Tag Archives: london

Fugue

Some mornings are like walking in a fugue created by a combination of your self and the movements of the world. While returning from walking the dog in the park, a couple of currency notes came flying in the wind and fell near my feet, already restless and ready to move on, so I scooped them up quickly and looked for an owner. There was no one near me chasing it down, not even anyone in the distance, looking forlornly for something they had lost. A lady across the road with dogs razor thin, pointed and one dimensional kept staring at me, and I felt self-conscious. It wasn’t her money, it was clear to me, but it was also clear to me that she was waiting to see what I would do with it. This particular lady I had encountered already a few times before. She was one of those with a natural haughty face etched in the landscape of her nose and cheeks and mouth and forehead, like a mountain destined for disdain and looking down at others around it. Blond brown hair swept to the side of her face, red lipstick, sporty vests and those thin dogs with ears pulled away from the face, such thin bodies that they threatened their own existence.

“Give them to the shop over there,” she yelled now to me from across the road. “Maybe the owner will go ask them for it.” Since there was no owner in sight, this sounded like a ridiculous plan. “I am going to go find someone homeless,” I said rather haughtily and she gave me a dubious look in return that said clearly, “Hah! As if…” before she walked away shaking her well kempt head. So, there I was this wintry morning clutching a bunch of notes in my rapidly numbing hands looking for the homeless.

I knew there was one who sat outside the Tesco (yes, I live in one of those types of neighborhoods where the haves and have nots are well demarcated and noted) but he wasn’t there this morning. There was another man who slept near the railway station, so I set off that way. He wasn’t there either. Where are the homeless today? I tried to joke to myself still clutching on to the money, all my extremities now rebelling. The next tube stop was a little less than a mile away. There is a young girl with short hair and blue eyes who sits outside that station holding up a faded sign asking money for food.

I headed that way and was almost to the entrance of the station when two old men on a big motorbike skid to a halt at the traffic light and fell down with a huge impact of bodies, metal, glass and concrete. A few of us standing on the side walk ran towards them. Broken spectacles, a green plastic bag now torn with packaged meat and liquid detergents and few other such sundry items lay on the road. The two men sat stunned on the road next to buses and cars stopped at the light. Someone struggled to move the bike muttering to himself, I don’t know to do this. A few of us tried to lift the men up and succeeded in leading them and their belongings off the road. I can’t find my glasses, one of the old men said, his bald head shining with sweat and one of the passersby handed him a slightly broken pair that he placed quickly on his nose. The crowd had now grown a little larger and I moved away from them. I had slipped the money into my pant pockets and looked now for the homeless lady but she was not there either. I stood on the sidewalk amidst the rush of morning commuters and felt myself sink into the wall. Then I turned around and started back for home. The homeless man outside the tube stop near my home had meanwhile set up his standard blue tent and it was zipped up from inside. I felt victory in the air as I hurried towards it. ” Is anyone home?” I called out and he answered yes from inside. A zip opened, a white hand appeared, money was transferred from mine to his. I sped home looking for hand sanitizing stations on the way.

You pay attention to your life every day looking for portents and signs and there is an acerbic sense of unease in the human world today. There is all the drama we see, all the drama we are a part of and then there is also beneath it all a separate angry current, as though the tides of the natural world has finally turned against us. It is the hour of our reckoning. Will we wake fast enough to change the course?

I ride my bicycle

The bike ride to the Indian grocery store in Tooting was the first time I had ventured more than two miles away from my home in six weeks. Since we moved to London, I had been holding a fear of double decker buses bearing in on me while bicycling. Now, we have bigger, more urgent fears.

Discovering new lanes and tunnels and parks, bicycling by skateparks, following directions from my phone, I rode by Wimbledon Commons, one thousand acres of countryside in the middle of Wimbledon. I felt again that pang of guilt at the beauty of this city where the parks have been kept open. The Commons though not full had plenty of people keeping space between themselves and kicking ball, playing, running, exercising, walking in the early summer sun.

In India, an uncle of mine spent an entire day in an ambulance trying to find a hospital in Kolkata that would take him in for a respiratory distress, earlier misdiagnosed for two weeks as typhoid. In a small town in Andhra Pradesh where another aunt and uncle live with their daughter, the apartment building is now in quarantine after a resident in the building tested positive. It has been three days now and the uncle is running out of his diabetes testing needles and my aunt of her blood pressure meds. They eat dal and rice, they have run out of tea. They will not be able to leave their apartment for twenty one days and no one has yet figured out how or if they will receive their meds or any more food. The stories of migrant laborers from India to Singapore are painful to read.

