Located at 26 Brick Lane is the Modern Saree Centre. The saree (sari) dates back 5000 years and is worn by millions of women in Bangladesh and India. A saree is 5–9 yards of cotton or silk, sometimes printed with simple patterns and sometimes interwoven or embroidered in silver, gold and other thread, worth hundreds of pounds. Usually wrapped around the body over a short blouse and petticoat, it is a versatile garment that can be a loose flowing gown, a veil to cover the hair, tucked up as shorts for working in paddy fields, a cradle to carry baby or a purse. When it is completely worn out and torn, Bengali grannies use saree thread to make Kantha hangings and quilts in amazing cross stitch patterns.
Bengali men often wear the long Punjabi shirt and pyjama, especially during festivals and for weddings. In Bangladesh many wear a lungi (sarong). Bengali Muslim men and boys often wear a tupi (skullcap) which comes in many shapes, designs and colours, particularly when going to mosque.
On your right in Chicksand Street are the offices of Janomot (15), London’s longest running Bengali weekly newspaper, first published on 21 February 1969. Further down in Greatorex Street is Notun Din. There are six Bengali language papers, many magazines, two radio programmes and two satellite TV programmes serving London’s Bengali-speakers.
No. 46, now home to Café Naz (16) was built where the old Mayfair Cinema of the 1930’s once stood, which became the Naz Cinema in the 60s, showing Asian films and visited by Dilip Kumar, the Clark Gable of the Indian film industry and his heroine Vaijanti Mala. Café Naz was thrust into the news in 1999 when as car bomb planted by a neo-Nazi exploded outside. Fortunately nobody was hurt.
All four local Asian film houses– the Naz, the Palaseum and Bangladesh Cinema Hall in Commercial Road and Liberty at Mile End – closed down in the early 80s with the advent of video shops.
Pass the Café Naz on your left at 47a is Christ Church School (17). 95% of the pupils at Christchurch Church of England Primary School are Bengali Muslims. A century ago when the Stepney’s Jewish population was 120,000, they would have been 95% Jewish. After school many of the children go along to the Brick Lane Mosque for religious teaching and Bengali lessons.
At No. 74, the Music House, paan is prepared. The betel nut comes from the tall Betel Palm (Areca) that grows across South East Asia. The betal nut is sliced thinly, wrapped in a paan leaf that comes from the Betel Vine (Piper), smeared with a little lime, a pinch of tobacco and a sprinkle of aromatic spice - cardamom or turmeric. It is eaten after dinner as a digestive and stimulant and sucked and sucked, the lime producing a brick red juice that dyes the mouth.
The Bangladesh Welfare Association (18) is at 39 Fournier Street (on your left), Originally built for the minister of the church in 1750, it was the base of Huguenot charitable work with the local poor. Jewish charities were based here at the end of the 19th century. The building housed the Pakistan Welfare Association from the 50’s. After the independence of Bangladesh, it was renamed Shaheed Bhavan – Martyr’s House. The Bangladesh Welfare Association is the largest Bengali community organisation in the country.