwali just around the corner.
Amarsons is new to the high street, having only opened nine days ago and just in time for Diwali. The fabric store has had promotions since their opening in a bid to attract new customers and cater for the upcoming occasion. Saloni, the young lady working there has noticed a lot of people buying new clothes in preparation for the festival and is planning on doing the same herself because “nobody wants to wear old clothes, I don’t either!” Describing what the day means to her, Saloni said that it’s nice to celebrate with the younger members of her family. “We buy diyas and pull crackers with the kids but it’s the same every Diwali so it’s not so special as an adult”.
Tara Fabrics is gearing up for Diwali at a slightly slower pace than others. While they certainly have promotions to draw the shopping crowd in, this time of year is for family and friends. They close up shop at 5pm, a few hours earlier than usual to give everyone that extra time at home. Paramjit - the store’s front man – is most looking forward to celebrating with his family members and the ‘chance to get together’ with everybody at the Gurdwara for the 12 o’clock service. He admitted that Diwali occurring just after the half-term holidays might affect the scale of celebration. In the past, the Festival of Light has fallen in the school break, giving families more freedom and flexibility. Despite the date, many children in the UK are likely to take advantage of an authorised day off to observe Diwali and enjoy it to its full potential. Paramjit explained that the days building up to the event are for getting your house in order – cleaning, tidying and even buying new furniture. In terms of business and footfall, he said that it wasn’t significantly different, “it’s the food and sweet shops and fireworks that get more shoppers, we have offers but it’s more just to get in the spirit. It doesn’t really attract more business”.
Just down the road, Brightstar Fireworks is the place to be, or at least it will be in days to come. Their large promotional stands are hard to miss outside the shop, letting everyone know about their ‘2 for 1’ sale. A member of staff said that although there was already quite a buzz surrounding fireworks, most of their business comes right before Diwali since people don’t like to keep them lying around at home. In preparation for the rush, Brightstar Fireworks have reorganised their shop floor to accommodate for decorations and diyas. The front section has been cleared for all things Diwali related, making it easy for those looking to grab what they need and go. Young customers are naturally drawn to the fireworks stored safely behind glass cases while their parents buy the essentials – fireworks being one purchase they chose to come back for later with curious kids around.
Gourmet of London, a cakes and sweets shop run by owner, Zeeshan is attracting customers with Diwali themed posters and decorations in the run up to the festival.
Another staple of Southall is the selection of food stands selling confectionaries ranging from mithaiand panipoori to pakoras and samosas. Stall holders braved the chill with smiles on their faces, serving customers needing a break from their shopping experience. Moti Mahal stood out on the high street with its staff serving food just outside the shop, enticing members of the public to grab a bite to-go or wander inside for a sit-down snack. Manning the jalebi stall, Ahmed had the heat of the cooking equipment to keep him warm as he churned out sweet after sweet. He worked meticulously, piping the mixture into the hot oil and frying the swirls lightly before transferring them to the sweet syrup, ready for his hungry customers. His colleague worked at his side making papri and samosas, catering to those more inclined to savoury over sweetness. Jasbeer at Chandni Chowk also put on a jalebi making demonstration for onlookers, providing both entertainment and a delicious snack to enjoy afterward.
With music blaring outside the Broadway’s health centre, passers-by couldn’t resist a little dance to get in the mood and simultaneously ward off the cold. A lady and elder gentleman showed off their moves to a growing crowd as people pulled out their smartphones to catch the moment before it was gone. In true Southall fashion, passing cars also blasted their own tunes, gracing shoppers with small snippets of Asian hits, both old and new.
While Diwali is a major draw for Southall at this time of year, Ishmail and Shahida travelled from Scotland for wedding shopping. They enjoyed panipuri from Malik’s stall which has been here for the last thirteen years - a clear favourite for visitors both local and further afield. Malik noted the streets were busy with Diwali fast approaching and it being the last weekend of half-term. He’s hoping to see some festive lights decorate the streets of Southall which are bare at the moment. They are certainly needed now more than ever with the days quickly turning to night due to daylight savings here in the UK. Decorations would also be a great physical affirmation of the Festival of Light, brightening up the streets of Southall for all to enjoy.
Ealing Road, Wembley-London
Wembley’s Ealing Road was packed with more than its regulars in the days leading up to Diwali. The constant stream of buses on the high street provided easy access to all the shops in preparation for the Festival of Light. Popular fabric store, Venisons was one of the busier spots with its three Zani, Zever and Sharwani stores dotted across the high street. Their shop fronts boasted hard to miss promotions, drawing customers in with the promise of bargains. Inside, colourful garments were stacked high against the walls with enough selection to satisfy the needs of even the fussiest shopper. The plush seating bordering the shop added to the traditional décor and provided customers with comfort during their search for the right saris and salwar kameez.
Down the road, family run business, Laadki usually celebrate Diwali by holding a puja at the shop. This year however, Anisha - the daughter of the owners - is looking forward to experiencing the food and festivities abroad as she sets off to celebrate in India. For the moment, she has been busy serving the rush of customers over the last week and expects last minute purchases to be made in the next few days. Talking about the business, Anisha emphasised the importance of keeping up with trends and having the stock to reflect what people want to wear these days. The Laadki store is organised to showcase all of the latest fashion on the ground floor and its jewellery collection upstairs to help complete any outfit.
Keeping shoppers happy and hydrated, Ealing Road’s staple food stalls were also swamped with business. They sold fresh coconut juice straight from the shell, pressed sugar cane and even the ice cones were a hit despite the winter chill in the air. In addition to the fabric stores buzzing with business, the fresh ‘fruit and veg’ shops were filled with people stocking up on essential ingredients to help make a feast. Passing conversations of who would make the samosas, chaat and mooli parathas filled the air as customers loaded shopping bags with everything from diyas to everyday items needed for cooking.
Dineshah - the owner of Zaverchand–observed the flurry of activity on Wembley’s streets from his shop window. Despite being busier earlier in the week, he suspected that Sunday’s shoppers were slightly delayed with the clocks going back the night before. Speaking of his preparations for Diwali, he said “we close the shop half day, so everyone can spend time with their family. I like to go to the Mandir down the road to be together with the community”.
The Shri Sanatan Mandir he spoke of is an impressive architectural temple which has become a pillar of the local area since its completion in 2010. Its intricate design and bright sand-coloured walls make it an unmistakable landmark along Ealing Road.The beauty of the arched entrance drew the attention of visitors, Mr and Mrs Rajani from India who recently arrived in London to celebrate Diwali with relatives. They spent their weekend taking in the sights and soaking up the atmosphere in Wembley. They were just some of the many people who stopped to take photos outside the picturesque structure, attracting both frequenters of the temple and pedestrians passing by. Children hopped, skipped and jumped around the steps, no doubt looking forward to the beginning of Diwali celebrations.
While Ealing Road may be missing a little colour at the moment for the Festival of Light - Brent, Wembley and Harrow will be coming together to put on a ‘Celebration of Culture’ on the 3rd of November at Byron Park. Due to the great success of previous years, and last year being sold out, plans to throw the best celebration yet for the event’s 6th year are being put into motion. With street food, singing and dancing guaranteed, the fireworks display and art stalls are bound to draw a crowd. Tickets are on sale now on the event’s Eventbrite page and certain packages are beginning to sell fast. To celebrate Diwali with the local community in Wembley, be sure to get your tickets soon.
The British Asia News team wish you a week full of light, laughter and fun and hope you have a wonderful Diwali.