I will stand in line at the Indian groceries and after I buy my chilis and rice and okra and dal, I will bicycle back home with them. Afterwards I will call uncles and aunts in India and talk to them and relive again being the child I once was to them.

How to be Lovely

There is a Brazilian lady who comes weekly to clean the home, stale cigarette smoke a cloud around her, a beanie, black jacket, a wide smile and not a word in English. For a while we communicated over Google Translate but it frustrated me to take so long to say something like, Could you please change the sheets? So now we say what we have to say and we nod agreeing over god knows what.

She has taken to bringing me flowers every week. A bunch of daffodils, the yellow peeping out from closed buds, a bouquet of tulips wrapped in cheap plastic, their potential already in blushing tips of gold and orange. I am at my desk, unbrushed, unbathed on another cup of coffee. I protest always, too much money I say. No, no she says. Love she will say and hug me and then help me arrange them in a vase.

It is a mystery why we are loved by those who have no need to do so. When I was getting ready to be a divorcee twice over, that was surely a question. Now I would be struck off the lovable/datable/marriageable scene. Women came with invisible check boxes–virgin, fair, unblemished skin, well educated, qualified, financially independent (or has the potential to be), pliable, kitchen worthy, sexy, modest, humble, soft spoken, straight teeth…

Disbelief when I married again, picking up my divorce certificate on my way to the registry office. A direct rebuke to dictum–shameless, immoral, renegade, outcast, difficult, defiant, dangerous, impulsive, immature. Social structures will collapse. Children will run wild, hair uncombed and buttons undone, kitchen fires will burn down the house.

She will spend her entire day staring out the window at the grey and gold London skies, read a book and type a word or maybe a page on a good day. She will have eaten before her children and returned to her desk or angry with her husband, slammed the door and taken the dog for a walk or even gone to bed. She will be available and not available, she will be loving and not so much, she will be there and then she is gone.

I wonder why she still get flowers that bloom on her table on such a dank damp day.

Noting

This winter has kept me out of my skin. What I will remember are cold dark days, wet dark days, sometimes sunny dark days and me unable to rest or find a pause of restfulness in them. Being in my body has been shall we say a challenge. Panic, panic attacks are inane words of my state. I describe it as my days of un rest.

Unsafe. It can happen on the brightest of days and moments. The girls watching a sitcom, I am cocooned against their bodies, I close my eyes and I wake up scared. Their warmth and laughter and the evening dark gathering in the air outside cannot protect me from myself. Three girls, how I had kept them safe within me.

The biggest danger in my bed. It is my bed. A generous California king that can hold if needed a family of five and their dog. It leans against the window and light pours in on some winter days and tries to warm me. Or is it warn me? It, the bed, warns me to jump out of it and run. Flee like it is about to be bombed or mobbed taking me with it into a fire.

There is no fire. I know. I can see. It is a simple room. A bed side table on one side with my books and a clock, some medicine bottles, a pair of spectacles, a lamp. On the other side, my husband’s side table covered in his language learning books and wires and gadgets. On the ground near it always discarded clothes that he has stepped out of as he steps into the ones he will wear into the world. He makes it look easy. This stepping into the world. A cozy intimate bedroom one would say. Why, even I would say it.

My body does not let me rest in the room or in the bed. Especially during the day. At night I take a bunch of herbs to soothe and relax, ashwagandha and passion flower and HTP5 and sometimes a xanax or a melatonin. Passion can happen on that bed. In the dark. In the day it could have been a tent in a war zone, the way I flee it. Rest is for the wicked.

Could be that my work these days is all about mining my dark and that of the dark stories/myths apparently lit with the light of ancient wisdom and goodness. I have found hiding within them the darkness of subservience and obedience and coercion that we have been taught since the time we have been born. Sita the queen, Sati the goddess, see how they shine as they burn. You are not a good girl. See how you don’t shine.

I have come downstairs now to the couch in the living room. It is bright orange. More home furnishings meant to comfort and hold a family. Cushions, chairs, tables, a TV, musical instruments, photos laminated and framed, a piano, the back-greying dog sleeping on the purple bean bag, one eye always open like me, the remote near my feet urging me to give it up and watch something.

