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A Visit to East Ham

Last Sunday (March 12), my daughter Lasya completed one year. We would have celebrated it grandly if we were in India. Here, in the UK, one needs to plan everything months in advance. And in typical Indian fashion, my wife and I kept talking about it but did not really plan anything till a week before the birthday.

In hindsight, it was good that we didn't plan in advance. As the options were limited, we decided to go to East Ham, visit a Hindu Temple, have a good lunch and then spend the rest of the day, roaming around Central London.

We left Reading in the morning, reached Paddington, and made it to East Ham on the tube. The Hammersmith and City Line was closed for engineering works. But luckily, we got the connections to Liverpool Street and then East Ham quite fast and reached the temple by 11.15 AM.

My uncle and aunt, and their two children Neha and Naren joined us at the temple.They live in the country side in Suffolk and do the 70-mile journey to London regularly.

East Ham is predominantly South Indian (like Wembley), unlike other areas that are mostly Punjabi and Pakistani. We went to the Mahalakshmi Temple in East Ham, and had a very satisfying Special Archana done for Lasya. Fortunatey, there was a large group of people attending a 'Homam' at the Temple, and so, it was like a scene straight out of one of the temples in Mylapore !

I am not a very devotional person actually. I consider myself more spiritual than religious.But I simply love the rituals, the smells and the overall ambience in a typical South Indian temple.To our delight, our apprehensions about how Lasya will cope with the incense smell, the loud strains of temple music (Nadaswaram and the percussion instruments), and the hustle and bustle, proved to be entirely unfounded.Probably its the genetic imprint in her, or probably she is just a sweet tempered child, but Lasya thoroughly enjoyed the sounds and the smells. Resplendent in her traditional-style Kanchi silk dress, she was moving her head rhythmically to the music, and doing the things kids do to attract the attention of strangers.

After some time, Prabhakar and Mamta, an Indian couple we met in Reading a few months back, joined us at the temple. We all finished the Archana and just sat around in a semi circle, eating the temple laddu and talking about how this temple is so much like the ones back home. I got up to look at the Notice Board and found an email printout from an immigration lawyer in Australia, stuck on it. Apparently, there are around 5000 Indian and Pakistani doctors in UK, who are jobless and survive by doing jobs such as grocery store clerks, waiters at Indian restaurants, taxi drivers and fuel attendants at Petrol stations. They have been lured to UK with the promise of a job in the UK health service system. But its a small country and it has all the Asian doctors it can pay for. In fact, both my uncle and aunt are doctors who came here some 10-12 years back. They tell me that many young doctors from India come with high hopes to UK only to realise that they have been misinformed. They can't go back to India because they have already raised huge loans to come here. So, they end up doing odd jobs so that they can survive and some how land a proper doctor's job.

Many such doctors live in and around East Ham. And the Hindu Temples in the area (apart from this Mahalakshmi temple, there is a Murugan temple in the neighbourhood) offer them free food on most days.

The Australian Immigration lawyer has read about the plight of these doctors and how the temples are doing their best to care for them, in a newspaper.And he has sent an email to the Temple web site, offering assistance to any of these doctors who wish to emigrate to Australia.His mail says that there is a scarcity of qualified doctors in Australia.

After reading this article, a thought struck me. Many countries need IT resources and the Indian IT companies provide the same.Also, these days, people from many countries visit India for cheap and world class medical services. So, why can't we have some companies in India offer to set up hospitals in Australia and other such countries, staff the hospitals with these Indian doctors and provide world class services? It would be slightly more expensive than coming to India for treatment, but it would still be a lot cheaper than what it costs now in those countries.Also, people need not wait for months in long waiting lists for some thing as simple as a hip replacement or a cataract operation. It would also alleviate the plight of these Indian doctors in UK, US etc. A WIN-WIN-WIN solution, right?

I broke off from my thoughts when the others came and stood next to me to see what I was reading on the Notice Board. My wife found the pamphlet for a Bharata Natyam programme next month at the temple. Good ! one more reason to come here..we thought.

We came out of the temple, walked for a minute or so, and found what we were told to look for - Saravan Bhavan. I remember some weeks I spent in Chennai in April 1999. I had just joined TCS and was attending a training program for technical writers. TCS put me up in a Hotel in T.Nagar and there was a Saravana Bhavan near by, where we used to have dinner regularly. I also remember the Saravana Bhavan some where near Devaki Hospital, that I had been to a few times. My wife is from Bangalore and she knows only the Woodlands chain of restaurants. So, I had to reassure her that Saravana is also a similar type of restaurant, and the quality of the food is guaranteed to leave you happy, if not delighted. Also, we are in UK, the land of the Tandoori Takeaways and Hot Chicken and Mutton Curries. We are lucky to be in an area that can boast of a few south indian veggied joints, I added.My wife is the kind who longs for Chaat foods like Paani Puri and Bhel Puri in an Udipi restaurant and for an authentic Masala Dosa in a Punjabi Dhaba. You get the picture, right?

