07 August, 2011

Letters: London

[Image: Outline Editions]
My Dearest, 

What is it about some cities? As I sit in the noisy tube, squashed between a punk with electric blue hair and an old lady with varicose veins, I realise that very few people in London are from London. Does it not resonate with the spirit of my very own Delhi

"Where are you from?", they ask me. 
"Delhi", I reply, a tad wistfully, for you know I miss it so. 
They look at me with indulgent patience and pursue, "Yes Delhi, but where are you really from?"   

I'm watching the people around me, and a memory nudges me. You, quietly applauding my powers of observation. I decide to do you proud. A baby boy is crying at the far end of the compartment, its petulant rants drowning out the announcements. There are little blue sailboats on his shirt and they look like they are waiting for someone to blow a gust of wind their way. I watch a guy watching the girl with red lipstick put on another layer of that blood red colour. An old man is deciphering which station he must get off at, tracing the route with a very long, dirty fingernail. He talks to me in French and I shake my head in incomprehension. The doors open now, I hop off, obediently minding the gap. 

[Image: Blanca Gomez]
London, like every great city, is larger than the sum of its parts. I hear it heaving with the weight of its history, breathing and shifting, muddling heartbeats in its eagerness to impress. I look around me and everyone seems to be clutching onto a map of some sort, struggling with sheets of different dimensions and varying levels of illegibility. There seem to be more people who want to know London than people who know London. I watch the tourists and smile as they frantically flip mini-maps of the underground this way and that. All the colours and lines seem to merge for them, blurring into a mosaic of confusion. I smile again, wasn't I once just as lost, just as harried? Oh how quickly we change sides! Moving from the supposedly brown to the greener side. Sometimes so swiftly we barely catch our breath to count our blessings.

I enter the bookshop and wander along its aisles. It marries my passions of reading and traveling so beautifully that I am overwhelmed by the perfection. Travel books covering every part of the globe line the shelves and I pick out one and bury my nose into it. Remember that time we walked into every bookshop in CP, strangers reluctant to remain so for too long, and you spoke of how each book smelt different? The floor here is covered in maps and I dream of tracing patterns over it. I scan the notebooks and diaries of every shape and size, chiding myself for wanting to buy some more stationery. There is a respectable crowd around the shelves tagged India and I feel self-conscious as I browse through books about my own country, for I know that no writing can capture a landscape that is your own.   

"One day I'll be back (your blue room)
Oh yeah, I hope I remember where it's at (your blue room)
You see me slide on, won't you bring me back home?"

Perhaps every city moves at several different paces at the same time. There is the London of frantic underground travel: an incessant rat race, people metamorphosed into pieces of automated clockwork which reminds me of the video that haunted my childhood. There is the London of leisurely strolls in Richmond Park, with time standing still as deer prance through the grass. There is the boisterous London with people hooting as they cruise down the Thames in their party hats. There is the London of snapshots as people freeze frames against the Circus that is Piccadilly. I watch London trip over time frames and marvel how yet another great water body, the famed Thames this time, plays with my peace. It enters the recesses of my mind, channeling through words and ideas seldom aired. Somewhat like those thought experiments you urge me into sometimes. And suddenly, I realise that you were right, I am in some ways like Celine. I too feel like a very old woman inside.      

I find myself in front of the Royal Opera House now, eagerly waiting for my senses to be plundered by the promise of my first tryst with ballet. As the curtains rise, the stage comes alive. Gold and glitter, everything is lit with grandiosity. Oh how beautiful it is my dear, do you see the girls pirouetting on their toes, each one art in motion, delicate filigree dolls dancing to the genius of Tchaikovsky! Ladies use the programme pamphlets as fans, little girls sit at the edge of their seats, awestruck at the beauty they are witnessing. I am transported to another plane, allowing my senses to be plundered, humbled to be part of such beauty. Everyone applauds the victory of the Prince over the evil sorcerer. The fair Odette is rewarded with love at the end. But what of the supposedly 'black' Odile, I wonder at her fate. Do you remember that postcard you wrote about experiences moulding a person and how ours were diverging on so many scales it was hard to keep up with the flux? Sitting amidst the sheer brilliance of Swan Lake, I touched the truth of your words. But you know I am not built for remorse, and so when I walked out, though mellowed, I was satiated.   

Its raining outside now, what would this city be without its weather I wonder. Running for cover, I see the skies change moods again. An undefeated sun is lending me a few more hours of daylight. And then around the corner, I see a spectacular sight. A complete rainbow, so large, it draws an arc over me, a protective arch of unadulterated joy. People stop in their tracks, whipping out cameras of every level of sophistication. Tiny droplets are still falling and the sun rays catch them, colouring them into such pretty hues that I am transfixed. London's skyline has never looked so enchanting, famous landmarks are pointed out to me and I drink in the details. 

