Saturday, January 19, 2013

Southall UK, Gloom and Bloom

From Heathrow airport we (I and my cousin Harsh) catch Double Decker 105 number bus. It is very early in the morning and we get down at the intersection of Broadway and King Street. Under the Broadway hotel is a Indian sweets shop and we enter there to have breakfast. We order aalo-parothas with raita and breakfast turns out a feast. One Punjabi gentleman is also having his breakfast of parothas, I ask him about the places to stay in Southall. He tells either we can stay at Broadway hotel, that is upstairs or then there are other hotels at Broadway. He is in construction contractor and his clothes are stained with paint.
“How long are we going to stay in Southall?” He asks.
“Well 5 nights. ”
“Why don’t you try rooms on rent for a week?”
“Wow! But where do we start?”
He tells us to go to any desi supermarket and there people hand leaflets about the rooms for rent. Use a coin phone and call them.
This advice will not work with us, we have no transportation to visit and see the place so we give it up and then suddenly he remembers a place.
“On the King Street, near Gurudwara, there is a meat shop, last month I built 3 rooms above it.

Broadway Southhall
You go see Vijay there and he may still have room vacant there. Room above a meatshop is not really a pleasing proposition but anyway we walk towards this meat shop. We pass the famous Glassy Junction desi pub, cross the railway bridge over Southall station and find this meat shop in desi bazaar. It is open and full of meat; more meat has arrived by a truck in the side street and it being unloaded, most of the shop is refrigerated. We ask for Mr. Vijay and we are told to go in the back of the shop to find him, well I stop my breathing and begin my walk in the chilled shop to find Mr. Vijay. I pass hundreds of skin bare goats, sheep, cows, chickens and what not. In the back I find Mr. Vijay is 40, stout man, he is busy at keema machine. We ask him for the room and he says 200 pounds for a week but we only need the room for 5 nights. He gives me the key and tells me to first take a look at the room.

Train at Southall
I grab the blood stained key and run out from the side door and go around to the front and take the stairs. Room turns out newly built and furnished with large window facing desi market. We love it and hope we need not to do anything with meat shop again.
I again take the Side Street to bypass walking in the meat cadavers and find Mr. Vijay removing livers from goats. I try to bargain but he is adamant, he won’t go below 200 pounds. I pretend to leave and as I am out of the door he shouts, “175 pounds, no less and in advance. ”
I give him 175 pounds. We come to the room and wash my hands and the key with soap before arranging our belongings there. There are total 3 rooms and two others are occupied. One door opens and 3 Punjabi boys come out, I try to start conversation with them but they are in a great rush to get to work. Then other door opens and same things happens, 3 more Punjabi boys come out and they are in a great rush to get to the work and it is barely 8PM.

Southall market
One shouts at me, “Paji if you are here and postman comes with Harbans Singh’s letter, please accept it for me. I am Harbans. We will be back after eight. ”
OK, I will do that, if I catch the postman,” I shout back.
A boy comes and tells me that Mr. Vijay has summoned me in the back of meat shop. I brace myself again to face a lot of meat. I am angry and curious about why he wants to see me now. I try the back door but since truck has left so it is closed and I knock and no one opens the door. I enter through the front door in the very long meat shop. This time to make it to back, I have to displace many bakras and bheds hanging on the hooks from the ceiling, and finally I make it to Mr. Vijay.

Cinema at Southall
Mr. Vijay hands me a large glass full of tea.
“Yaar, I am sorry that I didn’t’ even ask for a cup of tea to my Punjabi yaar. ”
What to do now? Meat smell has already subdued my senses. I submit and take the glass of tea and close my eyes and begin swallowing it, he points to a stool and I sit there in the cow legs.
“Yaar what is your full name?” I ask Vijay.
“Vijay Sharma. ”
“I never knew if Sharmas eat meat?”
“Yaar, I don’t eat meat but only sell it. ”
“Wow! Amazing and incredible. ”
“Nobody in my village in Punjab knows that I have this meat shop, they all think I have a dry fruit business?”
“Probably they know it now, unless you started this business two days ago. It is Southall. ”
He laughs and says, “2 months ago, actually.

