London, the City of Cosmopolitan Culture and Curry

Seema Kumar

To this day, I remember vividly my first trip to London nearly 30 years ago. I had imagined the experience many times as a young girl in India after reading the children’s book Dick Whittington and His Cat who sought fortune in London’s legendary streets paved with gold.

Like many Indians, I grew up surrounded as much by the British literature and culture as by my deep Indian heritage. History, politics, and the East India Company notwithstanding, the two cultures intricately intertwine through a shared love of poetry and literature but more so their intense and complex love affair with curry.

Not surprisingly then, London felt like home. And while not paved with gold, the streets of London are filled with rags-to-riches stories of people from the Indian subcontinent. Two centuries ago, they first came to London as ship or domestic workers. Within two generations, they were an integral part of Britain’s economy, politics, and culture. Today, Indians are one of the highest income minority groups in the UK, and more likely to hold professional and managerial occupations than all other UK-based ethnic groups,

Moreover, the 1.4 million Indians in the UK comprise the second largest Indian diaspora in the Western Hemisphere (not including those of mixed race or ancestry). They are the largest ethnic minority in Britain, and in London, the largest non-white ethnic group, tallying half a million people.

Walking the streets of London, you can feel the significant cultural influence of these Indians in books, film, television, politics, and finance. But perhaps no more so than in cuisine. Food is often the gateway to a culture. As one of Britain’s most popular dishes, chicken tikka masala has opened the door widely for the appreciation, acceptance, and successful assimilation of Indian subcontinent culture. You might just say the streets of London are paved with Indian curries.

But the Indian influence reaches far beyond curry, especially that of the women of the Indian subcontinent.

On a recent trip to London, I had the chance to meet and dine with 10 amazing women and two inspiring male champions at Jamawar. Over a delicious meal of, yes, traditional chicken tikka masala daal and biryani, as well as contemporary fusion dishes like scallops bhel and lobster nerulli, we shared our stories. We marveled at the contributions of the diaspora, especially the women. We bemoaned their lack of recognition. While we met as strangers, we parted as partners in sharing the SEEMA vision. We will spread the word, share the stories of successful women, and the men who support them.

Together, we will foster the London connections in creating the most powerful and impactful global network of women of South Asian origin. The August 18 issue of the SEEMA newsletter profiles some of these London-based women. Look for more to come in future issues and at SEEMA.com! Because this is the beginning of a journey—one fostered with curries.