Noting. That is what my therapist had once told me to do. Note what is in the world around you. Make that safe corner in your home. So I try. There is a brown harmonium with a broken glass frame, a statue of dancing Shiva who went mad after his wife committed sati and he almost burnt the world down with his anger, children’s books and yoga books topsy turvy on dvds that line a shelf. Keeper of Lost Cities and Harry Potter with Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. The dvds reflection of a home I tried to make in foreign land. Bollywood movies and Bengali movies. Lagaan, Queen, Swades, Dangal, 3 Idiots, The Lunchbox. More.

Noting. I ate too much this morning. Sometimes I do it even before I think or know the fear is near. My stomach always seems to know and feeds me in anticipation. I cannot digest the eggs and nuts. The sun is in and out of the window.

The dog is having a nightmare. He barks under his breath in his sleep and breathes in deeply. The sun continues to come in and out from whatever clouds are in the sky today and my face moves from light to shadow with it. I continue to note. Maybe it will be enough for today. Sit still through the light and the dark. Brave.

My winter of discontent

For the last couple of days the sun has come out briefly every day, yellow and gold in blue and purple skies and in the evenings the light seems to linger just a little while longer than it normally has during this long dark winter. I feel greedy for the sun, I want to swallow it up, steal it, put it in my bag or pocket and peep at it time to time to let it illuminate my face, I want to keep it jealously for myself, no I can share it as long as I am sure that it is mine and will not go back to its wintery state of unkindness.

This winter has dragged its feet in the muddy verdure of London and I have dragged my own feet too wanting an out from the gloominess of the days. I need sunlight and sunshine and sun rays and sunniness, all things sun. I need it on my skin like a lover need to be touched, I need it in my belly like food, I need it in my brain to be able to write and create, I need it in my heart to be able to love. How do people survive and live and thrive in weathers such as this? Perhaps it is my own shortcoming but why blame myself for this sunless state?

On sidewalks around London Christmas trees are still piled up in their now inglorious state. No lights on them, no decorations, tinsel or ornaments. They block your way sullen and rude as you navigate the sidewalks. They do not comprehend their current state. I see myself reflected in them. They had their glory in the ground and then they were raised to the state of almost worship, at the center of homes and palaces and living rooms, gifts poured at their feet, candles lit around their bowers, families gathered around their branches. Now banished to the sidewalks they lie unclaimed for weeks, not even a decent private burial, they must wither and die next to cemented roads, passing dogs pee on them gladly, such ignoble ends they meet on their backs and sides.

I am impatient and turn my face away from their faded greens and browns as I continue to seek my sun.

Cuppa

This morning I almost had a panic attack in the train. I was the last one to squeeze myself in on the Eastbound Piccadilly train and at the next stop when the doors opened on the other side of me, I realized I was effectively at the bottom of a heap of humanity. An indifferent humanity dressed in black, their ears blocked by headphones, their eyes on their screens or closed or glazed into the fatigue that commuters tend to acquire in the underground realms of travel.

I reminded myself to breathe as I stifled the urge to scream or scramble, four counts of air into my stomach, eight counts slowly out but that was too much to do, so it became three counts into my belly and six out. Rhythmic belly breathing my yoga teacher calls it and it always helps and it did. I can do one more train stop I thought and I did but I couldn’t stay at the bottom of the human pile anymore as the door to the platform at the next stop opened once again on the opposite end to me.

The girl next to whom I was wedged smiled as I squeezed myself in front of her and I was grateful for her smile. Over the duration of the next two stops, I kept inching forward like this, fitting my body and my big backpack like the pieces of a puzzle through the people who stood between me and the exit door until I arrived at it and stood there in relief. Even though I was semi blocking commuters entering the train, it was a relief to step on and off the platforms to allow them in. The illusion that we are free is an important one. When my stop finally arrived I decided to walk the rest of the way to class instead of taking the connecting train.

Early morning downtown London. The stores still closed, the pedestrians limited to the office goers and not the melee of tourists too and I breathed the air, grateful to be out. Several coffee shops tempted me and what I wanted more than anything else before my class was the good old English breakfast tea, in a cup and a pot on a tray, the way it seems only the British serve it anymore. Foyles was open. If you haven’t visited this bookstore and if you are in London, you must. This five or is it six storied bookstore opens at 9 am and not only has the choicest collections of books and paraphernalia, it has a coffeeshop on the fifth level. A sizable room with ample of light and ample of tables and chairs and space and food. At that time of the morning I had my pick and sat next to the windows facing a rooftop garden that was a home created for bees. Bees need all the help they can get, a sign read.

I got my cuppa and read a book. In front of me on the wooden table, the white pot and cup of tea gleamed silver with the light of a new day.