Bombay nights: London's young Asian community is learning to let its hair down. Dolly Dhingra samples two clubs capturing the Eastern imagination

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The Independent Culture
Bombay Jungle is Asian night at the Wag Club every Tuesday. Its popularity can be measured by the number of people turned away. Two dance-floors are covered, wall to wall, with Indian groovers strutting their stuff to the sounds of ragga, hip hop, rare groove, bhangra and a dhol drummer.

Trendy fashion labels including Gap, Benetton and Joe Bloggs are prominent. Apart from ethnic accessories there's not a single person in national dress.

As with most Asian social scenes, the men still outnumber the women and dominate the dance-floor but the females don't let this deter them. As Anjana Patel puts it, 'It used to be that a group of girls could never go out to raves or bhangra without taking a man or a chaperone for protection. At the Wag people come to dance and have a good time, so there's little threat of being harassed by drunken middle-aged men. I'm here tonight with five females and we're having a great time.'

The absence of parents, relatives and older members of the community adds an element of spice that most other Asian social events lack. Women are not inhibited and wear figure-hugging clothes. Couples don't restrain from physical contact and both sexes smoke and drink freely. Rajan Mistry says, 'For once Asians can conduct themselves with other Asians in a way they would never dream of doing in front of their parents. Coming to the Wag reassures me that I'm not the only one suffering from a cultural identity crisis.'

Sanjay Bhatt, another clubber, explains, 'In some ways only determined people would drag themselves to the heart of London mid-week to dance into the small hours of the morning. I guess promoters need to know that there's a market for Asian nights before they start up at the weekend.'

Krystals Night Club, at the heart of the Asian community in East London, has more conventional opening hours. Set up seven months ago by a manager known simply as Paul, it attracts a local family crowd to its weekend nights of ghazals, masala music and bhangra / rave. The chic night-spot has recently opened an Indian restaurant upstairs to provide a total evening's entertainment. Friday nights are dedicated to Indian 'masala movie' film songs, Saturday nights to the dance crowd, while Sunday afternoon sees a sedate, more mature gathering who gently applaud and nod to the Urdu-inspired ghazal poetry.

Paul realises that the Asian community is in desperate need of a social life. Weddings and other religious occasions are still largely the only events where they can gather to meet the rest of the community and tend to include only members of the same religion or caste. Krystals hopes to bring together Asians from all backgrounds to let their hair down. The club plans to expand its repertoire to include some daytime raves in the hope of attracting those who have difficulty gaining permission from their parents to go out at night.

Bombay Jungle is at the Wag Club, 35 Wardour St, London, W1 10.30pm-3am (071-437 5534)

Krystals Night Spot, 169-175 Romford Road, Stratford, E15 (081-519 1222)

(Photograph omitted)

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