A few days ago, a sociologist interviewed me as part of her research into the culture of Southall. She expressed surprise that I should refer to people as Sikhs and Christians, Muslims and Hindus. I was surprised that she was surprised. But she knew Southall in the 70s and 80s, when it was a hotbed of secular social activism. Religion, she explained, was not a defining feature of people’s lives at that time.
Today in Southall you can hardly move for gurdwaras and churches, mosques and mandirs; you can’t help but notice when it’s Vaisakhi or Christmas, Eid or Diwali. In the thirty months I’ve lived here, I’ve met people with all sorts of different beliefs but none who’d call themselves an atheist. As one of the local vicars puts it, Southall is very spiritually busy!