Shop till you drop – Diwali Edition

Zahra Ali

British Asia News Network - ZA

With the days until Diwali dwindling fast, many of London’s High Streets have become concentrated hubs of activity. People flocked to Kingsbury early on Saturday morning to stock up on last minute essentials and fresh produce that can’t be bought in advance - no matter how much of a planner you may be.

Topping everyone’s shopping list on Kingsbury High Street, fruit and veg was a high priority. Neighbouring stores, ‘Tropical’ and ‘Kingsbury Fruit and Veg’ received masses of customers as people chose not to sleep in on the weekend in favour of getting a head start on Diwali preparations. Opening bright and early at 8am, the shops had no trouble attracting and sustaining business well into the afternoon. Their staff members worked like clockwork, loading fresh stock onto their trollies from the nearby car park and offloading it outside for shoppers to take their pick of melons, pomegranates and grapes. People moved fast in fear of losing out, weighing up their options and selecting the ripest fruits on offer. One customer, Mrs Sonal was stocking up on ingredients to sustain her household during this busy time of year. She’ll be making her own sweets instead of buying them like many of us do to save ourselves from the time-consuming task. She talked about her joy for the cooking process and how it adds to the festive feeling - “buying sweets is easy, my husband loves the ones I make special for Diwali every year”.

While we may aspire to have the same skills as Mrs Sonal in the kitchen, Pooja Sweets is here for us in the meantime as a ‘one stop vegetarian shop’. Selling sweet and savoury snacks ranging from baklawa to besan, Pooja Sweets has been serving the Kingsbury area since 2010 when the business branched out from Tooting. Since then they have opened up in Cardiff, Wales and their products are also available to anyone in the UK and Europe who can’t reach them instore through their convenient online system, broadening their consumer base beyond borders. The shop interior was filled with a winding queue of customers who patiently waited their turn, watching the staff work together like a well-oiled machine to get orders out fast. With a deadline to order Diwali delicacies by noon on the 5th of November, they were extremely busy this past weekend and are set to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, Gayatri Sweet Mart down the road drew in a large crowd of returning and first-time customers to their renowned shop. People refused to shy away from the cold as they committed to queueing in the ever-present line outside which started at 10am and showed no signs of shrinking. “They’ve been here 30 years, it’s the second generation working now and they’re just as popular as ever. The frying oil they use is great, they’re the best in the business - I don’t go anywhere else! My family recommend other places to me but I’m loyal to Gayatri”. A committed shopper waiting outside exclaimed – “I would wait in this queue all day! I even came a few days ago and I’m back today because it was a bit too early and the mithai would go bad”.

“They should have a fast track for returning customers like Alton Towers!” – laughed another member of the queue with her maroon Gayatri bag in hand, proudly showing off that this was not her first visit to the establishment. Others took turns standing in the queue with a spouse or child, ensuring they would eventually get inside, even if they slipped away to nearby shops to make waiting a slightly more productive experience. One lady called her daughter to hold her place in line, pointing out all the sweets she wanted before leaving to tick other items off her list of Diwali preparations.

Gayatri may be inundated with business in the run up to Diwali, but they’ll soon be closing for a month to mark and celebrate the start of the Hindu new year. Loyal customers are well aware of this fact, with some of them buying extra sweets to tide them over during the shop’s hiatus. The staff are certainly deserving of the time off given the current craziness in the build-up to festivities.

Sejem, a regular frequenter of Kingsbury High Street, had high praise not only for Gayatri but all the other shops here. “It’s vibrant and busy all the time, some say high streets are dying but I don’t even live around here, and I still come. There are no empty shops and it’s somewhere you can get everything”. Another of her favourite places is local hangout, Bombay Spice which she was reluctant to share in fear of revealing a hidden treasure to the public. “It’s great for this area because it’s vegetarian so it caters to everyone. I like to bring my sons here”. Sejem spoke highly of their food and recommends trying anything on their menu, especially the dahi puris.

