Friday, May 19, 2006

Homecoming


Just back from London. Spur of the moment trip actually, it happened, as these things usually do, on an uneventful Wednesday. The Wednesday two weeks before was my GMAT (which I aced woohoo) and the same evening I sent my passport to the embassy to get a UK visa. It arrived all duly stamped, last Wednesday morning. So in less than twelve hours, I had packed, went to the parlour, went to the dentist and left the country. Such slapdash trips always are, on the whole, more fun than the others I’ve been on where I’ve agonized over hotel rooms and plane tickets and seating arrangements and sightseeing tours and whatnot.

Five days in London. More importantly, five days in glorious 18 degrees sunny skies and nippy winds (yes, that’s right I did mention England and sunny in the same sentence and no it’s not an oxymoron. Not always anyway). Five days when the sun rises as five in the morning and doesn’t set till half past nine (I am a sun person mind, just not a ‘heat’ one. Can’t stand the little beads of sweat the form on your upper lip or the salt rinds that are left behind on your temples when you step into an air-conditioned place or the drops of sweat that inch slowly down your back to the dark comfort of your crack. Damn this heat) So the prospect of escaping for five days from the sweltering power-outages-ridden city of Madras for a bit of sun and cold is like paradise. Four and a half if you’re nit-picky.

Well, we didn’t do much there. Nothing really by way of ‘sightseeing’, I did want to go to Edinburgh for a day but apparently engineering works on the roads meant that wasn’t really possible, so went to my great aunt’s place in Liverpool instead, stopping at Stonehenge and Bath on the way. I don’t know what I expected to see at Stonehenge, it was quite anti-climatic, just a bunch of stones standing around for no apparent reason and people still haven’t a clue why. Bath on the other hand was simply marvelous.

You wouldn’t believe you are still in England looking at Bath. It was a Roman city (Roman spa actually on account of hot springs that used to feed the roman baths) and a world heritage city apparently. Splendid architecture, quite beautiful really. Housed Jane Austen, that I knew, apparently she didn’t like it very much here, that I didn’t know. Still, there is a sort of European charm to the place, not stoically British as most English towns are, but very charming nonetheless. Perhaps it because of the large roman stones that they still use for their buildings and the style and architecture of the city, well whatever it is, it really is such a beautiful place, I don’t know why I hadn’t visited before. One feels like one’s stepped into a whole other place, it doesn’t seem of England and yet… yet... it’s got a quintessential English air about it. Ah, maybe that’s just my Jane Austen talking; I escaped into her world of Darcys and ballroom dances quite a lot when I was younger.

Apart from that weekend, we spent the rest of the trip (two whole days!) in London. What can I say about London that hasn’t been said countless time before in words more eloquent than mine? It’s a huge bustling metropolitan city. It’s beautiful and it positively sparkles with life. The first day (oh alright, the half of the day that we were here anyway) we just trampled all over Leicester square, caught a movie, ate out at a café and my personal highlight of the evening was raiding Marks and Spencers for their delectable scones.

After all that talk of scones and muffins and blueberry pie and English high tea, I couldn’t resist. Standing in Marks and Spencers I felt like I was transported back in time to when I was five years old and standing in an Enid Blytonesque sweetshop with sponge cakes and butter and jam scones and huge chocolate muffins and caramel shortbread and… and… and… Sigh. To hell with weight watching, you only live once.

So that evening, around nine I think by the time my mom dragged me away from the food section, there’s the last rays of sunlight trickling thru the open windows of my quite spacious service apartment (bang near Euston station, heart of the city and all, excellent location) I’m plonked down on my large cushy sofa with my feet in bathroom slippers and a plate of sponge cake and jam balancing precariously on my lap and watching England v Sri Lanka Test highlights and there’s this overwhelming sense of home that I rarely ever get in any place other than Madras. I supposed it comes from being raised on a diet of Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie and Jane Austen and all other literary bigwigs from England when I was young (Hardy and Forster and Orwell and the rest incidentally I didn’t get around to till I was 15 or so). Or perhaps the few happy months I spent there in England aeons ago when I was five are so deeply trenched in my mind, nestled comfortably between patriotic cries of ‘Vande Mataram’ and a convent-education-inspired, Enid-Blyton-buttressed idea of homeland, that I really did blur the line between reality and perception. Ah, but if it comes to that, notions of home are mere perceptions after all.

