Today is 9 August 2011. I turned xx years just 3 days ago. In the last few decades in this world, I had always considered the land of the Queen to be somewhat of a ethereal land, compounded by my upbringing in a Christian missionary school which upheld everything British and my love for history, where I read and re-read all about the British Raj and India and last but not the least, my obsession with Elizabethan and Victorian romance novels and films.
So when I visited London last year to meet my fiance in his adopted land for the first time, my expectation levels were at its peak. My enthusiasm was contagious; I couldn’t stop gabbling about the London Eye, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the whole hog.
My first destination outside India was the city of Munich. And after having lived in Munich for 6 months, London was a rude shock. Munich is a doll house, pristine, disciplined, freakingly clean, orderly and with an almost zero crime rate and London was crowded, loud, noisy, gloomy and with construction ongoing in almost every major area in the city! My first impression of London was the incredible number of Asians that I saw. Indians and more Indians everywhere! Heathrow airport seemed like Indira Gandhi International airport. The British Raj era seemed to have created a reverse migration to the very land whose rulers had occupied us. It felt like home. And that is the very essence of London which, in hindsight, charmed me. Having returned back to Munich, I searched around for my fellow Asian brethren; there were few and far in-between.
I am usually a very tidy and disciplined person. Hence the first glimpses of London, the utter disregard for traffic lights (which is NEVER disregarded in Munich), the not so healthy Londoners (Muncheners are always jogging), the oldness of the buildings (Munich was completely rebuilt after WWII) and so much more such minute stuff totally flummoxed me. It just wasn’t what I had expected. Having lived in Munich for 6 months, my expectation was a carbon copy of the Western life that I had glimpsed here.
It took 48 hours for London to seep into my being. With S in office, I started venturing out by myself. I had a travel card and made solitary journeys across Ealing and neighboring areas. I even ventured out shopping to Oxford Street by myself. And whenever I could steal S away, I made him show me around the beautiful city and its landmarks.
And yes, London is breathtakingly beautiful. The city and its fantastic landscape from the London Eye, the huge crowds outside Madame Tussaud’s, the lush green parks in Ealing and neighboring boroughs, the vibrancy of Oxford Street, the awesome crowds on Friday evening at Leicester Square, the awe-inspiring Wimbledon courts, the London Tube, the world’s oldest underground network, Westminster at night, Bath by day, the list is endless. And the one USP when compared to Munich – the English language. I was so ecstatic to be able to read the signs on the roads and the understand the announcements on the PA system on the underground! It was heaven.
There is one thing I have to mention here. The people of London. It was so amazing to have absolute strangers talking to me at tube stations, bus stops, Marks & Spencers, Debenhams, inside the tube, at Oxford Street, the short conversations were too many! Nothing special, just a comment here and there about the weather, the cricket score, asking the directions to Primark; it was so like the feeling back home in India. Having spent a lifetime reading up about life in India under the British Raj, and having heard stories of apparent racism towards colored people in the UK, I was so amazed to discover the love and friendliness of the British people that today, I cannot imagine the atrocities that are happening across the UK today.
I have spent an entire day in front of the BBC, tracking the events in London, Birmingham, Nottingham, and the other cities. S is in Nottingham today, returning home to London tonight. He lives in Ealing, an upmarket West London leafy neighborhood. A neighborhood, where I have strolled down the sidewalks several times, had English breakfast at a joint which was attacked last night, bought several cups of Cafe Latte at a Starbucks nearby, waited for the bus in from of the garden where the cars were torched, a neighborhood where I have so many many cherished memories. A place where S has called home for more than 5 years. Today that and many others, are up in flames.
Especially having seen the friendliness of the people on London, it makes me wonder why these young men are resorting to mindless violence. All people in the world have their share of issues and troubles. Violence never solves anything. Gandhi proved the way to the British where he was instrumental in getting us our freedom and human rights through non-violence and dialogue. Riots are something which I have seen whilst growing up in India, especially in the early 1990s when the Babri Masjid was demolished and the whole country erupted in sectarian flames. But ours is a majorly developing land, a new nation, still struggling to find its way new global order. The people of UK have so much; a free healthcare system, a fully functioning and fast judiciary, orderliness and cleanliness, a government which cares and most of all, a global reputation of being a superpower, a country which the developing world turns towards for aid and guidance. The young people of Britain have bee gifted a heaven, a heaven they need to cherish, consider themselves extremely lucky to have been born in one of the stalwarts of the Western world. The young Britishers need to go and learn the power of dialogue and give back the city I love, to its people, minus the looting, arson, and mugging.