As I look out of the window, the Shard obscuring my view of the London eye, the sky turns from a pale pink to lilac to pale navy blue, and the red dots of the city skyscrapers come on. The river below is calm and yet the tide is high. Unlike the usual September weather, there is no wind, no chill, but a soft warm enveloping cocoon under the clouds that are swarming in. From one balcony I am witnessing the evolved sky line of an iconic global city and the changing weather patterns of the world. This is why London is unique to me - it constantly makes me learn and grow, but just like the tide keeps me true to myself.
When I moved back to Fontainebleau after my Indian summer in London, my friends at business school were convinced that I had a boyfriend hidden somewhere on the cobblestone paths of London. It seemed unimaginable that simply a few weeks in a city could bring about a transformation in someone, or so they thought. But there was one friend who saw me in my boots and said, "T you are on your way to realising your dreams. I love the you that has emerged." I love the me that skips out every time I am in London!
Thinking about it, as I lie on the couch, now looking at the black sky lit with red and gold lights of the Shard and Tower Bridge; it's because London lays down no expectations. I was free to be then and I am free to be me today. London absorbs everyone and everything that comes its way. That lends comfort and increases familiarity; leading to a feeling of belonging which is rare to find in a gigantic global city.
At one of my first parties in London, in the very posh Sloane Square, I was trying to make conversations and improve my understanding of the British culture. Standing with an English gentleman belonging to the elite of the city, I asked what was the national dish of Britain. "Why, it's Chicken Tikka Masala obviously"; the answer to my innocent question left me amused and confused. I was the Indian and that should have been my reply! But no, I had not yet realised what a sponge this city is.
I say British culture and then I say London, no I am not missing anything here. Britain is London and then the rest of it. Birmingham is very Asian. Sheffield is the very normal English industrial city. Bath is historic and aristocratic even maybe. Oxford is the snob, not because it is better than its fellow cities but because it is a better version of what it was yesterday. London is a mix of them all and then the commonwealth, New York, Paris, Eastern Europe and the list is endless.
My love for the halloumi grew here as I craved it for breakfast when I had no patience to cook anything that would need a fuss. My understanding of the Italian cuisine took foundation in the many delis and restaurants that I visited where the Italian chefs gave me recipes and tricks of cooking. From South American to Ethiopian to Malay to Thai to Korean and Japanese, the cuisines albeit in their vegetarian avatar started tickling my taste buds here. My appreciation for the tea, and yes I am Indian, developed here when I came across varieties from white tea from China in the London markets to the rose infused first flush blends created specially at Fortnum & Mason.
Having lived in various parts of the world, before moving to London, I was familiar with foods of the world. But London made them accessible in all shapes and forms, from the hawker variety to the authentic to the one especially curated for the British pallet. With a few exceptions, outside of London, in Britain, I was always sure to find an Indian restaurant but that is where the food adventure often ended.
Melody and music came to me in varied forms here. Dressed in my best I sat with a friend in the box seats of the Royal Albert Hall listening to Tchaikovsky, a composer I had never heard before and today I listen to more and more. In my cargo pants I stood head banging just below the stage as Bono sang With or Without You. That he did not call me up on the stage left me a tad sad 12 years ago, but my cargo pants were no match for the leather pants of the girl that made it next to the legend himself. How can I forget the open air concert of African percussionists outside the TFL offices. Under the moonlit skies I sat mesmerised. London fuelled my passion for music and there has been no looking back.
London pushed me to explore me, delve into the depths of breadths of every experience that touched me. It never let me and still does not let me become complacent. It continues to bring out the best in me and maybe that is why the boyfriend mystery still haunts my friends...
In the morning light the Shard still hides the London Eye but it now it dawns on me; London is special because everyone can coexist here. There is a place for everyone under the London sun.