Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Jewish East End

Brother Anthony writes (somewhere below, I don't know how this linking shinking works, not all desi brothers are computer geniuses) about the erstwhile Jewish, and now Muslim, East End.

Amar lived in the East End once. It was a time of poverty and fear for him, but he loved and was loved, so there was hope too. Anyway, he does not bore you with his pathetic life, but shares an anecdote or two about the East End.

The Brick Lane is world famous now, both for the plentiful bad curries catering to undiscerning european palates (and making Deshi brothers prosperous in the process, so that's all right then), and also as a street sharing name with and being chronicled in a most successful novel of award winning proportions which Amar hasn't actually read.

Anyway, Brick Lane has interesting history. The city of London was almost completely burned down in a fire in 1666. When it was rebuilt, many many bricks were needed. The brick-making factories that supplied these stood here in the east-end, and that is how the lane got its name. Later, there came refugees and immigrants. French Huguenots (Protestants) escapting Catholic persecution, and then in the 19th century, Jews, escaping persecution from both Catholics and Protestants, and then sometime in the second half of the 20th century wandered into this mess a brother from Sylhet, who had a look around, and decided what this dump needs is a curry house.

There is not much left today in Brick Lane to remind anyone that this was once the "Jewish East End". There used to be a synagogue (which used to be a Huguenot church, and also a Methodist one), but it's now become a mosque. It's a long long street, and most people concentrate on the south side, where all the curry houses are. But if you were to wander up to its northern tip, you will find two "beigel" (bagel) shops on your left. One claims to be "the oldest beigel shop in England", having been there since 1858 or some similar number, when this would really have been a very different place, and arriving Ashkenazis would have brought along the beigels and other culinary favorites of the lands they left behind.

Amar loves food, and he loves history, (and also, he is broke, and the beigel shop is very cheap), so he likes to visit these shops often. But one day, between bites, he realises that times have changed, and that even these shops have begun to lose the connection with their Jewish past. He shakes his head sadly, and takes another contemplative bite of his crispy bacon beigel.