Nikesh Shukla on Harrow: ‘You’re thinking about that posh school on the hill. That ain’t Harrow’

The writer on seeing Bollywood films at the Safari cinema, the Fat Controller pub and how it still feels like home

What do you even know about Harrow? You’re thinking about that posh school on the hill where they wear those boating hats. That ain’t Harrow. Harrow is more than the hill. Harrow is Queensbury, Kenton, Wealdstone, North, South, West, even Pinner. Harrow is the short-lived hall on the first floor of St George’s shopping centre, the one with all the arcade machines and pool tables. The one that got shut down because of all the dealing. Harrow is the car park where I got into that fight with the kid who kept calling me Dickesh.

Harrow is Calamity Comics, where the only money I was allowed to spend was on Archie comics, because it was the common reading denominator of my entire family.

So we stood by the shelves, reading Spider-Man and Batman and Daredevil and X-Men. We paid for first issues and special edition foil covers because that was how we thought we’d make our fortunes. No such luck.

Harrow is Safari cinema – the first cinema we knew about that showed only Bollywood films. Instead of popcorn it sold chilli and lemon sweetcorn. I saw all the classics there: DDLJ, K3G, Hum.

Nikesh Shukla.
Nikesh Shukla. Photograph: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

It’s Naked Records, where I bought that Brandy 12-inch, even though all my friends were into gangsta rap.

As I got older, Harrow didn’t change but my geography did. Suddenly I was at the back of the Fat Controller pub, buying Jack Daniel’s and cokes for my under-age cousin, and I got my own record player so I hit up Jamming With Edward for old Public Enemy 12-inches.

And then me and my mates discovered Costa Coffee, because it was the mid to late 90s and we all obsessed over Friends, so sitting in coffee shops smoking, drinking cappuccinos, talking about movies was the height of sophistication.

I even wrote in that coffee shop. Bad poetry, sitcom scripts about a group of Asian best friends sitting in coffee shops, drinking cappuccinos, talking about movies. No smoking. Because what would our parents say?

The arcades weren’t there any more, but we still went to the cinema all the time and knew the best way to sneak into multiple viewings on the same ticket.

And when the Virgin Megastore got replaced by a Monsoon, and I was buying all my music online anyway, it still felt like home.

And even after moving to Brixton, then Finsbury Park, then Bristol, I knew there was that one small shop that sold thepla and masala chai, that I could go in, and get a snack, and write, and feel like I never left.

• Nikesh Shukla’s Run, Riot is published by Hodder Children’s. To order a copy for £6.79 (RRP £7.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Nikesh Shukla

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