Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Kebabs and Coming of Age.

Rusholme by day.

And by night.

Martin Luther House, where I do much of my studying (and which is now in its third week of having carpets fitted), is situated in Rusholme, in South Manchester. Rusholme is situated on Wilmslow Road, which begins in Didsbury and goes dead straight through Withington, Fallowfield and Rusholme past the University district into the centre of Manchester, ending at St Peters Square. It is a busy, wide road all the way along, although it bears witness to a great many changes. Didsbury is a rarefied suberb, where a small terraced house will cost half a million pounds, Withington is less upmarket and is the start of Studentville, where many of the large old houses are either student shared flats or converted into bedsits. I was born here and the way people were driving on Monday night, I nearly died there as well! Fallowfield is almost entirely given over to students and then through Rusholme, the University Quarter is, clearly, just that.
Right in the middle, however, and just out from the City, lies Rusholme. It is what is now termed a 'zone of transition', which means that the population is, generally, crowded, in poor accommodation and transient. If you look at any city, you will see the same phenomemon. In the centre is the Financial centre, then high-rent shops and leisure, followed by expensive apartments, legal centres, institutions like Universities and Hospitals on the periphery, then a ring where people live who cannot afford either the Centre or houses further out in the suburbs. These communities are mainly ethnic and transient, or students who are naturally transient. South from me is Cheetham Hill, another zone of transition, since I have been here it has been predoninantly Irish, then Pakistani, then Iranian, now Polish. As each new wave of humanity comes in, they find the cheaper areas, open shops to cater to each other, then settle down and move on, like the Orthodox Jewish and Russian Orthodox communities of Broughton, down the Hill from me.
But back to Rusholme, also known as the 'curry mile', as almost every shop was an 'Indian' restaurant, serving out different colours and strengths of generic curry and gallons and gallons of lager to undiscriminating punters. Every restaurant had flock wallpaper and padded steel framed chairs, thich carpet and dim red lights, plastic plants and candles on the tablecloths. As the Asian community of Rusholme has come of age, however, this has all changed. Now most restaurants are bright and modern, many do not sell alcohol, and have 'Ramadan specials' as the sun sets and the fast ends. More and more different ethnic groups are selling what they, in fact, eat, and not generic slop which, if the truth be told, no one wants to eat. There are Turkish, Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi places, hookah bars, Asian sweet shops, dress shops, jewellery shops and beauty salons, and it is good to see a community coming of age and claiming an area as their own. It is also good to have a ready supply of excellent quality kebabs and fresh bread to go with them!
This scares some people, of course, who see it as a threat. It is, of course, a direct consequence of Colonialism but something to be proud of, rather than scared of. Manchester has very little racial tension and the nationalist parties get no hold here as we are, on the whole, a sensible and hard working bunch, intolerant only of idleness and intolerence. I do, though , pray for religious tolerence, for that is the next thing to come of age and the next challenge for us to embrace. Christians and Muslims need to monitor extremism and to share each others fears and aspirations if we are to grow in mutual harmony. We have much to do, and we need to ask for the help of God.
God, your names and faces are many.
Your ideals have been tinted by cultures, eras, politics, and social trends.
Yet, the core of Universal Truth remains - in every tree and brook, every star and stone.
This is the nucleus of all humankind’s spirits.
Help us to see this central root as a binding tie through which we can all be nurtured.
While our words are different, they mean much the same.
The differences that separate us come from limited human vision,
which cannot look beyond dogma.
Broaden our understanding and vision to see as you see,
to identify each other as brothers and sisters in the Spirit.
The path of beauty is many things to many people,
but it always leads back to you.
Help us recognise that you are the Sacred One.
Help us find wonder and joy in our differences and appreciate our similarities.
Today and always we are all children of one family,
both Divine yet mortal - the family of man.
Let acceptance among people of all faiths be cherished as a great virtue. Amen.