Sunday, October 29, 2006

Turks and Nautch girls

My first encounter with Harringay was four years ago when I visited the house of my two close friends Dg and J. The borough did not make a good first impression. I can be quite judgmental at the best of times, but fortunately age and experience has taught me the futility in relying on first instincts. Some of my closest friends, for example, were people I took an instant dislike or ambivalence to when I first met them. My first thought about Harringay was, "What a dump". Now it's proven to be the best place I've ever lived in in London.

The most established ethnic community in Harringay is Turkish, originally Turkish Cypriots fleeing the Turkish-Greek conflict over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots also arrived in the same part of London and more recent arrivals have been Kurdish and Kosovan refugees, as well as some Albanians and Bulgarians. The result is Green Lanes teaming with a spectacular array of Turkish, Kurdish and some Greek Cypriot groceries, cafes and restaurants selling everything from cheap kitchen towels, plastic clothes lines and mouse traps to heavenly baklava, meaty lamb and chicken kebabs and fresh herbs and spices sold by the fistful. The ornate and imposing Salisbury pub features poetry and music nights and is testimony to the growing number young professionals priced out of trendy neighbouring Crouch End and students moving into the area, though we've never drunk in it.

Shamuss Abbas
, on the strip of Green Lanes' shops nicknamed Grand Parade (established in 1899), is our local grocery store where we regularly stock up on feta cheese, honey, salamis, flat breads, yoghurts, parsley and fruits on the way home from work. Antepliler is our local Turkish restaurant, much mentioned in this blog, where we eat succulent, marinated and spiced lamb or chicken kebabs on those weeknights when we can't be bothered to cook.

Yesterday morning, M went out to pick up our drycleaning from Zephyr and to get his hair cut in Chris's Of London (as if "Chris" needs to distinguish himself from all the other Chris's barbers across the country!) down the road, before popping into the best Turkish bakery in London - Yasir Halim - to buy freshly baked croissants, lamb kibbe and spinach and feta cheese boreks for our breakfast and lunch. I stayed in the flat and uploaded a backlog of photos to my Flickr account. We ate over the weekend FT and I continued to surf online as M read and played the new Tekken on his PSP and Total Overdose on the PS2.

The day was grey and cold, but eventually around three o'clock, we roused ourselves from the snug warmth of our flat to jump on a succession of trains to Kilburn where we saw the Indian movie The Journey, or Yatra, at the Tricycle Cinema as part of the London Film Festival. Directed by Goutam Ghose and featuring my childhood Bollywood heroine, the ageless Rekha (if I ever have a daughter I will name her Rekha), the movie proved to be a slow and ponderous meditation of memory and fiction and an exploration of the alleged transition of Indian culture from the spiritual to the materialistic. It's not a film I will watch again, but once again it was wonderful being surrounded by so many Indians.

It was also fascinating to learn more about India's nautch girl tradition. According to Pran Nevile's book Nautch Girls of India: Dancers. Singers, Playmates,

"The Nautch girl as an entertainer of men belonged to a unique class of courtesans who played a significant role in the social and cultural life of India in the 18th and 19th centuries. She represented a delightful synthesis of different cultures and dance forms the classical and the popular. The Nautch girl was no ordinary woman of pleasure. She had refined manners, a ready wit and poetry in her blood. She catered to the tastes of the elite who had the time, resources and aptitude to enjoy her company. Her sexual favours were reserved for the chosen few. Over the centuries, she appeared in various incarnations, but chiefly as a temple dancer dedicated to the gods, for dance is believed to have divine sanction."

In The Journey, the aging nautch girl (Rekha) was a very contemporary incarnation delivering, in return for money, entrancing kathak dancing and classical singing along with sexual favours.

Afterwards, we walked down Willesden Lane for solid local Keralan cooking at Kovalam, where we ate spicy uzhunnu vada with sambar and Mysore bhonda for starters. We had main dishes of coconut-drenched and creamy lamb malabar, pan-fried pomfret fish curry, and a beetroot thoran encrusted with dried coconut and black mustard seeds. We shared a dessert of creamy vermicelli milk pudding with sago seeds, cashew nuts and sultanas. Not as spectacular as the Rasa or Masala Zone chains of South Indian food, or the Ravi Shankar on Drummond Street, but a lovely cap on a lovely day nonetheless.

1 comment:

hjuk said...

If you're a Harringaeite, join 780 (and growing fast) of your neighbours on our community website for Harringay (the area not the borough) at And, if you are a Harringay Local, please let me know at as I'd like to link to your blog, with your permission.