“My soul has learnt what it came to learn, and all other things………are just things”
I had left hope that summer would visit London this year. After a chilly June swept past us without as much as a week of decent weather, it seemed the sun would never come out and play. Now that it’s officially summertime, Londoners are spilling outside in great numbers. I see this weather as the city’s farewell gift to us. After spending remarkable 2 and a half years in the UK, it’s now time to say goodbye. Gosh, where did time fly?
We arrived at Heathrow on a chilly February night. Man, was it cold! I mean realllllllllly cold. I vividly remember almost jiggling from head to toe during the ten minutes Abhay left me on the pavement outside the airport to seek out our booked cab. It seemed that even my shadow would freeze to the sidewalk and would have to be chiseled out. This was what my first reaction to the place was. Why. Was. It. SO. DAMN. COOOLD???
Don’t get me wrong, I was completely over the moon about being in the UK. I remember grinning like an idiot when the flight landed. I could hardly refrain myself from hanging my head out of the window like a puppy as we set off in the cab for our apartment. The cabbie listening to us conversing in Hindi cheerfully chimed in and to my amazement told us he was from Karachi, Pakistan. WOW! We were conversing with a gentleman from Pakistan! It felt incredible.
London seems to me an intoxicating fairytale of quirky architecture, treasure filled museums, stately parks, royalty looming in the background, humorous food and the second to none Brit humor. Then there’s the culture- the musicals, the literature events, the book- readings, stand-up comedy shows, the ballet, the opera..wow!
This is one of the most developed cities in the world with its roots strongly tied with tradition. People work a lot and drink…oops…enjoy a lot. The thing which I like most about London is that here everyone tends to carry their own ethnicity. They tend to belong to where they are from, instead of where they are. I never stopped feeling like an Indian here as the city dazzled with its own vibe.
The things you learn as a resident- The Tubes: World’s oldest subway system full of jolly announcements. They are so much fun and highly convenient. Bus service is equally prompt and handy. Eventhough driving and public transport is still important, walking is an in-built part of the culture in the UK. It is THE BEST way of exploring the sights and as we learnt with each holiday we took, not just here but anywhere in the world. Then there’s also the matter of getting familiar with all sorts of exotic accents and the local dialect. I remember the first thing which had puzzled me was the over-used phrase- “You Alright?” Whether I went to the shops, the mall, the movies or the restaurants, it was always- “You Alright?” I wondered if I had an air of an eternally confused or sickly person around me which led to everyone asking about my well-being. Eventually I could figure that this is the most commonly used version of ‘Hello’ used by the locals here. Such amusing little trivia constituting the initial period of our stay is plenty.
The incredibly varied countryside! Approximately 90,000 square miles of quintessential British landscape from sweeping coastlines to rolling hills, from snaking rivers to lush green valleys and from the gigantic wild mountains to forests teeming with life form and much more. Scores of protected national parks, the stunning beaches, dramatic dales, ancient woodlands, winding country roads, crumbling castles….there’s so much for everyone. Stepping into a chocolate-box of quaint little villages and living like a local for a few days (trying farmhouses cheeses, cream teas and real ales along the way) has been my idea of an ideal rural getaway. All our short breaks within the country have been absolutely magical.
Living in the UK is going to be different than living in your own country. Food you are used to is not always available here. Things cost more than what we would prefer. People aren’t as chatty as back home. It’s cold. It rains. You leave the home, dressed in layers so you can add and subtract items according to the metamorphosis of the weather and you are never leaving the house without your most important accessory- the umbrella.
Next- Distance from the loved ones. Sometimes, it’s really tough to be so far away from your family and friends. The thing with homesickness is that it never gives you warning. One moment you are walking home from Tesco, struggling with bulging bags of groceries and the next moment- BAM!! Tears, sniffles, heaving sobs.
While living overseas, it is also important to look over the numerous faux pax and gaffes while settling down in the new surroundings as they only arise from being raised in a different culture and society (Remember Sridevi’s famous “Café-Fiasco scene” from the movie English-Vinglish?)
On this note, an incident comes to mind.
Having just returned from our vacation to Italy, we were waiting on the train platform with our luggage, exhausted and eager to get home after 2 weeks of being away. Heathrow has a train connectivity to all the major rail stations and I heard Abhay muttering to himself while studying a monitor that we can take a train to the London bridge stop, from where we will get a tube to Harrow where our place was. I didn’t need to worry, I’ll just follow him. It was night-time already. When the train came, Abhay hurriedly climbed onto it and I started handing him the bags. Before I could hop aboard myself, the doors closed and the train left! My runsack containing my wallet and my travel card also went along with Abhay. I was left clutching my train ticket for the overground train only (it wouldn’t get me home by tube) with not even a single penny on me. Eventhough I had my phone with me, it was switched off due to zero battery. One of those days where everything goes against you. I had never ever ventured alone in the city before that time and had little idea about how things worked, be it about the transport or the emergencies.
After hyperventilating for 5 minutes on the almost deserted platform, I started to think. All I remembered was the term London Bridge train station. My choice was to either wait and see if Abhay returns to where I was on the next train back (which wasn’t due for another hour) or to take off to the London bridge station myself on the next overground, hoping that he would be waiting for me there. I had no idea what Abhay’s own plan was and for all we know, we both could end up running in circles most of the night. I took off anyway 20 minutes later. When I got down at the London Bridge, my heart sank when I did not spot my husband there. It is a mammoth of a train station and if I got lost amongst the masses of people, I had no idea how Abhay would find me and after how long. Just as I was beginning to panic all over again, I heard a screeching sound behind me accompanied with a loud shout. I turned and there Abhay was, running towards me with the huge suitcase trailing noisily behind him. WHEW! Fortunately, he had worked out the same solution to the situation as I had. I had never been happier to see him. I mirrored his action and we had a reunion straight out of a Bollywood movie which involved running towards each other across the platform and me finally succumbing to tears of relief. An elderly gentleman strolled over to us grinning and said to me- “You know what advice I gave your husband when he told me that he has left his wife behind? I said RUNNNN YOU LUCKY FELLOW…RUN AWAY BEFORE THIS CHANCE OF A LIFETIME SLIPS AWAY FROM YOU. He just wouldn’t listen, silly chap!” All I could manage was a watery chuckle.
Looking back, it doesn’t seem to be a tricky situation at all but at that time, I was plain petrified. Each little adventure is worthwhile. After this instance, numerous other mishaps followed- a variety of scary, funny, educative and trivial ones. Each of them have left me a tad bit smarter and a little bit wiser. Embrace each experience!
London is a splendid place to live in. On our last evening here, Abhay and I decided to retrace our steps on the same route which we had taken on our very first day in the city for sight-seeing. We nostalgically wandered through the Central London passing icons like St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, The Big Ben , Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, HMS Belfast and finally stopping at the Thames riverside along Southbank to munch on a couple of steaming hot-dogs, marveling at how quickly the time flew.
If you ever have a chance to be here, make the most of it. Discover new places, visit as many attractions as you can, seep in the history, binge on the street food at Camden Market, explore the vibrant restaurant scene, take advantage of the ease of the european travel, see a musical, take a walk hand-in-hand as a couple by the riverside, go to the Oxford street and get a new handbag for 10 pounds. Head to the park and just hang out.
I won’t take back a single day. If someone presses a rewind button, I would just do it all over again.