Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Walk For A Lifetime In Manchester

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

I started blogging my Mancunian saga in 2012 after one of my rebellious strolls down Oxford Road to the University’s north campus. Rebellious because I willingly subjected myself to a 30-minute walk in the omnipresent rain, wind and morning chill despite possessing a bus pass. The unexplainable thrill of resistance against Stagecoach, or an unquenched need to take a ‘hippie’ approach to travelling weren’t prime reasons, despite social speculation to the contrary.

I loved it. 

If Manchester is a melting pot (a melting pot that is constantly being rained upon, mind you), then the fusion is supremely coagulated at Oxford Road. I would embark on this odyssey of sorts from Hulme Hall, trudge through wind, rain, hail or snow, walk past the historic Whitworth Hall, through a barrage of auburn leaves doomed to fall, with ravenous stares at the world beyond the leafy curtain. Manchester was, and always has been, poetic. 

All the world a stage, and I was still in the audience

There’s a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by a brook, there’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving

And it makes you wonder? It does.

The daily glum office-goers, the resigned, sleep-deprived students, people with vibrant, flashy attires, hairbrush-like mohawks wearing jackets borrowed from The Road Warriors. Tattoos that twirled and piercings that stood out, testimony to a society that celebrated individuality. 

Of course, there was me as well - a similar resigned, horribly sleep-deprived (thanks, Ritz) bespectacled boy who might’ve featured in someone else’s blog post as the guy who hummed Led Zeppelin a bit too loud. If those are my five words of internet fame, I’ll take it. 

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on

The highlight of this odyssey would be at the junction of Joshua Brooks, where I was presented a choice of walking down Charles Street, or sneak through, Frost-like, along the road not taken - a shaded alleyway under an ancient railway bridge that led trains right into Manchester Piccadilly. Unlike the increasingly modernised state-of-the-art trains it carried (much love, Virgin Trains), this structure was like any other ancient bridge - desolate, worn and tainted with graffiti. 

It was the home, and the graffiti the work, of creatures of the night.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul

It’s no surprise then that I always chose, ‘hippie-like’ if you will, the road not many took. Amidst the moss and weed, at times I could spot cigarette butts or empty bottles of liquor, probably thrown by the same hands that skilfully decorated those brick walls with graffiti.

There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

As always, I looked for stories in the graffiti and found many. Be it a vibrant caricature of hustlin’, bustlin’ D-O-double G Snoop Dogg, or a heartbroken lover’s lament that involved his or her love’s name in a heart surrounded by the foreboding word ‘WHY?’. I was particularly fascinated by the individual who sprayed ‘The Vegetarian’, and slightly disappointed that no one had bothered notifying me that it was a character trait worth hyping into a nocturnal antihero.

Immensely intriguing, however, were the capricious designs on the walls. One fine rainy (surprise surprise) morning, I chanced upon the words ‘Home is where the hate is’, and remained transfixed. There was a story in those words, and I wouldn’t rest until I had played out all possible scenarios. Was it a teen fed up with home? Or a homeless adult cast away? 

I didn’t know, and I will probably never know. But I wanted to. Way more than I ever wanted a Pepe’s Paneer Rice box. I never knew what happened to the artist, but a couple of months since its appearance, a new line had been sprayed over half the words - ‘You make it’.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. This was, after all, one of the many well-kept secrets of Manchester.

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last

To clandestine Manchester, amidst the ocean of raindrops and the English chill, I thank you for being the beautiful and homely place you wished to be. No place is ever the same, and no amount of future visits can bring back the life you once lived. Buildings vanish, streets get revamped and the people, for it is the people who truly make a place, move on. The man at Spice Kitchen who enjoyed our banter has disappeared, taking with him my inclination to delve into Lahori Channa. The walk to the Wilmslow Park bus stop, five years down the line, will be just that, as compared to the guarantee of a couple of conversations with people on the streets it was up till now. There shall be faces as always, but with names unbeknownst to the protagonist.

All that matters is the time we live in, here and now.

When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll?

Saturday, 9 July 2016

London: My Monopoly Board Come To Life: Part 2

Make sure to read Part 1 first, because who the hell starts with Part 2?


Numerous other books and prominent movies have all harboured British or American connections, and as such, I grew up reading and visualising a lifestyle far, far different from the one I had. It used to amuse me that The Secret Seven needed gloves, boots (even galoshes), coats and hats whenever they needed to step outdoors. The fact that they had gardens and backyards to play in and attics and basements to hide in was truly wondrous and whimsical. As a denizen of the Middle East, living in and surrounded by towering building blocks, a house with a garden, garage and backyard denoted luxury. The wind, rain and snow were inconceivable weather elements and ‘muddy boots’ never a complication. 

Consequently, despite having spent a couple of years in Manchester, this perception of a British life is what influenced my thoughts in this piece, so excuse me for that deliberate, probably unneeded, exposition of my intent. It’s important you immerse yourself in the context I took with me, because as I strolled through the streets of London, I found myself subconsciously comparing them to my fictional cerebral manifestations, formed by judging the property prices on my Monopoly game board. Surely, Mayfair would be the best place to visit (over Old Kent’s Road)?

So I walked on, took the tube, walked a bit more and watched my Monopoly board awaken and transform into reality, marvelling at historically significant avenues with heavy names, tha-

Actually, let’s cover that. Apart from stories, I also like a good name. I still can’t place what type of names I particularly get a crush on - it’s probably just one of those things that you can’t put into words. Faf Du Plessis, Lance Klusener, Harry Kane, Karim Benzema, Brock Lesnar, Tom Bombadil, The Nazgul - names that don’t have to be linked to heroes, men of importance or any hype. It’s just the name that gets to me. 

London had its fair share, aided and abetted by references in popular works - Bond Street, Baker Street, Marylebone, Trafalgar Square, Fleet Street, Strand, Tottenham Hale. I think this was a big factor - every section of the city was, or seemed, relevant. Each tube station name jumped out to me historically significant. To have the infinite power (vested by a day travelcard) of being able to travel to Canary Wharf, Westminster or Piccadilly Circus was thrilling. A thrill that could only be sparked by the pulsating and vibrant city of London, unlike any other the United Kingdom has to offer. 

The architecture, the parks, the squares, the people and the stories. I ambled, completely by chance, into a park one-tenth the size of Hyde Park, and found myself facing a 9/11 memorial. London probably doesn’t like having simple, ordinary parks and squares, I mused as I stared at the small encrypted stone that rested above a rusted steel girder from the World Trade Center. For all the experiences and visuals I had the privilege of chancing upon in one of the leading global cities in the world, the words of Queen Elizabeth that lay etched on a wooden pediment in a tiny memorial garden have stayed with me, probably never to be separated -

‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ 

This was it. The depth. The meaning in the words, the emotions in the phrases. The superficiality I had grown up with nowhere to be found. A city juxtaposed with modernistic skyscrapers and archaic monuments. The beauty of it all in contrast with the darkling underbelly of this massive beast, where crawled the infamous London Underground, symbolic of its veiled countenance. 

Swarms of eclectic people filed through and lined up at platforms to peer into the immovable darkness. A distant rumble, a sudden whoosh and out rushed the trains I remember from video games and movies.

For the Londoners, this was a daily quest to scale the colossal city. They don't see the spires and antiquated architectures anymore. Nelson's column is just another photograph and Big Ben just another fancy clock.

For a young Indian kid heavily influenced by British culture, however, it was his Monopoly board come to life.

London: My Monopoly Board Come To Life: Part 1

“I like cities with a story.”

Ever since I was young and moderately literate, I’ve been a hopeless aficionado of storytelling and storytellers. If you’re into underrated Bollywood movies and have managed to expose yourself to the visually and mentally stimulating odyssey that is Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, that little kid gaping with open-mouthed amazement at the apparently magical storyteller with larger than life yarns could have easily been me (spoiler: he was full of shit).

Stories are my thing. If being funny was Chandler’s thing, and getting divorced was Ross’, then stories are definitely mine. Storytelling is an unacknowledged art, and a good story the masterpiece. There’s an aura of magic engulfing the creation of fictitious realms, and their ability to transport you away, oblivious to mundane realities. 

I’ve come to terms with the fact that such profound musings from me have the probability of appearing daft or worse, pseudo-intellectual, so let me allow Hugh Jackman (you’re welcome, ladies) to say the exact same words, but now with credibility - "... but if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you... then you got to see something really special. You really don’t know? It was... it was the look on their faces.”

Having spent my teenage years in Dubai, a city that I initially resented for the superficiality that it happily celebrated, I was a parched little mind ambling aimlessly through the immaculate streets of the city that cared. It was not until I stepped foot, ‘way on down south onto London Town’ that I came to terms with my infatuation for cities with a story. London, beautiful old city London, had many.

I had been to London on numerous instances previously, but it took a loner trip for me to really see it. I have lived a childhood engulfed with Western influences, primarily the enchanting works of Enid Blyton and one JK Rowling. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s just the serene beauty of it or the fact that it was featured in my favourite chapter of one of my favourite book series, but King’s Cross station has always held an indescribable aura to it. I’ve clearly got my priorities right since I could happily whisk past the Buckingham Palace without a second glance, yet gaze, until the end of time, at King’s Cross. 

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it is not real?”