I have reached London to a temperate balmy climate, and unexpectedly warm . My brother did warn me, but I wanted to make a statement of sorts by alighting from the plane in two sweaters, and a muffler if need be. This was entirely unnecessary. As my plane was landing, London, it seemed the whole of England, unfurled itself out quite majestically, all glossy and sunlit. London swelled and spread out endlessly in a map-work of bustling orderliness. Houses expanded, trees mushroomed out and swayed breezily, cars zoomed past and people bustled around en-capturing London’s lively energy and spirit in one brief glorious moment . The Thames itself expanded from being greeny and veinlike to becoming more sinewy and serpentine, curving gently around the city. Even in such warm weather, it was quite grey and still, almost sullen and withdrawn with only points of sunlight glinting off its steely surface.
Yesterday, Anu, some of his friends and I went for a long blustery walk along the Thames and diligent cyclists and joggers seemed to enjoy the wind on their faces as they exercised. The river itself is sluggish and grey, quite a contrast to the Ganga where people’s entire lives depend on it, and and the ghats and dwellings are sprawled all along its banks, practically into the river. You see dead cows, sometimes floating bodies garbage and plastic. In the evenings fisherman rest their boats, and smoke curls up from their beedies as they shut down activities. Here, buildings are at a respectful distance from the river because a cemented embankment prevents any building or activity from being happening close by.. The only life seen close by are a few families of ducks and egrets that brave the fierce wind and float gently along the river.
Anu himself lives in grimy, gritty East London, in a flat with a motley crew of bee studying biologists. Centuries ago, London’s most notorious gangs populated this area, In fact we went into a pub where one gang’s honcho had ordered the execution of a member of a rival gang. You can still see the bullet marks entrenched on the wall. But now, East London is inhabited by East Asians, mainly Indians and Bangladeshis.
I find I need to acculturise myself to things aplenty, for example instant coffee, in fact instant everything: tissues in the bathroom, and you can put your hands up in horror, but no house- help, cold sweet muesli breakfasts. I don’t know how long I can hold out here; the fact that I have to ask for water and pay for it when I’m eating out, the mind boggling variety of edibles ( try choosing from maple and vanilla smoothie, raspberry and strawberry juice avocado and pear juice, lemon cordial and a whole host of other things).
There is also the quite unnerving behaviour of people staring at their feet, the ceiling or a newspaper on the tube, apparently making eye contact is highly invasive of privacy.
But on the other hand I can never get lost here, try as I might. People are extraordinarily helpful when you ask for directions, random strangers smile at you. I don’t really have to worry about going out latish in the evening, remember its summer now and it only starts getting dark at 10:00 PM or so, there are endless parks and green spaces to just laze in with a sandwich and a book, even the Iliad seems a little less onerous and portentous at the moment.
People are warning me to go out and enjoy the warm weather while it lasts, you never know when London’s going to become cold drizzly and dreary for months and months to come. As the weather is so welcoming, I hope to explore St James and Hyde Park and the museums. London embraces both the busy insider and the dreamy plodding tourist like me. For the next month, with my oyster card in hand, I’ll be touching in and out of tube stations as I explore London.
Mature Student from India