Anyway, our tummies were rumbling and we sauntered into the restaurant.My aunt is much better at planning and so, she had earlier called up the place and booked a table for us. Cool !

We took our time with the menu and ordered food that one can expect at any street corner hotel in Andhra, Karnataka. Tamil Nadu and Bombay. Idli-Vada Sambar, Masala Dosa, Puri Bhaji, Mirchi Bajji and so on.Considering that its been more than 8 months since we had such authentic and quite ordinary dishes, it was no surprise that we all ate the stuff quite fast and ordered more dishes. Okay, we do make Idli, Vada and Dosa at home, but they are different in size, texture and taste from what you get at these restaurants, right?

After a leisurely meal, it was time to say Good Bye, thanks for coming etc. to my uncle and his family. Thanks to them, we felt like we were in India for a few hours.

And then, the rest of us (Prabhakar and his wife, and we three) decided to go to London Tower Bridge and if possible, West Minister Pier. Luckily, we got the train connections quite fast again. It was a windy day in London but not very cold. The Tower Bridge area was as usual full of tourists. I regaled the others with some stories about of my favorites is the one about the nursery rhyme - 'London Bridge is falling down'.

At West Minister Pier, we had a brief debate about the best angle to take a snap of Big Ben.Finally, we took some snaps from all the angles except from the water (I had done that on a previous trip), and compared notes. Meanwhile, Lasya had a nice nap for about 30 minutes.

It was 5.30 PM by the time we made it back to Paddington station. Again, there was a fast train to Reading waiting on the Platform. We stopped by Prabhakar's house on the way back, gave them some slices of the Birthday cake, and then finally reached, home, happy home !

As I look back at the day, I am so thankful to the London Tube rail for making it such a comfortable day. Serious, I am not joking ! They held all the aces and they delivered on the most important day in the year for my small family. And of course to the East Ham temple authorities and the cooks at Saravana Bhavan, and the bakers at Marks and Spencers for a wonderful birthday cake. The images have been captured for posterity anyway. Now, Lasya can read this account of the day, when she grows up. And I hope she feels that though it was not very grand, her parents made sure that she had a special day out, with family and friends !!


Anonymous said…
Eastham is predominatly Ceylon Tamil, not South Indian.
Kumar Narasimha said…
'Ceylon' :-) Haven't heard that word in ages, really. These days, every one says 'Sri Lanka' don't they?

Ok..I guess I have seen lots of Tamils there, but never kinda separated them as Indian Tamils and Ceylonese Tamils.
Neetu said…
hi there,
I stumbled on ur blog today. Can u pls tell me the address of this temple.I stay in london so wudnt be a problem to go there.
Kumar Narasimha said…

You need to take the tube to East Hamnderground station (District Line towards Upminster). Come out of the station, turn right and walk for 5-6 min. You will find the Mahalakshmi Temple on your right.

Hope this helps.

Harishankar said…
3 years later, when your daugther is 3 years old and while I go through this mail a question poped up! Have you been to the temple after her first birthday? Any changes that you noticed, worth mentioning in this blog?
Kumar Narasimha said…

Thanks for dropping by.Lasya is now 4 years old.We moved back to India 2 years ago.I did visit London a few times after that, but did not go to East Ham.Am curious..why are you asking about changes to the temple? Are there any? I hope the temple stays as it is :)
Prabhakaran said…
Dear Narasimha

I appreciate for not differenciating EELAM Tamil and Indian Tamil.

Me, Prabhakaran in Houstan US now 2009 May.

Planning to go UK in future in HSMP as a C++ resource.

I was there in Bangalore for 8 yrs and originally from Madurai.

Thanks Narasimha, Your Blog was very helpful for me about East Ham.

I am planning to stay in East Ham. I am dong the ground work now.

Very interesting, BLOG.

I wish everyone to go through this.

Prabhakaran, MCA.,MBA.,MS
Consultant - C++/Unix(Telecom/Banking) JPMC Houstan
Kumar Narasimha said…

I am sure you will enjoy staying in either Eastham or Wembley side.

All the best !

Vish said…

Just to let you all know, a new site has been launched for Sri Mahalakshmi Temple London - recently. It is in the test run phase. Hope you will get latest updates thro' the site

Finla said…
We are visiting London for 4 days, and as i was looking for indian areas otherthan S. Hall and toothing which i have been many times and wanted to go to another area. Thankyou for the info especially Sarvana Bhavan, :-)