“This golden mile”, a photobook by Kavi Pujara, began life when Pujara started to photograph a neighbourhood around Leicester’s Golden Mile.
He had spent the previous three decades living in London but Leicester was his hometown and it was time to make a journey that would reconnect him with his past. He knew what he was doing when he took up his camera to record the community he hailed from:
This Golden Mile is not about the one-mile stretch of Melton Road that turns into Belgrave Road with its sari shops, Indian restaurants and jewellers.
It’s about the arteries and veins that come from it, giving life to the parts of the neighbourhood away from the central commercial thoroughfare. This Golden Mile exists in the poetry of homes, temples and street corners; it’s down the alleys and through the gaps in steel fencing leading to crumbling industrial plots. This Golden Mile is both an entry point and an ending, the last mile of a long journey to Britain.’
The un-photographed background to this project are the Brexit years and a referendum that became a means of expression for racist attitudes in the UK.
Pujara can recall his childhood when explicit acts of racism were a fact of life in places like Leicester. Migrants from South Asia forged a hybrid identity in Leicester, creating a bicultural world that is inseparable from the history of the British Empire. Pujara puts it well: “Communities like this are not an erosion of British values or its culture, but a vital artery in our intertwined and tangled colonial histories.”
Gujarat, a state on the western coast of India, was part of British India when Pujari’s grandfather left it in 1928 and boarded a boat in Bombay (Mumbai) to start a new life in British Kenya.
Then, in the late 1960s, post-independent Kenya introduced restrictions for Indians who had retained their British citizenship and his grandfather began a second migration, this time to Leicester.
It was not an arbitrary choice of destinations. South Asians had been moving to this part of England since the 1950s and twenty years later they were joined by Indians expelled from Uganda under Idi Amin.
The story of migration continues and one of the many lovely photographs in this book shows two young men who had only been in Leicester for a few months –good friends from their time together in Diu (an island off the coast of Gujarat), they hold hands in front of a building, leaning back on a rail behind which stands a supermarket trolley. Another memorable photograph shows a young girl, hair half-dyed in green, holding a peacock feather –an auspicious symbol often displayed during Deepavali– and a hand bag with a ‘Draw Skulls’ badge on it. Her face might best be described as rueful and “This Golden Mile” is full of pictures that in different ways bear eloquent testimony to the ‘tangled colonial histories’ of Britain and India.
“This golden mile” by Kavi Pujara is published by Setanta Books.
(Photos supplied by the publisher)