I am ending the day with a midnight ride on the tube. I see him kiss her, the girl in fluorescent stockings, she does a little twirl, oh the giddiness of a kiss and I shiver in the slight chill, it is quite late now you know. I see Baker Station pass by and its walls are covered with that famous silhouette; Holmes with his pipe, characteristically looking away from me in a studied silence. I look away too. The guy sitting beside me is bored. His Afro alone is as tall as me and I see him playing with his iPhone, scrolling aimlessly, too fast to read anything, slow enough to appear occupied. He stops randomly and then begins the fervent scrolling again. Perhaps he doesn't have anyone to write to.  

"Are you looking for answers, To questions under the stars? 
Well, if along the way, You are growing weary 
You can rest with me until, A brighter day and you're okay"    


  1. Dear M,

    I thought I had spent my words a long time ago. I thought they had died in the shadows of my fears. Yet, every time I am pushed into a corner, a few struggle out. So bear with me if they test your patience for they are indeed the labour of love. Look at those poor creatures! They are so weak, stumbling over themselves. Baby steps. I am sure soon they’ll be confident enough to stand on their own, breaking into the feeble smile of a small wonder. How do they come so easily to you? These truant children of mine?

    I see but do not observe. I hear but fail to listen. I notice but can not remember. I write but never evoke. I exist but do not live. What were you saying? Ah, yes. Places, people, cities, signboards, and memories have all coalesced to form an incoherent and stubborn puzzle. As one day silently slides behind another, all these images seem to be gradually blurring into each other. Into a dull hue that defies description of any sort. With nervous fingers, I try sifting the pieces, hoping to see the bigger picture. Bring an order to chaos. But the task is too difficult and you know I give up so easily. You fear I give up too easily.

    The books, they look meticulous in the precise little shelves,
    And shirk off my neglect of them with a stately nonchalance.

    They are my escape from this world. I cry on their shoulder often, lamenting a dream gone astray with tearless, choked sobs. Do you know they still tease me with their smell? In my better moods, they sigh contentedly under the silent gaze of my senses – touch, smell, sight – and purr in approval from time to time, as if I am softly making love to them. I must admit I am partial to some of them and my favour manifests itself in their arrogance. Poor darlings! So eager to be in the limelight of my thoughts, they overstep boundaries and encroach upon space meant for the silent, more modest ones. What a dilemma!

    Passion. Passion. Passion. Where have I lost it? It was a trusted ally in all my wars, striking down my foes with its fierce blade. Now, without it, I feel lost and alone. The faces on my walls sport their sinister laughter in its absence and all I do is pray for sleep. A drugged, sound, dreamless sleep. So much so, that even my waking hours have been tied down by the slow, measured pace of caution and the characterless gait of strict regimen. I am too frightened to smile, wondering what wanton remark will wipe it from my face. So I know nothing of the varied paces you talk of because ironical as it may seem, the novelty in my life has made a quiet exit through the backdoor. In letting it do so, I fear I have lost your respect forever. And, to a certain extent, my own.

    Yet this heart is strong and this mind unrelenting and, you
    Will agree, there’s a secret pleasure in tip-toeing along edges.

    I remember everything I wrote but I never make an effort to recall it. The words are my arrows in the dark – some hit their mark, some miss out. Either way, I have never thought it wise to retrieve the prize for the joy of victory is only relative, being marred by the death of its target. Now do you know why I pose questions the answers to which I do not seek or insist upon?

    Spirits are high and their eyes shine in
    your gathering. Oh look,
    It seems they possess what I have been seeking – in seeking
    Redemption where it can’t be found, of late, I often try to
    Deny myself the happiness that can’t be shared with you and
    In such moments of perverse pleasure, I resent you a little bit
    For being too warm in the gay company of the varied colours.

  2. Remorse. Lives spiralling out of control. Paths diverging along strange directions. Faces forgotten to crowds. Voices lost to absent conversations. Affectation won by caring acquaintances. Experiences shaping unknown personalities, forming alien opinions, and penning down stories one can not relate to. Lonely nights grown lonelier still until love and longing lose their lull. Life is incomplete without remorse because it’s perfect without remorse.

    Remorse. You were never the one for it, I know. But when my wet blanket clouds the rainbow in your sky, I have seen it in your eyes – this malignant gift of mine. There is nothing I can say which will make it go away. My deed is done and this curse is yours. I am sorry. All I can hope for is that its murky shadow does not ruin your smile. In my heart, I have faith it won’t. For I have seen you willfully banishing it from your life and pursuing happiness at all costs. For I have seen you humiliate it into a surrender. But I do panic sometimes for even you can not be that strong. In such moments, I quickly reason that the endless days far outnumber the numbered ones. In such moments, I secretly wish that even in the distance future of your life, I shall remain standing as a treasured milestone.

    Take care,

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmYT79tPvLg&ob=av3e

  4. I think your post had bad feng shui. The rioting in the capital seems to have spread to other cities as well.

  5. Marvin, my post was 'mostly harmless'.



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