An Indian Summer in Leicester

Having started in August and running until the end of October, An Indian Summer is a vibrant festival celebrating South Asian culture in the heart of Leicester city over three months: from applauding the arts with Belgrave Road’s first street art mural painted by Mono, to a special open screening of the Bollywood movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) in Leicester city centre. Add to this the explosive theatre production Pink Sari Revolution and the open theatre play celebrating Diwali, The Story of Light, An Indian Summer is an event packed with brilliant events.

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In addition to the plentiful events they have running the festival’s organisers have complied a special web series which examines the 400 years of India and Britain’s unique relationship and explores how interactions between the two countries significantly shaped the world we know today in a multidimensional way.

This festival of Indian culture, food, art and its varied people celebrates, educates and endorses British and South Asian heritages. The festival creatively fashions an imaginative and artistic space for all generations to explore what it means to be British Asian in contemporary Britain. Whilst the festival carries an obvious appeal to the largely British Asian demographic it also invites people from all communities and backgrounds to engage with and discover all that An Indian Summer has to offer.

The festival officially opened on Sunday 13 August on a blazing hot summers afternoon where extravagantly decorated rickshaws cycled through Leicester by flamboyantly dressed volunteers. Dazzling the crowds in their spectacular costumes 70 rickshaws rode from De Montfort University Campus through Leicester city centre offering free rides to members of the public enchanted by the ornamented rickshaws. Many of the volunteers riding the rickshaws were adorned in hues of gold, red, royal blue and peacock green in their strikingly beautiful costumes, whilst other volunteers opted for a more summer friendly attire, Indian summer logoed t-shirts accompanied with summer shorts – a wise choice given the heat.

The day was nothing short of an Indian summer: rising temperatures, rickshaws and sunshine accompanied the groups of families and excited children. Elders of the community could be heard reminiscing their youth in India and Pakistan, whilst others could be heard recalling their Partition stories. The event was a success and an imaginative way to mark 70 years of Partition and Independence; everyone in attendance from the volunteers and organisers to the general public taking part relished in the festivities, eagerly taking it in turn to sit in a rickshaw, many of whom may never have done so before.

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As I watched the rickshaws ride away in the summer sun with happy families, I could not help but cast my mind to the cruel and harsh realities of Partition which violently displaced millions of people, to witnessing a new generation of British Asians as part of that history, enjoying their freedom. Those thoughts became difficult to evade.

With this in mind, and speaking to Sameer Butt from the widely viewed BBC One documentary, presented by Anita Rani on BBC 1, ‘My Family, Partition and Me’, it feels important to share voices of those directly impacted by Partition. Here, as Sameer put it in his interview with me are the experiences of one such person:

I was lucky enough to be a part of the team that produced the hard hitting and emotional BBC1 documentary ‘My Family, Partition and Me’ The idea behind this project was to explore what happened to the people who lived through the tragic events that led up to, and followed on from, the partition of India; and to what then went on to become east and west Pakistan in.

Sameer Butt as seen in the BBC1 documentary

Having spoken to many people who lived through partition, learning of the horrors they witnessed, the loss they felt and the sense of uncertainty they went through on a daily basis, makes me sad to think that so many people had to go through this in order to feel safe, to feel free and to have a sense of belonging.

Millions of people left their possessions, their jobs, their houses, their neighbours and their families…their lives. For what? For freedom.
Despite knowing how important this was to those people, I can’t help but think, was the cost too high? Why did so many lives have to be pulled apart, broken down in one place to then be reassembled somewhere else? Somewhere new…
When I dare to imagine myself in that position, the feeling scares me, to the point where I think I may have given up. Nevertheless, so many people who journeyed with their family and friends (some alone ), whilst walking directly on the path of danger and uncertainty, survived. 

Sameer Butt

When celebrating our freedom one must always remember the cost at which this came. It is crucial to remember our collective pasts and the struggles our ancestors endured so that we could join in the celebrations of 70 years of independence, as superbly celebrated by An Indian Summer. This I felt, was important to share.

An Indian Summer is a festival that does not disappoint. It brings to you an eclectic mixture of events ensuring that there is something for everyone. You do not have to be of South Asian origin to take part and if you do, you will be sure to take away with you some pleasant memories of An Indian Summer.

This is a great festival all round and we look forward to seeing what Festival Director Jiten Anand will bring us over the following weeks as the festival continues to run, and of course there is always next year.

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Photographs for Diwali, open screening and Mono’s mural are courtesy of Parth Trivedi who is studying a MSc in Advanced Engineering and Management at Sheffield Hallam University.

If you attended the event then please complete the feedback form for An Indian Summer here and tell them what you want to see next year!

Special web series: 400 years of Britain and India: Episodes 1- 4