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In London with Brainz!

June 15th, 2007

So how does one understand a city?

I am in London now. They say it is the global city, but to me it appears like an extension of a suburb in Bangalore. Alright, I know I am sounding too harsh, but I am beginning to find these European cities and the regular kind of tourism more and more boring! What I find fascinating about London are the numerous worlds that exist in this city – there is East London where a certain Asian imagination prevails. There is Southall, the Punjab of London. There is Edgware Road where Middle Eastern migrants live!

Last night, Brainz aka Pradeep and I explored one such world within London – East Ham! East Ham is home to Tamils and Sri Lankans. I met Brainz outside Holborne station and we decided to take the tube from Circle Line to East Ham. London tubes are interesting. The atmosphere in the tube is cold. Regular commuting in the tube can make you mechanical and harsh and yet, this is only one part of London. In the last two weeks of my stay here, I discovered, accidentally, several warm people and my image of London being a cold, developed city, have been severely challenged. Tube stations can be either very crowded or very empty and scary. Singers and musicians sing in the tube stations. One such person that Brainz and I encountered at Tottenham Court Road station was playing the guitar beautifully. I watched him as he continued to play. It occurred to me that we need to rethink the way we live our lives in society. I am convinced that society needs to support some people and their livelihoods. I am convinced that begging/panhandling is something that we need to accept because some people must be supported. And there are some people, who by adding sheer value to our everyday lives, need to be supported. These could be writers, musicians, artists, thinkers, what not!

Brainz and I stepped outside of East Ham station. The walk was a fascinating one. Pakistanis abundant. Brainz explained to me that certain cash machines should not be used for withdrawing cash because they duplicate the cards. At every step in London, I have discovered illegality and ways in which the loopholes in the law have been exploited. Whoever says there can be complete control. We walked to Sarvana Bhavan, our zone of familiarity. I am not sure if it felt absolutely absurd to be sitting in London and eating at Sarvana Bhavan – another aspect of city worlds! The waiters took our orders on palmtops and promptly served us South Indian meals. When it was time to pay, Brainz and I decided to lay bets – would the Gujarati girl at the cash counter date Brainz? If she did, then Brainz pays for the dinner. If she does not, I pay! Brainz told me that the Gujarati girl had recently come to UK and was working part-time in Sarvana to support her education. We laughed and joked with the Gujarati girl. Brainz said that we made her day! I guess this has been my greatest learning in London – that there are strangers who we discover accidentally and that is the greatest gift that we give to ourselves and to the world around us!

It was late evening. Brainz and I strolled all around and landed at Tower Hill station. It was raining mildly. As we stepped out of Farringdon station, Brainz explained that a black man was always sitting outside the station and another white man on the other side was panhandling. Amidst this, was a world of plenty, of affluence. People were standing outside the pubs and the bars, drinking and eating. Perhaps this is what frightens me as cities are growing – that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing and it is in your face.
I don’t know on what note to end this post. On the one hand, I have discovered that London’s problems are the same as those in Mumbai or Bangalore. And I have found myself through experiences and people around here. I am in a flux myself!

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