I was five when I first saw the Gateway of India located in Colaba, Bombay opposite that other famous edifice, the Taj Mahal Hotel. Fighting through the crowds on the unforgiving local trains, my family had travelled all the way from the suburb of Andheri, an hour's journey on one of Bombay's notorious local trains. Knee-to-knee, the entire vestibule moved in sync with the swaying motion of the vessel. Sweat dripped down my back onto my favourite pink candy-floss dress. I wiped it away impatiently, relieved to step off the train, onto the crowded Victoria Terminus, and then finally sighed with delight to breathe in the tangy sea air of the Arabian sea.
It took my breath away. That venerable monument, the sentinel of Bombay keeping a close eye over the city, which was witness to those who dared enter from the sea watching helplessly when they had held the Taj Mahal Hotel hostage--The Gateway of India, erected to commemorate the landing of their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.
Looking at that proud building, hand-on-heart, I can say that I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would reach the Mother ship. i.e. Great Britain. From Andheri to Islington, you've come a long way baby!
Or pehaps not? For it is only after I left Bombay I learnt that it is one of the most characteristically Victorian cities in the world. A foreshadow of my future? For today, it never ceases to amaze me that I live in a hundred year old Georgian house, in the lap of history itself with a future given to me by my adopted country Great Britain.
A decade into living in this wonderful country I am a true Londoner. London is one of the greenest cities in the world. Don't take my word for it? Just look around the city. You are never more than ten minutes away from a patch of green. Unlike New York which only has Central Park, the Victorians knew how to plan their gardens and backyards alright. I live not fifteen minutes away from Hampstead Heath in one direction, and in the other my favourite corner of this planet, Highgate Wood, where I often walk among centuries old trees seeking inspiration.
I am also one of the few who actually likes London weather. I remember distinctly learning in Geography class at the St. Josephs' High School for Girls in Vile Parle, another suburb of Bombay, that UK has a temperate climate. Now I am living it. It's not energy sapping hot (like Asia), nor bitingly cold (like most of Europe) it's just right. So, for me personally this means huge levels of productivity, I don't get tired quickly and can pack a lot into the day, and in most seasons I can walk anywhere in London.
The British influence on my growing years comes through in many other ways. A deep familiarity with Enid Blyton & ginger beer for one; not to mention Sherlock Holmes, the Beatles, P.G.Wodehouse, Cricket, a love for English (which is my first language) and of course a very accepting attitude to bureaucracy.
I was shocked by my first conversation with British Gas, till I realised that I had exchanged the red tape of India for the real thing. I had truly come to the source of the triplicate--Great Britain. This is why the British always considered India the jewel in the crown. At heart we are the same. We love formality, ceremony--the layers. The process is more important than the end. After that I relaxed. I really had come home.
In many ways, on my annual sojourn back to Bombay, I can no more identify with my family and friends' pursuit for money. With the economy booming all anyone can speak of is flipping apartments, investing on the stock market, buying gold--the buzzword is wealth creation. Its healthy, to plan for your future but perhaps the East is going the way of where the West once was in the pursuit of the material. Paradoxically most of my friends in London are in search of themselves. The trend is to quit your day job to become a life coach, or move to Goa to run a yoga ashram, or plan to downsize from the everyday. How to just be? I am still trying to understand when this switch took place.
So this is me: proud Londoner, inspired by Indian mythology, obsessed by a futuristic Bombay which features in most of my writing and at heart a big fan of GB. I cannot be more proud that my adopted city will host the Olympics and am comforted to see a eighty-six year old monarch celebrate her sixty year reign. In this instant gratification, connected world, I am content to have found a footprint on this planet where I can enjoy the stillness and celebrate my journey so far.
London really is at the centre of the universe. (Don't believe me? Check out the world map.)
Have you had a similar experience? I would love to hear from you.