Little India through an insider’s eyes

  • Community
  • Thursday, 16 Jul 2015

Labour of love: (From left) Himanshu and researchers Leonard, Rajasekaran and Praveena showing the book at City Hall.

WRITER Himanshu Bhatt knows Little India in George Town, Penang, like the back of his hand.

He grew up in the commercial enclave where his grandfather H.H. Bhatt used to own a business.

His grandfather’s business in Penang Street involved the export and import of spices and commodities. The late Bhatt was also the co-founder of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

“My grandfather ran his business downstairs while we lived upstairs.

“Little India holds a special spot in my heart. My roots are here,” said Himanshu, who moved out of Little India in the 1990s and now lives in suburban Batu Lancang.

He is today the proud author of a 360-page book titled ‘Little India of George Town’.

Himanshu, 47, said he took up the challenge when George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) public relations manager Jack Ong approached him to come up with a book in the middle of last year.

It took him five months to complete the book that documents the traditional trades, eateries, building architecture, streetscape, culture, festivals and other elements of the community in the enclave.

He credited his team of researchers Leonard Selva, Rajasekaran Rajamoorthy and Praveena Balakrishnan, and photographers Foo Yong Yang and George Cheah for helping to turn his dream into reality.

“This book documents the traditional trades which are still existing,” Himanshu said after the book was launched by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and GTWHI general manager Lim Chooi Ping at the closing ceremony of George Town’s heritage celebration at City Hall recently.

“The tradesmen have been there for years, some way back before the Second World War.”

He said it was a worthwhile experience talking to some 40 business operators, some of whom had inherited the businesses from their ancestors.

“It is great to see some of the textile traders modernising their business activities. Some of the grocers have even equipped their outlets with air-conditioning.

“The challenge for these operators is to find ways to make the traditional trades attractive to the modern market.

“This is one way to sustain the heritage in this enclave,” Himanshu said.

Ong said the book presented a most comprehensive account of Little India.

“There are many other books about this commercial enclave but they are more about telling stories about the past. This book captures the present very well.

“After all, he used to live here and he managed to capture the very minute details about this place and its people. The pictorial documentation is fantastic,” Ong said.

Himanshu said GTWHI would also release a brochure on Little India highlighting its interesting spots.

He said the GTWHI had yet to fix the price for the book but the public could order it by calling GTWHI at 04-2616606.

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