The city of London would have been so empty without its tourists on Sundays. No Londoner would travel to the city centre for a meal or shopping on weekends. A lot of restaurants would remain shut on Sundays for long time until tourism regained its fluency and more people came to fill the spaces, including Indian holidaymakers who would like to have a traditional meal at least once a day after tiring travel schedules and eating boring sandwiches.
Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean lady, was at the door this Sunday before we opened for business. Harish kindly let her in and had his usual table talk on tourist locations in London. We come across people from various parts of the world on a daily basis yet never really know what draws them to London other than famous monuments.
Harish had a fascinating chat with this lady about Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park. Petina requested for chicken samosa and fried fish to take with her, as biryani meal box was not available in the weekend. She was on her way to the park to enjoy another experience of Speakers’ Corner and kept on narrating her experience of this popular Sunday destination.
Speakers’ Corner is one of my favourite places in London. People can exercise their freedom of speech here and you can experience the tolerance and eccentricity of the British who come to enjoy their act. People show up on both sides of the pathway assigned for a relaxed show where speakers stand on small ladders or stools and talk about any subject of their choice. Spectators could involve in a debate or just enjoy the speaker’s point of view. Mostly it’s funny and informative to some extent.
Harish, who was at the park, listened to a Christian evangelist preaching about hell and brimstone. There was a guy from a socialist organisation talking as though the Berlin Wall was still to fall, and a group of students were protesting against child labour. Harish, during his late lunch, overheard a Pakistani gentleman in the middle of a cheering crowd, debating hilariously on food, comparing sparkling flavours of Asian food as opposed to bland taste of the West.
Back at the restaurant, Harish talked more to his customers about Speakers’ Corner and the speech on food. Essentially you don’t hear many people talk about this fabulous Sunday activity in London. In the past, even local residents made special trips to Hyde Park corner to enjoy it.
Tourism here is a structured business model for making money. People are charged heavily everywhere they visit. So, travellers spend less on meals and sometimes even complain about food prices, while they pay big money at museums, theatre and sight-seeing from hop-on-hop-off buses around London’s historical places.
Speakers’ Corner, besides being a free entertainment place, showcases the great taste of British culture along with beautiful parks and long walkways around narrow streets like Soho. Harish wants to promote it with our customers so that they can spend more money on fresh food rather than cheap burgers. Harish says, “At the enduring appeal of Hyde Park, I want to have a talk on our food next time!”
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants