Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A walk on the ‘Curry Mile’

This is Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’.

You can eat around the world on Curry Mile, sampling everything from Indian to Pakistani to Lebanese to Turkish to Afghan cuisine. There are sights and smells of South-Asia and Middle-East and there is fun-fare like scene. Restaurants flashing bright neon lights, Indian and Pakistani women dressed in silk kurti and saree, Muslim men dressed in traditional Shrvani and Pathani outfits, British born Desis speaking broken Hindi and Punjabi, Chinese trying to learn English and selling pirated DVDs of Bollywood movies and amidst all these local British population trying to find their place in this mini-Asia in Manchester.

The ‘Curry Mile’ is a modern and dynamic place with traditional Asian values that celebrates its rich mixture of origins, cultures, religions, languages and customs. It is a place where most of South-Asia, Middle-East and now North Africa find comfort. This is Wilmslow Road in Manchester better known as the ‘Curry Mile’. Reports suggest that in the late 1950s and 60s, cafés on Wilmslow Road were the meeting place for huge number of men from the Asian subcontinent, who had been recruited to work in the textile mills and factories of Greater Manchester. But today, with the presence of huge number of students at the University of Manchester from across the world the face of the town has undergone a paradigm shift. BBC report suggests that it took only 15 years for Rusholme to become a non-Asian living area to Asian dominated locality.

Manchester’s journey from a textile trade centre to university hub has changed the demography of the town. The change resulted in not only mass exodus of local British families to other parts of the town, but lucrative business opportunities attracted Asian men to work at the textile mills in 1950s and 1960s and now international students flocking into the town. But many of the Indians and Pakistanis are from Uganda who were expelled from the country by Idi Amin and from Kenya now, holding British passport. Few Kashmiri Muslims who hesitate in spelling the word Azadi, but at the same time look at the brighter side of freedom enjoyed in UK and Gujarati Muslims from Bharuch and Surat in India. Gujarati Muslim females dressed in beautiful white, pink and sky blue burqas and men wearing white kurta and traditional Bohri-Islamic cap decorated in gold and silver thread.

From traditional shopping town offering English goods and textile products to Business owned by Asians to the recent inroads by supermarkets the Curry Miles appears to be undergoing another round of change. But with disappointed youth from various parts of Asia coming into Manchester, but Bollywood music and the food business keeps the spirit at Curry Mile alive. Bilal from Spice Kitchen a take-away owned by a Pakistani says, “At Curry Mile you feel at home. We have students from India and Pakistan coming to us as customer and they never give us a feeling that we are in the UK.” Whereas on the other hand Salman a student from Pakistan says, “UK is better from employment point of view as Pakistan is in turmoil and as the ‘Curry Mile’ gives you a feeling of a home away from home will stay here till situation gets better back home.” Salman is working part-time in a convenience store owned by Patel family from Gujarat in India.

Some knowledge of history of Britain’s international relations and little knowledge of South Asian and Middle Eastern language revels the issues discussed on the ‘Curry Mile’. From Bush to Obama to Osama to Kashmir to brilliant goal scored by Roony – everything is discussed over a cup of ‘chai’ – Indian tea and shisha with Bollywood music being played in the background.

But mouth watering smell of ‘chicken tikka’ and ‘chaat’ is tempting enough to take you away from some of the serious issues. David from Wembly says, “I have grown up eating Gujarati food and Indian ‘chaat’. I am visiting my friend here in Manchester and when I learnt that there is an Indian ‘chaat’ house I just popped in to taste some and now I have got used to with the spicy food from India.”

Giles Burnett in his report suggests that until 1960s, Rusholme was an ordinary suburban shopping district occupying an obscure niche in the lower rungs of Greater Manchester’s retail hierarchy. Most shops occupied the ground floor of the late nineteenth-century building linings, but through an evolutionary process most shops have been converted into famous restaurants majority of them owned by Indians and Pakistanis.

A wander down Wilmslow Road reveals a bustling area filled with take-aways, grocers, boutiques and various other shops catering to Asian, Arabic and white clientele amongst others. But this patch of Manchester is different from rest of ‘White’ Manchester. A whole range of newly quarters have being promoted: Chia Town, the Gay Village, Salford Quays, Sport City etc. The Curry Mile though a stone’s throw away, has escaped the influence of British culture and has made space for Asian culture. Even the bus drivers running along the ‘Curry Mile’ are from different parts of Asia who speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu with fluent English to deal with local British population and greets in Arabic with passengers from Middle East.

A second wave of change has come to ‘Curry Mile’ with supermarkets and influx of Arabs from North Iraq better known as Kurdishtan running call-on-taxi services. But the ‘Curry Mile’ is in no mood to lose its South Asian charm as this patch is overwhelmed by indian and Pakistani community and their vibrant cultural colour that comes with a tint of Britishness.

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