*The confessions of a 25 year old Indian girl in London *
The weather outside reflects my mood, dark and stormy. a little more than three weeks back, I was flying to London, one of my dream cities to be in. I had grown up reading so many books centered around the country. I recall the early summer holidays, when I was a dreamy-pretend detective-pre-teen, there was Enid Blyton to give me company with books about the ruins of old forts and lighthouses with an adventure lurking at every corner and of English food: meat-pies, blackcurrant puddings, hot scones running with butter, fresh cream, varieties of marmalade and ginger beer (there was always ginger beer!). Then there was the age of classics, the sad dreary dickens-esque london with the narrow cobbled streets, chimney pots, overflowing gutters and hackney cabs and the dark and mysterious yet oh-so-romantic Bronte sisters’ England in the moorlands. A little further and then I was a teenager, and there was the perpetual sigh for every Jane Austen novel with its dashing Dukes and lords, the ever handsome and dashing Mr. Darcys. So it was with almost fifteen years worth of reading and dreaming that I arrived here.
London didn’t disappoint though, the skyline is a delicious mix of the old spires and domes of the ancient churches and the old Grecian/Roman buildings and also modern buildings like the Shard that starkly stands like an alien pod from some futuristic movie among the old spires. I was in awe of the city that had so much to offer, every bit like the stories that I had read, to inspire and to just be.
So the bumbling Indian was finally poised to be set free on the streets of London. The first thing that struck me was the cold. Facing a cold weather is one thing but add a biting wind to it and a drizzle of rain every now and then, the perfect recipe for a royal Indian disaster when the coldest winter till then was just 10 degrees for you! So, moving on from the bad weather, the people! You will never find people jostling or shouting or even calling out to each other in the streets. It might be because of the cold that you mostly keep all doors or windows shut, but despite the houses being so close together, strangely enough, you won’t find two women having a screaming match or children running in the streets and pushing each other into ditches or men loudly complaining about how their neighbor’s car is parked! And talking about politeness, ever seen a single queue in India? In fact, here in London you actually wait at light signals before crossing the road! Well, me being a bumbling Indian, I tried to cross the road by showing my arm. You know what that got me? A very dirty look from another passer-by who pointedly pressed the WALK button and looked away. oh so you press a button and wait. Easy enough, right? Oh and another pointer, buses only stop at bus stops you cannot hail a bus and stop it anywhere on the road, that can get you another set of dirty looks. And please excuse me, I would like to just add one last thing to this list, on escalators in the subway, stand to the right and only use the left side if you are walking up (well, dirty looks again, if you think about it, nobody shouts at you or heckles you or tells you off. You just keep getting these looks that tells you if you have been doing something wrong). Whatever you think, strangely enough, people do follow these rules even if the roads or subways are all empty!
Markets have a different look altogether, I find shopping very disconcerting without fifty hawkers screaming of their wares into my eardrums. Its all very quiet and I am not talking of the departmental stores, I am talking about makeshift shops on the road. I bet the teachers here don’t chide their noisy students by calling the classroom a “fish market”, because even a fish market in London is quieter than a class in which the teacher asks for a “pin-drop silence”. Lets talk about swachh bharat abhiyaan, and how us Indians are termed dirty. But I saw people littering the roads here in London too and wantonly at that, flipping away cigarettes, disposing of sandwich covers on the road, but I what I don’t see in India is people in fluorescent jackets clearing them early morning, everyday! But hey that’s only the main roads, you don’t find people dumping waste at their doorstep. But that’s something that has confounded me always, why dirty the place where you stay and have to cross daily?
But with all its flaws, the sticky hot weather and the hordes of screaming, jostling people, I guess while bumbling around the streets of London, I found out why I love my streets more.