London Diary: Diwali in Trafalgar Square

Diwali came to London early this year, courtesy London’s mayor Sadiq Khan

Diwali festivities in Trafalgar Square
Diwali festivities in Trafalgar Square

Hasan Suroor

Amidst all the doom and gloom induced by the Israel–Hamas conflict and the economic crisis at home, the mayoral office tried to lift the mood by organising a day-long Diwali festival in Trafalgar Square, almost a fortnight before the actual event.

On 29 October, hundreds of people, including many from outside London, braved the pouring rain to join the festivities. The free public event featured traditional Indian dance, music, fun activities, and food from different parts of India.

Describing the festival as “an amazing day” that brought different communities together, Khan referred to the Bollywood blockbuster, Amar Akbar Anthony—a film about camaraderie and integration—and said he wished someone would make a sequel set in Britain.

“As our communities come together to share hospitality and remember the story of Rama and Sita, I am delighted to welcome the return of Diwali festivities in Trafalgar Square. The spirit of this vibrant festival brings us all together and embodies the diverse and welcoming spirit of our great city,” he said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was left catching up with his own more exclusive Downing Street Diwali celebrations a few days later.

Londoners gear up for ‘Chicmas’

Meanwhile, Christmas festivities are already knocking at the door, and for all the moaning and groaning about the cost-of-living crisis, people are set to splurge more on decorations and presents than last year.

John Lewis, the department store that sets the tone for Christmas sales, has said that despite the economic crisis, the number of homes buying and erecting two Christmas trees is more than usual; there has also been a 96 per cent increase in the sale of outdoor decorations.

There has been a 96% increase in the sale of outdoor decorations in London. (photo: Richard Baker)
There has been a 96% increase in the sale of outdoor decorations in London. (photo: Richard Baker)
Richard Baker

The first weekend of December has been dubbed as the ‘big treekend’ for a third of London households.

‘One tree is no longer enough. 40 per cent of homes with children and about 30 per cent of those without will put up a second “show tree” to brighten up a hallway or home office,’ The Times reported.

According to trading expert Kathleen Mitchell, a new trend is ‘personalising’ festivities in an effort to look different from others. And the new buzz word is ‘Chicmas’—a chic Christmas. So, a super happy ‘Chicmas’ to all.

Sikhs, kirpans and white racism

Sikhs living in Britain have long enjoyed the right to wear kirpans as part of their essential religious practice, but apparently the memo has either not gone out to all government officials or some simply don’t care.

Sikhs continue to be harassed for carrying kirpans into government buildings. Last week, court officials in Birmingham were forced to apologise to a Sikh man who was stopped from sitting as a juror by security staff who discovered that he was carrying a kirpan.

Jatinder Singh, who has served as president at Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick and as secretary general of the Sikh Council UK, said he felt “discriminated against” when he was prevented from entering Birmingham crown court where he had been summoned to serve on a jury.

He was originally allowed into the court for the morning session but when he returned after a lunch break, Singh was stopped by security staff and prevented from entering.

He said that he “felt like a child who has gone to school and taken something they shouldn’t and had it confiscated. I felt embarrassed, I felt discriminated against, I didn’t expect it to happen to me”.

A spokesman for the courts service said that it had apologised to Singh “for any distress caused” and promised to take “steps to prevent this sort of incident from happening again”.

Let’s see.

British government is taking a fresh look at the one-size-fits-all traffic light system. (photo: Richard Baker)
British government is taking a fresh look at the one-size-fits-all traffic light system. (photo: Richard Baker)
Richard Baker

Traffic lights tortoise wins the race

Anyone who has ever crossed a road (and who hasn’t?) would have felt cheated by traffic lights which take too long to turn into ‘walk’ mode only to turn red too quickly.

This is because the traffic light system is universally based on a rough calculation of how long it takes an average person to cross the road. It doesn’t take into account the pedestrian’s age or disability, both of which might slow down their responses.

Now, the British government is taking a fresh look at the one-size-fits-all traffic light system.

Under the current guidelines, introduced in the early 1950s, pedestrians have 6.1 seconds to cross both lanes of a road of normal width at a walking pace of 1.2 metres per second. A new recommendation will allow 7.3 seconds to cross at a speed of 1 metre per second.

Research shows that 76 per cent of men and 85 per cent of women aged 65 and older were unable to use crossings safely because their walking speed was slower than 1.2 metres per second. Allowing 20 per cent longer crossing time will benefit people who, like this columnist, are getting a bit slow on their feet.

Any takers for this in India?

And, finally, Hollywood actress Joan Crawford’s date of birth was such a secret that her obituary in the Times recorded that ‘She died on May 10, 1977, aged between 69 and 76’.

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Published: 20 Nov 2023, 1:17 PM