Southall station

“Well, very soon they will know it?”
“I know, I make my living here and let them think whatever they want to think about me. ”
Tea is now cold in the refrigerated environment and I swallow the whole remaining glass in single shot and want to run outside to throw it up. Vijay is generous enough to let me go. I again make my way among the goats, cows and sheep and return to my room. I again wash my hands and then take a bath and change clothes.
We come out of our room and walk to Gurudwara. Ghee canisters are being unloaded at the gate. A white bearded Sikh gentleman requests us to help in unloading. It takes us 2 hours to unload all the canisters off the truck then we are summoned to move these on the racks in the kitchen. We are brutally beaten and washed with ghee because many canisters were leaking. This gentleman thanks us and asks us to follow him to Langar hall, we refuse but he insists. We have a cup of tea there and come out and visit the prayer hall.

Southall market
Then we return to our room to take another bath and to change clothes again.
A word about Southall Gurudwara: Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall (SGSS) is the largest Sikh temple in Europe. It’s a stunning building finished in marble and granite with a gilded dome and stained glass windows. I though it might be the largest in the world till I saw the Dixie Street Gurudwara in Toronto. Actually these both (Southall, London as well Dixie St. Toronto) Gurudwara deserve a full post each.
We are so tired that we want to collapse. It is 11am.
We hear a knock on the door; it is postman knocking at other door.
“Yes?” I ask.
“Harbuns Singh. ”
“Yes I can take his post, he asked me.”

Trains seen from the bridge at Southall
Postman is double-minded if to give me that letter or not. Then he makes up his mind and hands me the package. It is from a lawyer and I can fairly guess about what it could be.
We leave our room at noon and as we are about to walk out of the building, a boy comes and tells us that Vijay asked for our key for some pending electric work. I am not happy about it, this only means another trip, all the way to the back of meat shop. So we give the key to the boy.

Jalandhar Junction pub
Finally and walk in the Southall bazaars on King Street and Broadway. This is my 4th time here and bazaar is expending by each year, it is spreading in the side streets. We walk on the railway bridge over Southall station. A half hour lookout on the rails and we see 20 different kinds and color of trains. London has many kinds of trains; some are just like tube, almost round like a pipe. Once we took a train from Waterloo station and on the way saw more different kinds of trains moving around here or there.

London Double-decker buses
Probably train network in Britain is the ancient and many old models are still running.
Now backtrack towards the bus stand on the narrow King street. Many red colored buses are zooming at both ways in the narrow street. This is another marvel in London; Double Decker buses zoom around efficiently in both ways in the narrow streets of London.
Well people are getting on the buses and taking off and we keep waiting for the Paddington St. Station bus but it is not stopping when we wave our hand. Then I ask Sardarji standing next me about why bus is not stopping. Sardarji looks me from top to bottom and then ask me time; I tell him time. Then he asks me date and I tell him date. Then he begins running after some bus but changes his mind and runs back to the bus stand. Now I wonder that may be our bus does not stop at this stop everyday or at certain times that’s why Sardarji asked for time and date.
I again ask Sardarji about why bus is not stopping when we wave it to stop.

Southall Gurudwara
(Picture courtesy SGPC Southall)
Sardarji again looks at us from toe to head and then shouts in the anger; this is not Amrika, bus will not stop at wrong side, go to other side bus stop and wave it.
Wow wow wow!!! Eureka. Well, we run to other side’s bus stand and wave the bus and it stops. How do we know we are at wrong side? Streets is almost one way but buses are zooming at gliding at both ways and then all are double-decker and then all double-decker buses are open at the tail; they ain’t got a door at any specific side but open back. So this time we cling to our precious red bus.
Sardarji shout at us – “Aab aakal aaye. ”
Yes Sir, aab aakal aaye.
With my pen I make a large circle on the back of my left hand to remember to stand at the left side to catch a bus.
In the evening we catch a train from Paddington Station to Southall. In the evening Indian market is as colorful as Karolbag (Delhi). West London’s Southall has strong Indian and Pakistani roots mixed with communities from all over the world.
Women are walking in colorful saris and Punjab suits, hundreds of street food stalls selling samosas and Indian sweets are not open, and bright fabrics and hundreds of mannequins hanging in shop fronts.