I don’t remember much actually of the time there in London except a red coat that I always wore and an overwhelming sense of security and belonging. It seems like I spent a significant portion of my childhood in England although in reality it was just a few months. Looking back, I think that was genuine happiness what I had felt and maybe that’s why I remember so much of England and so little of my own home and joint family in Madras. I remember school well enough, and my native place, but I seem to have blotted out whole years that passed in that old house in Madras and the mad dysfunctional family that inhabited it. So sitting in a London apartment watching cricket on the telly, eating sponge cake and with my feet tucked in seems as natural as waking up to the smell of Madras filter coffee and the barely audible strains of the morning’s prayers that waft thru the house. It’s the kind of solace everyone seeks and few ever find.

The day before we left, we went to take the walking ‘Da Vinci’ tour, spurred by the inexplicable success of the Da Vinci Code book. We never seem to be able to complete the tour; the curse of the Da Vinci, my brother calls it. The last time in Paris, something happened and we couldn’t go. This time again, we had to walk away halfway thru. Of course I take the blame, tummy ache brought on by too much rich food probably (it was worth it! Who wants to see some crummy old buildings anyway even if it was built by Colonel Pompouscow Cactusuphisarse) I rejoined the folks in the afternoon, wandered aimlessly about Sloan street and Oxford square and did manage to catch a quick peep at London Business School. Nice place, heart of the city and all that, bang on Regent Street. Unfortunately me having popped in unannounced as it were, they couldn’t really offer a tour of the premises, their MBA reps and faculty being held up in some meeting as it were. Still, I’m not that disappointed seeing how I actually came on vacation and hadn’t really expected to find time to go see LBS. Didn’t think I’d find time to go to Liverpool either actually (I suppose I’ll have the British Highways Agency to thank for that) good that I did tho.

Speaking of which, on the road to Liverpool, remarkable sight! Hundreds of Liverpool fans all making their way out of London. On route to Cardiff I presume, where the FA Cup finals were taking place, Liverpool versus someone or the other. So there I was on the road, with cars whizzing past and every other car chock full of Liverpool fans (well, they’re all wearing the red tee and braying some godawful song at the top of their voices) and red scarves and flags and whatnot streaming from the windows and every other orifice a car could possibly have and some that you really didn’t think it could.

I don’t watch football. I haven’t anything against the sport; I just never got around to it. The only reason I watch cricket is because I think it’s virtually impossible for a girl to grow up in a nation with one billion cricket fanatics and possibly a fanatic-brother or father at home and not watch cricket. If they’re not hitting that blasted ball about on the telly, they’re staring you right in the face from a detergent box on the supermarket shelf. Either way, there’s no escaping them.

Football on the other hand, you can actually go thru life (in India at least) without having watched, strike that, being forced to watch, a single match. Having said that, I still think there’s something quite magnificent about a bunch of grown up men getting all flustered about some men kicking about a ball on some field. (As my friend Alex so eloquently put it, it may be that but ah, what men, what kicks and what balls!) I suppose it’s the perfect example of men in their element. Give me a football-mad guy any day over the (ugh, I hate the word) modern metrosexual. Guys, the only reason Beckham can get away with pink nail polish and a diamond ear stud is because he looks like a Greek God. He could wear his wife’s little black dress and still get away with it.

Still, it’s nice seeing men getting all rowdy over a game, male bonding we call it, spilling beer, jostling each other and probably making rude jokes (and noises) I wouldn’t want to know about. Something heartrending about that. It’s one of those things you can enjoy without having to actually know what goes on. Like how men revel in the soft scent of a woman, get lost in her twinkling eyes, mesmerized by the shimmery air about her without knowing that she spent two hours getting her eyebrows tweezed, her legs waxed, her face exfoliated (Hey, it hurts!) slipped into those devil high-heeled shoes that would probably cripple her, pulled her stomach into place with one of those spandex-corset nightmares, poured a vat of makeup on her face, forced every stray strand into place with a handy can of hairspray and finally dusted shimmery gold dust onto her bare shoulders and walked into a cloud of enticing musk perfume before gliding down the stairs to meet her man, looking as if she just woke up and dropped off a cloud from heaven.
So if there’s a football match going on somewhere, don’t be surprised if you see me, shimmery gold dust and all, sitting in a corner, looking a bit bewildered with glazed eyes and a half smile, but talking it all in and enjoying it as best I know how. Pass the beer, luv.

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