Although I spent about six months living in London, now that I look back a few months later, the one thing I remember most vividly is the Red couch in my apartment. My couch was flanked by two table lamps on either side against a back drop of a cream colored wall. It was on this couch I’d sit for hours holding my laptop hoping to squeeze some words out of my brain. I’d wake up and lazily drag myself to this couch after which I would eventually open the curtains to allow the sunlight to flood my apartment. It was sitting here, I’d look outside the window at the houses, as still as a painting against the clear blue sky, wondering if anyone lived in those houses as no where ever seemed to come out. At times, I would try to analyze the sky for tens of minutes just to determine if it would rain that day. I would go through all this trouble just so that I did not have to carry an umbrella. I eventually learned that on days it shined the brightest, it rained the hardest and as always, I learned my lesson the hard way. The lesson in itself being that ‘always carry an umbrella’.
But the illusion of a quiet neighborhood broke as soon as one began to walk towards the Underground. An interesting fact about the London Underground is that around 55% of it is actually above the ground. Ironic, right? But what I loved the most about the Underground is that there would always be some artist playing a guitar, a piano or even a violin, calm as a sea in midst of a hasty crowd of people. A reminder to smell the roses, as the Americans say. The nearest Underground station from my apartment was the Stratford station adjacent to the Westfield mall. They say that the Westfield mall is one of the largest malls in Europe. I am sure I never covered it entirely for like most humans, I am inclined towards familiarity. I’d often visit the same places and eat at the same resturants. The waiters in the resturants and the sales persons at the shops apart from the general public usually comprised of what are known as ‘immigrants’. I later learned that London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world that gives you a fair glimpse of people from across the globe. I could hear hundreds of dialects as I would ideally window-shop for hours. However, my ears shot up only when I heard someone talk in Hindi. The beauty of this diversity is that you never feel like an outsider. You just blend in. Why? Because almost everyone else is an outsider too. In retrospect, I think that the Westfield mall is a correct representation of London in itself.
On some weekends, me and some friends of mine would go to central London and wait in never ending queues in cold and rain just so that we could tick off a known eating joint and kickstart our weekend. I have to admit that London is a food paradise even for a vegetarian like me and I always looked forward to eating at Punjab, Spaghetti house, Pret a Manger, Where the Pancakes Are, Roti King and Wahaca to name a few.
We would later stroll on queen’s walk along the south bank of the River Thames. We would start somewhere near the London eye and go on till the Westminster bridge. It’s remarkable how almost everything has a piece of monarchy in it. The monarchy in itself contributes to ninety percent cultural heritage of the country which includes all the museums, palaces and other landmarks such as the big ben itself. In ways, the monarchy will always live through it’s subtle reminders.
On evenings, when my friends felt particularly adventurous, we’d go to Piccadaly circus and SOHO which is extra lit-up with the onset of the Christmas month. I’d look at the LGBT clubs in SOHO and wish for the same to happen in my country where the LGBT community is not only unrecognized but also ostracized. How wonderful it would be if people could just work anywhere without having to justify their genital status. I know one day this day too would come for it is only natural, I just wish it would happen sooner.
On weekdays, I would go to the same tube station to take the Jubilee line for my office in Canary Wharf. It used to be a short ride but it doesn’t take long to recognize that the Londoners don’t like it if you stand to the left of an escalator, cut the queue or try to get on a packed tube before everyone’s gotten off. The Canary Wharf comprises of endless high-rise glass buildings. At night, the buildings glitter as if studded with millions of yellow diamonds and the dainty Thames glitters along with these buildings. The ladies and gentlemen around here are often seen trotting in black coats and polished boots with an aura that states no-nonsense, strictly business. But no kidding, these buildings have very important roles to play in the practical matters of the world.
On some evenings, I would come back home to an overheated apartment, often with a bag full of groceries from TESCO or Sainsbury and realize that I had forgotten to turn the heater off. I would draw open the curtains and open the window to allow the fresh air to come in. Sometimes, I would see a couple making love in the apartment right across from mine. I would wonder if they left the window open on purpose for they put up quite a show. I wondered if the other residents of my building were hanging by their balcony too. It has always fascinated me how men let go of their ego behind closed doors. On some of these evenings, I would draw the curtains close and go back too doing my work but on other days, I would grab a glass of wine and enjoy the show once I slouched on my Red couch.