TKC Restaurant (Picture courtesy TKC)
Bhangra music beats fills the air and the streets bustle with activity from the thriving desi community, making for an unforgettable walk. In whole London, I love this walk best.
The main shopping area is along Southall Broadway on Uxbridge Road.
There are tons of different things can be bought in Southall, ranging from food stalls, clothes (both Asian and European), antiques and electronics. Whenever one has to go to India or Pakistan, they come to Southall to fill up the suitcase. There’s a huge range of places to eat and drink in Southall, particularly Punjabi, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and South Indian restaurants. Vegetarians have plenty of options to choose from. Each day we tried different restaurant and each time food the best of the best and menu prices were also stunning lower than the rest of the London.

Southall Market
In London central area (around Oxford Street) one is only shocked to see the menu prices. Once at Oxford Circus area, I saw a decent Indian restaurant (probably at Eastcastle Street). As usual I was shocked to see the menu prices and I struck a deal with the manager (I won’t disclose the amount as well the name of the restraint because it was the token of our friendship) for a descent lunch for 2 and then anytime we visited London we went to that restaurant and reminded them about my deal and they always honored it.
So we are in Southall and we buy a Budweiser 6 pack and walk to our room.

Harsh stands at the door but I have no choice but to walk among the meat to see Vijay to fetch our key. Again I make my way by pushing hanging skinned animals in the refrigerated environment. Vijay is there cutting a large piece of beef into small pieces to fill an order of a large Pakistani restaurant. He grabs my hand starts shaking it and I have no choice.

Southall market (Picture generated from Google Map maximum zoom street view)
He offers me a beer that is cold in the already near freezing environment. He opens one can for himself. I am only worried that under the influence of alcohol he may cut his own hand at the open blade of this vicious machine. I mention it to him and he nodes and put aside his beer. Then I realize that he is already drunk. I shut off the machine.
He begins weeping and cursing his relatives and people of his village.
“I don’t care if they come to know about my meat business.

Southall railway station (Picture generated from Google Map maximum zoom street view)
I don’t care. I don’t care. Let the dogs bark. Let the dogs bark. ”
He got into the partnership of this meat business, assuming that he will never work here but only share the profits. Profit margin was very low and his partner betrayed him and walked out. He cannot afford another employee so he is working himself. Working with meat is not some pleasing proposition for people who don’t eat it. Vijay says that he does not have any choice because everything that he made in England in 7 years is not in this meat shop.

Sign especially for Indians
Then I find key to my room is hanging on a nail and I pocket it. I ask him to come upstairs in the room for drinks but he says, he cannot because he has to fill many orders. He does not let me go but I leave him saying that I am not alone.

Southall station sign in English and Punjabi
I and Harsh enter in our room. It is 8. 30PM. I again take bath and change my blood stained clothes. I don’t have any more clothes and it is not the time to find some Laundromat so I wash my clothes and hang these at just any possible object. We start drinking beers.
We leave our door open so Harbans Singh can see us. Suddenly boys in the other both rooms arrive including Harbans Singh. They are six young men, three living in each room. It is shocking to see their faces; they are tired and beaten after some 12 hours menial shift work in some factory. They all smell like cattle and they are repeatedly curing the son of the owner of the factory they work. I hand the package to Harbans Singh and he kisses it with tears in his eyes.

A train at Southall
He tells that this package is related with his Political Asylum application. I offer him beer but he declines saying that he needs something strong to sleep, they all need something strong to sleep. Liquor is expansive in UK and they have an illegal liquor (from sugar) making arrangement at their friend’s home.

