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.