Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Move over, London! Sydney is my new love.

For a long time now I have been wanting to stage my life in London. And because I haven't been able to so far, I have been pining for the city with the kind of longing and unquestionable admiration I have for all things nineteenth-century English. This is something I have never been able to rationalize or explain, even to my self. The language, the accent, the mannerisms, images of the beautiful English countryside that Enid Blyton and other authors have filled up in my head over the years, anything even remotely English comes across as tantalizingly charming. Even the horrific insights into the iniquitous minds of wicked characters appearing in fictional murder mysteries and thrillers set in the English village have done little to dissuade me from pining for life in London. I have devoured Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, watched the television adaptations of these stories, watched The Inspector Barnaby series, Jonathan Creek, now glued on to Ruth Rendell, as much for the thrill of watching a mystery unravel as for the descriptions of the English people and their ways of life, seeking some sort of voyeuristic pleasure through a mental transportation to their land, even if only for a brief spell.

But the devotion has always been one-sided. And this kind of blind unrequited love is honestly quite depressing. I lived for a few months in London way back in 2007. It was the first time I had gone to live abroad on my own and the move ended up being an utter disaster. I have godawful memories of being mugged in Islington, of being cheated of 200 pounds by a property agent when I was looking to rent an apartment in Telegraph Place near Mudchute in the Docklands, of discovering how cruel and wicked kids can be, of beginning to fear the sound of approaching footsteps, of being homesick, of finding myself absolutely inept at navigating corporate politics, of bursting into tears in the Tube one morning on my way to work, of beginning to be terrified of big black men (which is a pity really because their deep voices have always made me go weak in the knees for good reason), of being scared and cold and lonely, of standing alone on the pavement, smoking a cigarette and gazing longingly at people and their friends making merry inside the warmth of pubs, of wondering why everything was going so utterly and horribly wrong for me. I returned to India less than four months later, not wanting to leave London but too overwhelmed and browbeaten to persist.

But even after the few unpleasant months I had spent there, my love for England only intensified. I had foolishly pinned all hopes of happiness on the city, I believed I would never be happy anywhere else. And I wasn't, for a very very long time. It makes me so sad, writing all this down does. Sigh... It now appears to me as some sort of a romantic tragedy. Me being the jilted lover, London being courted by too many beautiful men and women to heed my affections. Many of my friends made their way to London in the months that followed and have now made the city their home. Either the city has been kind enough to them or they were able to muster more courage than I had been capable of all those years ago.

I visited London again in February 2011 and enjoyed myself so much that all my yearning for the city came back to deal me a swift blow in the gut and knock the wind out of me. I started to look for London in every city I subsequently visited. In the shallow materialism of Singapore, in the familiar environs of Bangalore, in the relentless but heartwarming chaos of Mumbai, even in the insipid metropolis of Houston.

Briefly I thought Manhattan would fill the void. I was up there for three days this May. The city was segueing from spring into summer. The air was crisp, the leaves wet every morning from the showers of the previous night. Walking through Central Park and later along Park Avenue, always a Starbucks takeaway in one hand and an umbrella in the other, I remember saying out loud, "Move over, London! New York is my new love." I am still very fond of New York but I have admitted to myself the dirt and grime of Manhattan barely merit any comparison to the charm of London.

And so I have carried through most of the past five years like a jilted lover, looking for my long lost love in every new relationship, unable to savour each new association as it were.

Until we travelled to Australia this month.

One part of me wants to put words to every sight and smell and sound of the places we visited there. Tell you how beautiful and special it is. But the other part, the writerly one, tells me it will be a futile exercise. Suffice to say, what can be more delightful than clear blue skies stretched out as far as the eye can see, the ocean filling out the expanse underneath, just as blue or bluer, green in some patches, turquoise in others, surfers teasing the waves under their surfboards in graceful dance moves, the sun warm, and the ambience filled with joie de vivre? 

London, I will remember you sometimes. Like one remembers ex-lovers long after. With a strange fondness, having grown wiser and capable of more affection after a broken relationship. Knowing I have moved on. This time, without a shred of doubt.


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