Ravidas Temple Southall, Courtesy Ravidas Temple Org.
They take turns to take bath and then they all drink a Patiala pegs. We all leave our doors open so we are aware about what is going on. They begin their cooking in their small rooms over the more pegs. After drinks they mellow down and I come to know their story. They all arrived in UK on student visa on forged papers arranged by agents. Agents arranged make-believe bank statements, property documentations. When UK High Commission called the bank to verify the amount on the bank statement, corrupt bank staffer who took the call affirmed about the existence of the account as well the amount in the account. They got visa and never visited the school but found work. They all got drunk and begin crying or fighting with each other.

Vishwa temple at Southall
3 work in a knitting factory and 3 work in a diary farm 6 or 7 days each week at 12 hours a day at 3. 5 pounds an hour. They can hardly save anything to be sent to their home in Punjab. 2 boy’s legs are swollen and inflamed for standing and working long hours without rest. They cook lots of daal in a very large utensil and make about 100 roties; food enough for at least one week. Each day they take food at their work, so will eat same daal at lunch as well at dinner. The reason they make so much at once because they have no time. Next day they will wash their clothes. They only have one or two hours to any of their personal errands. They offer us food but we decline. Soon they shut their door and fell to sleep.
We finish up all six beers and walk to try another restaurant near Sri Ram Mandir.
undefined Food is again superb. When we return at 10. 30PM most of the market is closed except restaurant.
Meat shop is still open, Vijay is still in the back.

Ravidas Temple Southall, Courtesy Ravidas Temple Org.
Next morning, we take a walk in the market that is yet to open. At a Indian fruit and vegetable store two white boys are arranging crates full of fruits and vegetables outside. I ask the Indian who is ordering them about why not to hire Indians to do this job.
“These two boys just want enough money for their marijuana and smoke, they are druggie and live in subsidized homes so they are available for few hours in the morning. Whereas if we employ Indians then we have to give them a full time job, that we already have people here.”
We walk around till I see a shop that duplicates the keys. I get a duplicate of my room key so I need not to visit Vijay in the back of the meat shop, he is always inventing some excuse for me to be with him and listen to his misery.

Vishwa Temple Southall, Courtesy Vishwa temple society, London
When we return to our room same thing happens; boy informs to surrender our keys as we leave the room. So we give him that key and not to ask for the key again at night.
We walk from Southall to Paddington and then to Westminster Abbey that day and that deserve some full posts.
After roaming around central London we catch bus from Paddington Station in the evening to Southall but get down at Wood End bus stop about 3 kilometers before core Southall market area. We walk till market comes and then it intensifies. Gradually it turn into a usual festival gala and then comes the South Road that becomes King street. We make a right and then meat shop comes. We straight to up but unfortunately our new key does not work. I know some lock-picking tricks and try my skills but lock does not open.

So I come down and enter in the meat shop. This time I pursue the boys at the counter to bring me the key but they refuse as usual so I make my way to all the way in the back, pushing cold cows, goats and sheep.
Mr. Vijay Sharma is butchering a goat with a cleaver and also sipping whiskey. He points me to a stool and I sit there with my back touching two goats cadavers. He fills up glass for me and hands it to me.
I try to reason-out with him but he pockets my key so I won’t sneak out.

Residential area Behind Indian market.
Over the whisky he begins weeping.
“I build my family a 2 crore rupee kothi with an airplane shaped water tank on the top in my village?”
“That is very nice of you,” I add to conversation.
“My brother stole my kothi and not just stole it but he kicked out our mother from there.”
He drinks up whole glass in a single shot and fills it up and and forces me to finish up mine too.
“Now I don’t have money, his son got arrested last week stealing a motor from a pump. My brother and his both sons are spoiled. They never did a day’s work in their life. I kept sending money and they all became Nikummas (idles). Now he wants more money to pay police to get the case dissolved.”
“This happened to all people whom I know, they kept sending money to their families and families became permanent dependents,” I say.
“He is begging me for money each hour and I don’t have money. Plus my kothi is now in the ruins. It needs painting and repairs. All water faucets those I sent from here are clogged by the sand in the water. Bath tubs never worked even a single day. We installed a generator and it does not work now. Termites ate up most of the wood. My nephew sent me the pictures, my 2 crore rupee kothi looks like a ghost bungalow.”
Then his phone rings, it is his brother.
He fights with his brother and to have some privacy he walks behind cow cadavers.
I pick up a hammer from the table and makes my run to break open my lock. When I come upstairs, my room is open because Harsh struggled with the new key and got it opened somehow.

