I find it difficult to appreciate anything that I think is over-appreciated by the people around me. The most current example of this phenomenon is that I have got down to reading Shantaram now, 15 years after it was first published. I did not want to read it when every other person around me (in college) was carrying around that giant 900-page copy of the book and raving about it. Some people did it because they genuinely enjoyed it, and I am certain many did it (carrying and raving) because they needed to fit in. The noise that that resulted in acted as a repellent for me. I don’t operate well in a lot of noise. I need space to be able to think, form my own views and make my own judgments. I won’t deny being guilty of borrowing opinions, but I do enjoy some space when I can get it. And that’s why I am not a fan of videos that go viral, people who talk too much, et cetera.
Coming back to London! C loves it so much, as do most people around me (current and former residents as well as visitors), that I don’t feel like I have enough space to allow my own feelings to mature. It’s my fourth year here though, so I thought of jotting down a few things that make up my life in London.
Firstly, I check the weather forecast last thing before I go to bed and almost the first thing when I wake up in the morning. It helps decide whether I should bother washing my hair or not (windy/rainy day = pony tail day), how many and which types of layers to wear (cotton for humid, breezy day; waterproof for pissy rain day; warm for 12-15 degrees days; extra warm for 10 degrees or lower days; Eskimo-style for anything colder), and accordingly which shoes to wear (rookies do suede on a rainy day). Before you think I am exaggerating, let me clarify that ALL of these weather variances can occur within a two-week period. Last week it was 8 degrees and I got into a fight with C because he wanted to walk, and I was under-dressed for the weather (yep, despite all efforts to stay on top of the weather situation). Yesterday I grudgingly wore trousers to work because my legs weren’t waxed to wear one of the dresses I’d have rather worn in the warm, breezy weather.
Okay! With the weather monster covered, let me come to more normal things.
I was baffled the first time a stranger on the street smiled at me. And I obviously did not respond appropriately in time. On another occasion I saw C nod and smile at a stranger and I quickly jumped to enquire who it was. A stranger! How does it work in a city where people do anything they can to avoid eye contact on the tube? The only thing that helps me navigate this contradictory scenario is that I have figured this smiling business happens only on streets with a speed limit of 20 miles or lower. Yes, where the pace of life is physically slower than busier parts of the city. Avoiding eye contact feels very natural, so does avoiding conversations on the morning tube. I LOVE the unspoken rule of no conversations on the morning ride. Tourists also toe that line. But sometimes you do come across exceptions, and they are hated in good measure by everyone around them.
I’ve worked in Marylebone for most of my time here, commuting through Oxford Street almost every day. In the process, I have come across some brilliant artists busking outside stations and big stores. Their voices and their music reverberate through the busy street, making every passer-by pause for at least a moment – even if only in their heart – to appreciate the talent and magic that these individuals create. The good thing about these artists is that they never stay in one place for long. So, even if you cross the same spot every day, it’s not necessary that you’d find the same person singing or playing there every time. The surprise and freshness of the experience makes much of a mundane moment.
London’s streets also have an outlier vibe about them. The one that speaks almost in response to the conservative, patriarchal systems of the country from not a very long time ago. It almost seems like a physical, visible manifestation of the rebellion that helped people break away from the fetters of what I’d lightly call, ‘time’. I was almost ignorant of the history until I came here but seeing what I do today gives me hope for India which is still caught in awful remnants – even if deep-seeded – of the colonial times.
A better tradition that’s continued from the colonial times is the English pubs. They have no music, unlike pubs in many other cities, and they’re more communal and friendly than even a park at times. People of all ages are easily accommodated, with some pubs even having a play area for kids. Thursday evenings, on the other hand, see pubs ‘accommodating’ more people outside, on the footpath, than inside. Nobody cares for a place to sit as long as they have a beer or cider OR mulled wine and good company. It also doesn’t matter how you’re dressed – anything from a post-workout gear to a pre-wedding look goes! Extraordinary is the ‘English’ word to describe it.
London is not perfect though, as aren’t any other cities in the world. Or the world itself. It is fairly lovable with its charming architecture, beautiful parks, amazing food scene, good work-life balance, cultural action, and the short but absolutely stunning summer.
Neither hearts nor posing against pretty backdrops is usually my thing, but this was me indulging in both, near London Bridge a few weeks ago.