How favourite Leeds Indian restaurant Hansa's taught about religion with a thali

Hinduism is said to be the third biggest religion in the world and possibly the oldest.

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 2nd December 2019, 9:22 am

In Leeds, the practice started a little later but proved to be a lifeline for many young people fleeing atrocities overseas.

It is listed as the fourth most popular religion in Leeds, but Emma Ryan finds out why the Hindu movement is as tight-knit as ever.

Alone

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Kishor Dabhi

Kishor Dhabi arrived in Leeds in 1967 on his own at the age of 16. Kenya, where he was from, had become independent of the United Kingdom, then became a republic and was “volatile” and “uncertain”.

While many other Indians arriving in Britain for a new and safer life headed for Leicester, London and Birmingham, Kishor came to Leeds as he already had relatives here.

However, the story he tells of Leeds in the late 60s, when it comes to acceptance, is different to the one he sees now.

“It was safer to come to a place where you knew somebody,” he says. “I had very little money and the best option at 16 was to look for an apprenticeship so I became an apprentice engineer.”

Kishor and his wife Hansa at a party at the restaurant to celebrate 30 years of business in Leeds.

It was the second time in as many generations that Kishor and his family had found themselves leaving home to start a new life.

During the construction of railways in Kenya, the majority of the skilled workforce was from India and many decided to stay put and start their own families there. Kishor’s father was one and here, he as a teenager, was repeating the pattern.

Anti-immigration

“It began when we all started coming to Britain. There was lots of anti-Asian and anti-immigration feeling. It did feel unsafe but, at 16, you got on with whatever you needed to do and kept yourself out of harm’s way.”

One of the main ways to do this was the Hindu temple which was at 36 Alexandra Road. Kishor says the new arrivals to Britain from the east flocked there for comfort, solace and comradeship as well as religion.

To this day, Kishor and now his own family, practice at Alexandra Road which serves the communities of LS6.

He recalls: “In those days because we were all new and we had the temple, that seemed to be the place for everybody to come to. Now we get immigrants to IT workers and that is the place that everybody meets.

“Leeds - I would not want to live anywhere else. We have had lots of support from Yorkshire all through our lives. Whenever there was one person who was shouting at you - there were other people there to support us and telling us to ignore it. As a result of that we never felt threatened in any way and I was at home.”

Diwali

When me meet Kishor, it is the day after Diwali - one of the most popular events in the Hindu calendar which is based upon the idea that light wins over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. 1200 people had been at Alexandra Road that night taking part in the events.

The festival continues over a period of days and features fireworks, the lighting of candles at home, fireworks and family feasts.

He says: “It is very similar to Christmas. We have had a house full of guests, friends and family. We come together to greet each other and wish everybody a happy new year.”

After our meeting Kishor and his family were heading back to the temple to carry on with the celebrations.

Hansa's Restaurant

However, it was the first time in more than 30 years that Kishor and his wife Hansa, who arrived in Britain from Uganda in 1972 under similar circumstances to himself, were able to celebrate in style due to having run a popular restaurant, Hansa’s, in the city centre for 30 years.

However, they developed their own way to educate customers about Hindu traditions and customs but in turn were open to learning themselves about the heritage of their customers.

He said: “We used to have a Diwali Thali and try to celebrate at the restaurant. A lot of Indian people and English customers would partake in a Diwali Thali. We would pass on the message of Diwali to them as well as our customers.

“We would do a Christmas menu and Valentine’s and make the place look the part. I feel very proud to be part of the community. It does not matter which community you come from, we learned about Christmas, EID and exchanged ideas. It was educational for us all.

“Every culture has a lot to offer each other. There is good in every culture. If good will prevail, society will be easier and bearable to live with. It is when evil forces take over there is more chaos in the country and the world.”