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Been to London, but not seen the British

world Updated: Jan 25, 2009 23:45 IST
Vijay Dutt

Whisper it not, but London seems bereft of the English.

A stroll in the Regents or Hyde Park or in the expensive residential areas in Mayfair and Knightsbridge, all upmarket parts of the city, makes one wonder where have all the original denizens, the English, gone.

Most houses have Arabs living there, with scattering of VIPs like Nawaz Sharif’s family or a Bollywood star. An MP who wanted anonymity said that his family lived for “ages” in the Knightsbridge area but had to move out when during the oil boom, Arabs descended there.

“House prices shot up astronomically, everyday items were too expensive. We just could not match the pockets of the then oil-rich Sheikhs. So we moved out.” His family now lives in Surrey and they shop in suburban outlets.

The white flight from parts of London, especially from those where the old families were entrenched for ages, has led to creation of white-dominated suburbs.

This is where we find the “propah” English gentry, with their impeccable manners, commuting to London, once their playground. But back in London, on Bishops Avenue, dubbed the Millionaires Row or Hampstead, huge mansions have owners like LN Mittal and rich Jews.

The stately houses around Regents Park too have residences of the Sultan of Brunei, the US Amabassador, Lord Bagri and the Daburs. The English can hardly be found in these parts. Although in fact, the English have not deserted the city.

They have their “pockets” like in Notting Hill and of course Whitehall, “ but not used to spontaneous outings or socialising, on a sudden impulse, like Indians who quite often drop in at friends or go for window shopping or a stroll in Oxford Street, they are hardly visible,” said Sanjay Suri, who has been here for almost two decades. Their majority in London is seen at exclusive pubs and of course at elite clubs on Pall Mall.

In fact, Central London does not reflect the fact that the white population in Greater London (78,55,600) is still 58 per cent. Tourists, mainly white from Europe and the ethnic groups (South Asians 12.9%, Indians being most with 1,72000) seem to “own” central London. An hour on Oxford Street and one hears most languages (of 300 spoken in London) be it Swahili, Arabic, Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, but hardly the Queen’s English.

Lord Bikhu Parekh summing up on where have the English gone said, “With 32 per cent Blacks and Asians in inner part of London and Arabs, Oligarchs and rich ‘foreigners in the central part and periphery, the English have been squeezed out.”