Despite the festive season, one thing that cannot be ignored or avoided on a trip to Kingsbury is its invasive roadworks currently taking place in the centre of the high street. Swallowing up valuable parking and pedestrian space, it proved to be a bit of an obstacle over the weekend, leading to traffic pile ups both on and off the road. Still, the construction work took little away from the crowds as people walked briskly from shop to shop, stocking up on all you could need for the upcoming week. While the restricted pedestrian path made it tight for those passing by, in some ways the close quarters added to the atmosphere and building excitement. The more the merrier, right?

Rita, the manager at Kingsbury’s Cake Box sells all kinds of confectionaries from barfi and tea biscuits to personalised fresh cream cakes. The benefit of Cake Box is that people can walk in and pick up any cake of their choice with the option to personalise on the day. With no need to order beforehand, it is a convenient option for those still without a Diwali dessert. Although they have been busy, Rita believes the eyesore construction site hasn’t been helpful in attracting customers since it has taken away all the parking spaces right outside her shop. Nevertheless, their Queensbury partner store has been doing well, catering to people celebrating at this time of year.

Kool Cakes Bakery also has Diwali appropriate decorations and promotional posters for those celebrating the Festival of Light. Diviya, who works there said many people have been calling in orders over the phone, providing her with lots of business.

For those still looking for an outfit, Saris of London is one of the few fabric stores on Kingsbury High Street. They’re definitely a place to visit with their wide selection of clothes, jewellery, fireworks and decorative pieces to brighten up your house. Anju, the owner is happy to see Diwali celebrated so prominently in London and is looking forward to it featuring in traditional media with Sky 1’s ‘Desi Beat’ show broadcasting this weekend to mark the event.

Moving from Kingsbury onto the bustling streets of Wembley, Nanji from Ealing Road took things easy as he dutifully waited with his shopping bags for his wife to finish up in the fruit and veg store. Standing back from the crowds, he admitted Diwali isn’t all about the rush. “We’re going to chill out with all the family and eat together. I’ve taken a few days off from work and my children have also so we’ll all celebrate”. Leaving the menu in the trusted hands of his wife, Nanji’s job is to sort out the presents. He usually gifts boxes of sweets to loved ones and will be doing the same this time around since “you can’t go wrong with mithai”. Gift giving is a common tradition around Diwali. People go out of their way to splurge on themselves and their loved ones as it is thought to be associated with prosperity. But presents don’t have to be expensive, they should be seen more as a token of love and good will.

In Wembley, much of Ealing Road is lined with jewellery stores, providing a diverse range of potential presents for family and friends. Sumi, from Star Jewellers said most people are buying silver to give as gifts for Diwali this year - “it’s what’s been popular at the moment for some reason, gold not as much”. Down the high street, Rathy Jewellers are expecting to hit their busiest period on Monday, just before the celebrations really begin. Jessica, the owner said there wasn’t a specific thing people were looking for, rather everyone is drawn to something of their own personal taste, whether it be a necklace, bracelet or earrings. Next to popular dining spot, Sakoni’s, Nisha’s jewellery stall is also a hit. She is holding a closing down sale in the next few days before flying to India to celebrate Diwali in style. While sad to be leaving, she is looking forward to escaping the cold and reuniting with family to bring in the Hindu new year.

For everyone else celebrating in the UK, the November chill is not something that will dampen Diwali. The Festival of Light falls in autumn here in the northern hemisphere, meaning firework displays can start as early as 5pm when the sun has already set. It makes for a cosy atmosphere, heightened by diyas and lamps lit up at home to represent light over darkness and good over evil.

So whether you’re actively celebrating Diwali or just looking forward to the epic firework shows, the team at British Asia News wish you a blessed week ahead.

 

Comments

  • Mrs A Williams
    Tue, Nov 6 2018

    An informative and insightful article of what makes the importance of the preparation of Diwali a key to its success ! I particularly enjoyed the subtle points of view and excitement which is demonstrated in abundance. Thank you !

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