03 November, 2010

Testing the Waters

Its only been a month! Ever since I've reached here [here being Reading (pronounced Redding), England], ambitious travel plans have been charted, some not the smartest but definitely the funnest, if you know what I mean. When you have let India's diversity regularly plunder your senses senseless, the uniformity of England can come as a shock. The perfect little houses with their manicured gardens, white picket fences, red doors. The maple trees with their five-pointed leaves strewn in beautiful abandon. Almost an insult to your sensory expectations if you like. But, like everything else, when you delve into the details, you find your imagination tickled again. 

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.  - Isak Dinesen 

Anyone who loves travelling would tell you than journeys are mostly always more important than the destination. And instinct and signboards are about the best travel guides you'll find. So I found myself on a train (no, trains) to Brighton, that sunny beach in the south of England (remember Becky holidaying there in that literary treasure - Vanity Fair?). The beach was pebbly (!) and the sea gulls noisy and downright rude as they tried snatching food out of our mouths. But The Lanes, Brighton's Chandni Chowk if you may, were full of colour and character. There were shops selling antique sewing machines, quaint cafes, flowers peeking at us at corners and unbelievably, Indian shawls at exorbitant prices. There was of course the comfort of meeting old friends, sharing well used laughs, walking on unknown roads with the misleading air of practiced ease and getting run over, almost.

*                   *                 *

Travelling across the English countryside, enormous cows and the fluffiest sheep ever dot the landscape. Its autumn, so trees on the edge of the roads are blushing in the throes of their last romance with warmth. On a lucky day, as the bus whizzes past perfect sprawling farms and rows of neatly sowed potatoes, the sky is blue. With candyfloss clouds fluttering around - the whim of a wind. An odd chimney will spew out smoke, promising a warm meal.

Hair blown in an open car
Summer dress slips down her arm

Wales had this rustic charm that immediately spoke to me. Wandering among the carefully preserved pieces of rural life that made up the Museum of Welsh Life, I enjoyed the joy of familiarity. A hand pump. A well worn table. Cows with their air of empathy. And then the castles and their tales. An abandoned fort. A saxophone quartet playing a song I recognised on the street.

*                   *                 *

And in spite of tales of the British stiff upper lip and all that jazz, they are a warm friendly people. As you get down a bus, the driver cheerily nods at you, everyone thanking him for his service. Most conversations with a stranger are unbelievably cheerful for a people living in a weather so dreary and begin with "Hello my dear" sprinkled with a generous smile. And though I'm yet to be able to place accents, North England? South? Welsh? Irish? most conversations with Britishers, no matter where we start, ends with rapturous delight over India. "Love your spicy curries". "I went to a wedding in Punjab". "Goa is great". "The Taj Mahaaal." "Bollywood music and Jai Ho." They can't believe I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire (I get the oh-poor-thing-she-doesn't-know-what-she's-missing look). And then comes the sighing over the Indian summer, the utter diversity of everything and I can't help but smile, recognizing their experiences as home, the quirks that make up home.

Diwali is inching its way up to me and I find myself in a pyrophobic country. Irony is a lovely thing to do without. 


  1. Lovely.
    You know you must soon watch Slumdog Millionaire - maybe just to avoid those looks :)
    The bus driver nodding - oh well, it feels nice and that thanking happens automatically - everyone does it. Imagine that back home - heh, never ever.

  2. Yes we are so stingy with our smiles at home I realised. Which almost saddens me. Slumdog? I read the book. I think I've had enough of it.

    PS: Smile :)

  3. lovely post !
    if you come to germany, Im in Cologne :-)

  4. Okay, I've written this comment twice before - and wordpress openid thingy has failed me each time. This is the third time, else I'll have to email you! :P

    Did you visit Swansea as well on your Wales trip? Or just went to Cardiff? Swansea's Rhossili Bay is one of the most amazing beaches I've seen in my life!

    About the second part of your post, it reminds me of how I was always pleased (and at times even amused) by the continuous stream of Thanks and Cheers! :D

    Happy Deepawali and 'thanks' for the great article! :)

  5. I may just take you up on that offer!

    Abhi: Nope, didn't go there. It was just a day trip so had to restrict myself to Cardiff. The funny thing about Wales was the language. It took me by surprise!



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