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A London of Byron and Bollywood

world Updated: Oct 19, 2010 01:23 IST
Hindustan Times
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In a shaded corner of a churchyard in Harrow, adjoining Jawaharlal Nehru’s famed alma mater, stands a brass memorial plaque with a poem by Lord Byron.

Countless numbers have read the moving Lines Written Beneath an Elm since the memorial was erected in 1905, including many who are either from India or of Indian origin.

Harrow on the Hill, where the school and church stand, is upper- class neighbourhood in northwest London, where the price of property runs into many millions of pounds. Around it lies the town of Harrow, which hosts a thriving South Asian community.

The town is also home to one of London’s largest mosques, which became the scene of violent clashes last year when a right-wing group called Stop Islamification of Europe was confronted by Asians and anti-fascists during 9/11 protests.

Large cities across Europe are witnessing a rise in right-wing attitudes and violence in tandem with the recession. But much of the resulting debate has been one-sided.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel said attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed.” Immigrants, she said need to do more to integrate.
An ally of President Sarkozy presumptuously advised Britain to follow the French example and impose a ban on the burqa.

In London, such exhortations are firmly unwelcome.

Londoners dealt with the aftermath of the 7/7 suicide bombings without allowing a single major reprisal to take place.

But since 7/7, better intelligence-gathering, stronger but discreet policing, and rapid steps to include Muslim leaders in all debates have ensured that in London talk of multiculturalism remains tempered and civilised.

My fears, I am delighted to admit, were largely unfounded.

As I walked down Harrow on the Hill this weekend, I briefly lost my way. The lines from Lord Byron’s beautiful poem were still working their way around the crannies of my cranium when I came upon a massive multicoloured billboard. SA RE GA MA PA, it said, announcing the popular Indian television programme to the people of the foothills.