National Geographic : 2012 Aug
Noon was approaching. e street outside was packed with young people trolling the Broadway Market---which once sold utility-grade cabbag- es, onions, and potatoes---for organic gluten-free banana-walnut cake, pedigreed Devon beef, and tru ed olive oil. ere was music in the air, and the smell of fresh-baked artisanal bread. There were only five customers in the shop eating pie and mash. you may hear more than 200 di erent languages---Bengali, Gujarati, Urdu, Tamil, Swahili, Latvian, among others. Immi- gration makes itself heard as well as seen, but there are sounds no longer heard---like Yiddish, Brick Lane's lingua franca at the turn of the 20th century. For the same reasons white working- class Cockneys moved east to places in Essex, East London Jews moved north to suburbs like Golders Green and High Barnet. It was about aspiration: about moving up and out. Until the 1950s Brick Lane was a Jewish high street. Now practically the only trace of its former life is two bagel bakeries. "That's my Jewish East End," said Mildred Levison, showing me the apartment off Brick Lane where she grew up during the Second World War. ("I'm sure the vermin are still there. In London you are never very far away from a rat.") We walked to Spital elds Market, a bomb shelter during the blitz, now gentri ed to within an inch of its life with boutiques and bistros. Levison, 72, retired from a career in public hous- ing, lives in North London now. She recalled the six pence it cost for the public baths and playing in bombed-out rubble ("Brick Lane feels di erent but strangely the same, because my grandparents were immigrants"), as well as the warmth of com- munity and family. "None of it is here anymore." She paused, then touched her heart. "But it's here." It's still here, just in a di erent guise. East Lon- don remains a continuum of arrivals and depar- tures, appearances and disappearances, a human march, sometimes, of simply getting on with it. Generations had landed with little or nothing and built a business, a family, a life. If poverty had retained its stubborn grip, one would do well to remember, says Alveena Malik, director of UpRising, a program to train young leaders in East London, that "being economically deprived doesn't mean you are spiritually deprived." " in 1973 to continue my studies," Shahagir Bakth Faruk told me over dinner one night. "My uncle sponsored me, but there was no money, so I found a job as a shop assistant in an electronics shop in Brick Lane for £28 a week. I remember sitting in a park reading a letter from my brother. It had taken 17 days to arrive from home. My tears soaked the paper." In time he made a new life. He started a suc- cessful business. He ran twice for Parliament as the Conservative candidate from Bethnal Green and Bow. ("And lost twice. Bethnal Green has always been Labour," he said ruefully.) Faruk, now 64, became British. And another thing... "In Bangladesh, if a girl wants to marry outside the Muslim religion, there is a one in a million chance the parents will give their consent. It isn't done," he said. "But when my son came to me to say he want- ed to marry a girl whose mother is Christian and whose father is Hindu, I didn't give it a sec- ond thought. "Now, my younger son wears an earring; when a friend pointed it out, I said: 'So what?' " Just then, his cell phone rang. His married son was checking on him. " is city taught me an important lesson," Faruk said, putting down the phone. " e lesson it taught me was tolerance." j It remains a continuum of arrivals and departures, appearances and disappearances, a human march, sometimes, of simply getting on with it.