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Priya Ahluwalia Jalebi book Southall Punjabi community
Priya Ahluwalia: JalebiPhotography Laurence Ellis

Priya Ahluwalia’s new book celebrates the Punjabi diaspora of West London

Jalebi spotlights Southall and the vibrant community that calls it home

“I used to be so excited about eating some hot Jalebi and getting a Sweet Lassi, and I used to love trying on all the shiny shoes and bags in the shops that sell really specific Indian-style accessories. The food, the smells, the fashion… I guess it was the closest I got to India before I was actually able to visit,” explains Priya Ahluwalia, as she recounts memories of childhood trips to Southall. 

Located to the west of London’s sprawling centre, the area is home to a large community of Punjabi people, and holds a certain kind of nostalgic magic for the rising designer – which is why she’s centred her latest project around it. 

Following on from her first book, 2018’s Sweet Lassi, new publication Jalebi is a celebration of Southall and ‘the beautiful nuances of diversity it represents’. A flick through its pages – digitally, for now – and you’ll find not only photographs of the vibrant community that call it their home, but also snapshots of what life looks like for those living there. 

Captured by Laurence Ellis, in one, a small girl stands amid the glittering shelves of accessories Ahluwalia described seeing as a kid, while another shows one of the fabric and saree stores that line Southall’s streets. Dotted throughout are letters from her family, as well as poignant quotes and anecdotes from her ‘nana’ who Ahluwalia interviews on her experience living in the UK as an immigrant.

Jalebi, she explains, takes her ongoing exploration of her heritage and identity further, and took over a year to compile. It’s also a particularly significant project, given its connection to the formative years of her youth.

“When I got a bit older I started to go to Southall on my own a lot rather than with my whole family,” she says. “I started to notice all these different things about it that are totally unique to that place. A Punjabi community in say, Spain, would be completely different to this. We started the project just after Brexit happened, as well as the Windrush scandal, and I realised highlighting and championing such a diverse community was even more important.” 

Not content with just putting out a book and calling it a day, Ahluwalia and a team of digital designer specialists have also turned Jalebi into an interactive virtual exhibition, which launches as part of the first-ever digital edition of London Fashion Week. Kicking off today, visitors to the 3D rendered gallery will be able to walk through images from the book, which allows the designer to spread its message even further. 

“I’ve been able to create a space to show Jalebi in that I would have been able to in real life!” she confirms. “The use of 3D rendering opened up opportunities that would normally be completely over budget and actually just impossible. It’s also allowed us to create a space that can be viewed by countless people, rather than a select few. I like the idea that it has democratised the experience.”

Check out the gallery above, head here to explore the virtual Jalebi exhibition, and here to buy the book.