Diwali fireworks light up UK town sky

Last Updated: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 21:08

Leicester: Nearly 40,000 people flocked in
this British town, which said no to Indian immigrants in 1972,
to witness a kaleidoscope of colour, Bollywood music and
samosas, marking one of the biggest Diwali celebrations
outside India.

The celebration is an example of distance the town has
travelled over the years since its opposition to Indian
immigrants 38 years ago.

The event last evening, which saw Diwali lights
switching-on ceremony on Belgrave Road where 6,500 colourful
lights came on along the 1,000 metre of the hub of Asian
business and culture, was led by the Indian-origin leader
Veejay Patel.

In 1972, Indian refugees from Idi Amin`s Uganda were
unwelcome here.

That year, the city council, worried that "the entire
fabric of our city is at risk", paid for a tersely worded
advertisement in a Ugandan daily, warning potential
immigrants: "In your own interests and those of your family
you should not come to Leicester."

Today, the same council is led by Patel.
Patel said, "We are incredibly proud of Leicester`s Diwali
celebrations. It`s been 27 years since we installed the Diwali
lights and it`s getting bigger and bigger. The road closes and
thousands of people come down to enjoy the evening."

In 1972, nearly 35,000 Indian refugees arrived in
Leicester, despite warning from the city council.

Since then, the community has grown and enriched a
region that witnessed serious decline in manufacturing.

Today, the town is held up as an icon of Britain`s
commitment to multiculturalism with several elected Indian
origin councillors sitting in the same council that once
opposed the refugees.

By 2011, experts forecast that Leicester will be
Britain’s first non-white majority town.

Maganbhai Patel, vice-president of Leicester Hindu
Festival Council, said: "Diwali is for many different
religions and that`s why we`re all here tonight. It`s great
that all religions are welcome and that`s why Leicester is so
special."

Local residents claim that Leicester`s Diwali
celebrations are the biggest outside India, with people coming
from all over England and abroad to join the lights
switching-on ceremony and to shop for jewelleries, Indian
clothing and sweets for the festive season.

After the lights were switched on, a laser and firework
display was held in nearby recreation ground.

Thousands packed into the park to watch the display,
which could be heard across the city.

Ignoring last week`s news about major funding cuts
and recession, shopkeepers and jewellers along the Belgrave
Road said they had arranged for additional stocks of saris and
ornaments, and expected to do brisk business.

Leicester is twinned with Rajkot, Gujarat. Many
Indian-origin people in the town have roots in Gujarat and
maintain close family, business and cultural links with the
state.

Pratap Ranawaya, manager of a popular store, said:
"We have ordered a new bunch of saris. Our most popular thing
for young ladies is saris with a modern twist, while the older
generation like something more traditional."

Jitendra Vaitha, manager of a prominent jewellery
store, said the bestseller during the festivities was gold
sovereigns.

He said: "Another popular gift around this time is
gold earrings. People think it is good luck to give gifts of
gold, because it does not lose its value. We probably get
about three times more visitors during Diwali."

Leicester has not escaped the effects of recession,
but a key reason for the thriving business is that most shops
and companies are family-owned, which helps economies of scale
and keep overheads down.

PTI



First Published: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 21:08

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