Saturday, October 19, 2013

Who is London?

In Trafalgar Square a crowd of hundreds buzzed around me. There were lights and music so loud that it normally would have made thinking impossible. Yet in that moment, in the heart of the city, I found my bubble. I drifted around with no aim in mind, just wanting someplace to sit down and write. And not just anywhere, but someplace which feels like home. So I found myself in an Indian restaurant for dinner. It soon became apparent that I was the only Indian in the vicinity. The waiters and chefs were Bangladeshis, the diners were Americans and Britons, all engulfed in conversation and laughter. And I- I was alone. I have heard the phrase ‘Alone in a crowd’ before,  Many times in fact, but I never thought I could experience it. Well, I did. Intensely. By day and by night London enthralls me and scares me in turns. At times it welcomes me in with both arms open and at times it shuts me out.

So I find myself overwhelmed as she sheds all pretense and reveals herself, one layer at a time. Which face do I embrace?

Is it the one in the morning as I walk to my college through the Strand? Is it the coffee holding professional hands belonging to suited bodies navigating the bustling street? Is it the shoulders which constantly bump each other as ambitious men and women walk with purpose to realize their dreams. Is London then a metonym for ambition, drive and success? Should I then just join this race and climb the proverbial ladder?

But then I am forced to look at the other face. The one which reveals itself in the unacknowledged cracks and corners of this city. Cracks which are inhabited by the homeless populace. On cold nights this face attempts to mask itself with newspapers to keep warm. Flimsy masks which hide nothing. And if you look long enough, you are forced to confront your own indifference in walking by. And as your head sinks into a warm pillow, you just feel the cold, hard floor, wondering- Is London’s famed openness and tolerance to difference just an apathy which is colour blind? Is this melting pot just a black hole which sucks in ones identity? I have liked the feeling of being lost in the crowd, of not having the pressure to stand out always. And yet at times I yearn to be recognised, to be acknowledge. To be stopped in the rush and asked who I am. 

Day after day, as I make my way through this amazingly complex city, I can’t help but wonder- Is London then just irony herself? 

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