Little India is a place in Singapore which, as the name suggests, is a little version of India. It started off as the traditional ethnic neighborhood for the Indians during Singapore’s early days.
Coming here feels like I have travelled 10 years back into the past to a Singapore I’m not used to. Little India tends to attract the typical Indian crowd and many tourists from the West. Smartphones were a rare sight, along with typical fast-food restaurants or cafés, Little India was virtually untouched by globalisation at face-value.
I’ve been to Little India quite a few times in the past. Back then I was rather disinterested and I paid little attention to the things around me. However I came with an open heart this time, eager to learn about Singapore’s fascinating heritage, and I noticed things that I didn’t before.
We first took a trip down to Tekka Centre - a hawker centre made up of mostly delicious Indian food which we managed to get a taste of. We loved the taste of spice, and the fragrance that filled our noses as we walked in.
Literally on top of all that great food is a floor dedicated to the tailoring and sale of traditional Indian ethnic clothing. The bright, vibrant colours featured by all of the clothing being sold there definitely managed to get my attention and pique my curiosity.
I started asking a lot of questions about this place, there was something different about this atmosphere - it was very different from our trip down to Chinatown. The streets of Little India gave off an unspeakable vibe with it’s traditional shop-houses stretching down the streets.
There were hardly any grand, out-of-place stalls from this Indian heritage. It was nothing but raw and genuine Indian tradition. It was past 9 but none of the spirit has went to bed, Little India was wide awake.
We took the chance to interview a German tourist outside of Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple situated in the middle of Little India. Which seems to be attracting quite a lot of attention from both the local and foreign crowd.
When asked about how well he thinks Little India has preserved her heritage, we found out that the last time he was here was 35 years ago, to give everyone a little bit of perspective, that’s around 1979, the very early days of Singapore’s independence.
It surprised him that Little India looked quite similar to how he remembered it from 35 years back. To quote, “the ghost of Little India” still seems to be around. He then went on to mention, Singapore is indeed a very modern city - but Little India retains most of it’s heritage and old structures that cannot be found anywhere else.
The ethnic Indian food here was really enjoyable for him as he mentioned to us that majority of Europe has had most of it’s traditional food replaced by fast food restaurants.
There were a lot of people everywhere in Little India. The Indians really enjoy visiting this area and hanging out with their friends and family after a long day at work.
To better understand what we were taking in so far, we approached a worker who was sitting around at a food centre somewhere at the corner of Little India. He enthusiastically shared with us bits and pieces of Little India with patience - despite the language barrier.
When asked about what Little India was like for him, he told us that it’s just a gigantic gathering spot for most Indian workers and even families. On the second Sunday of every month, he mentions that all Indians, especially Tamils, will come and gather around here, breathing in a sense of homeliness - making him feel right at home.
When asked about the noticeable difference between Little India and Tamil Nadu, he noted that food was a lot more fresh in Tamil Nadu, especially when it comes to the ingredients and spices used in the dishes. Since knowing that most of these ingredients in Singapore are air-flown, he doesn’t really mind as they still taste fairly good.
On top of that, he also mentioned that “Singapore products” tend to make a statement amongst the crowd back at home. Owning what is known as a “Singapore product” will make them really happy - as it holds an impression of a higher quality, technologically advanced product compared to it’s Indian counterpart.
Before we left, we asked him if he likes Little India, he smiled and raised up his thumb, saying, “It’s very good.”
We all agreed at the end of the day that what makes Little India so unique is the heritage it preserves - the colours, the cultural value demonstrates that it truly is, one of the very rare heritages that hasn’t had it’s culture visibly eroded by globalization.
The people. The food. The shop-houses. The culture. The atmosphere. The heritage.
Many people including myself are keen on exploring the world. But before that, why not start by exploring home?