A temple procession in Southall market.
I take a bath and wash my clothes. At 8.30 all six boys come and whole hallway is stinking now with their smells. I ask them for their strong medicine. They give me half bottle saying that it is very strong so be careful with it. I pay them money because they buy it from their friend. Today is their laundry day so 2 boys fill up all the clothes of 6 boys in a sack and go to laundromat because today job is assigned to them. Rest fill up their glasses and get drunk very fast then as usual they are very emotional or angry. Now 3 boys call home in Punjab. One come in our room to talk in privacy. We overhear and gather that their relatives in India are demanding more money from them for this or that errand. All three are begging and pledging that they got no money at all. When they will get paid 250 pounds for a week only then they may send 100 pounds.

Southall market
Two who took the sack full of clothes to laundromat return after dumping the clothes in the washing machine. They have to return to remove clothes from washer and then to dump it in dryer after half hour. Now 5 are drinking and a quarrel breaks out. Only Harbans Singh does not drink so he mediates and stops the fight. Then they start weeping, Harbans Singh is also weeping although he is not drunk.
They have no chance to gain any permanent status in UK and no future. Harbans Singh tried for Political Asylum only to gain some documents for temporary purpose, including driving license but he also has no chance at all. Bogus marriages are also clamped down, no more political asylums are granted. After Europe has become one market, anyone in Europe can work in any country so illegal aliens in UK as well in whole Europe are in very sad shape.

Grand Union Canal (formerly the Grand Junction Canal)
Only Harbans Singh’s story is different. He is the eldest of these all, he is 31. He first arrived in Italy through an agent. Agent took him form his village and then in a dinghy hotel in Pahargung Delhi, he got him a Libya visa where Alitalia flies. Agent arranged an unlicensed doctor who drew lots of blood from him. He was barely able to stand up. He was taken to IGI airport to board Alitalia flight where he was supposed to faint at Milano airport. But he fainted before boarding the flight so he was back to square one. His family was charged for the air-ticket to Tripoli that went waste because of his premature collapse.
After a week he recovered but then more blood was drawn from him and he boarded on flight to Rome along with agent. All went well accordingly plan and he fainted at Milan airport. His passport was not on him so he was taken to a hospital. Had he have passport upon him he was to given some first aid and then sent back to either Libya or India.
There his relative bailed him out and he was in Italy. Italy has some serious unemployment problems and he wanted to go to UK. Another agent took him to Brussels on trucks. There he was hidden in a truck that was to be ferried from Calais France to Dover UK. Truck was not getting favorable passage so it waited and waited for 4 days till other agent signaled from Dover that right immigration officer was in charge at Dover. Harbans Singh stayed in the truck hungry and thirsty. Truck made it to Dover and he was discharged after the terminal. There he found a police officer and surrendered to him for political asylum (standard procedure)
But other 5 came to UK on student visa and they had no grounds to apply for political asylum. Their identities were already established in the computers.
Not many people know that Southall is located on the Grand Union Canal (formerly the Grand Junction Canal) which first linked London with the rest of the growing canal system. It was one of the last canals to carry significant commercial traffic (through the 1950s) and is still open to traffic and is used by pleasure craft.
Later on fainting in Italy – this scam failed to work because countries begin giving transit visa based upon bio-metrics. Airlines begun keeping passport in their own custody etc.
End of this post.
See you sometime at Oxford Street.

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