South Asia in London
London has large numbers of residents from South Asia, and an enormous range of South Asian events happening throughout the year — in the arts and the media, in museums and galleries, in concert halls and on lecture platforms. Among the most active centres for these events, all with close connections to the Department and to SOAS generally, are the following:
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (4a Castletown Road, London W14 9HQ; 020-7381 3086; www.bhavan.net). A major venue for the Indian performance arts, the Bhavan runs highly-rated diploma courses in music, dance and languages. Its director, Dr M.N. Nandakumara, is an alumnus of the South Asia Department.
The British Library (96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB; 020-7412 7000; www.bl.uk). The Oriental and India Office Collection within the British Library is one of the world’s most important sources of research materials for South Asianists. While its most heavily-used materials relate to the ‘English-medium’ history of the British Raj, it also has impressively rich holdings of manuscripts and printed texts in South Asian Languages.
The British Museum (Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG; 020-7323 8000; www.britishmuseum.org/). The South Asia collection of the British Museum, virtually on the doorstep of SOAS, is among the world’s finest; many of its exhbits, such as the newly-displayed Amaravati collection (sculpture from a 2000-year old Buddhist stupa from the Deccan) are worth repeated visits in their own right.
The Nehru Centre (8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF; 020-7491 3567; www.nehrucentre.org.uk). This is the cultural wing of the High Commission of India, and has a regular programme of lectures, discussions, dance and drama performances, readings, concerts, book launches, exhibitions and other events. Programmes for the current month are available online and are also displayed in the Department.
The Victoria and Albert Museum (Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL; 020-7942 2000; www.vam.ac.uk). The India Department of the V&A makes a major contribution to research in the arts of the subcontinent. A proportion of its huge collection of South Asian artifacts is on display in the public galleries (especially the superb Nehru Gallery of Indian Art, 1550-1900), located on the ground floor of the museum. The SOAS South Asia Department arranges visits to the V&A’s further holdings, which are not accessible to the general public.
And not forgetting:
Southall. This suburb in the west of London, most easily accessible by train from Paddington, is a miniature South Asia. Thanks to its large Indian/Pakistani (mostly Punjabi) population, it’s the ideal location for finding Indian food, markets, books, music and musical instruments, and plentiful opportunity to practise speaking Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and other languages. Other areas of London with strong South Asian connections are Wembley, home to a large Gujarati community, and Brick Lane, where even the street names are in Bengali.