London greeted us with the perfect English summer. A fine misty drizzle beaded our hair and woolies pulled on hastily. At times, the splattering quickened making us dive for bus shelters and shop entrances. Eschewing all our bright spaghetti strapped summer dresses, we merged into London’s boring browns, blacks and tans while bobbing brollies dissected our view of London’s magnificent architecture. In fact the rain discouraged the guard at the Buckingham Palace to parade their bagpipes and drums; instruments would be damaged. So there was no Changing of the Guard for the mammoth crowd of tourists patiently waiting for hours under dripping trees.
But for the English, it was a summer heated up by Brexit fever, so many walked their scot terriers in sleeveless tees and cut-off shorts. On 12 June, the Queen celebrated one of her birthdays with a huge picnic party for the members of her numerous charities under the benevolent stare of the erstwhile Queen Victoria seated on her high throne in front of the Palace. Needless to mention all roads leading to the area including Hyde park was off-limits on that day for the more-commoner red-blooded tourists who were providing a great deal of revenue for the HM’s government.
The Tower of London, a nightmarish place during most of London’s history, harboring hundreds of wraiths; victims of the ire of English monarchs, on our Sunday visit sported long queues of tourists, despite the rain. Most made a beeline to sight the Crown Jewels, the Indians among them (at least 50% of the mob) curious to see the notorious Kohinoor.
After passing through a rabbit’s warren of dark corridors showcasing an attempt to educate us about the history of the Crown Jewels, the impatient queue finally reached the vault room where a variety of crowns set with glittering jewels were lined up in bullet-proof glass cases. Here the queue moved at snail’s space even though a moving platform forced people to slide past the lit-up cases. A young Indian girl standing beside me, indicated the plaque describing the sparkling white diamond placed in small crown, whispering to her beau, ‘See, that’s our diamond. The plaque says, “…gifted to Queen Victoria…” Actually, they stole it from us!’
Right at that instance, one of the English guard-cum-guides came forward and started explaining, ‘Ma’am, that is the Kohinoor…’
The girl turned around and looking down her pert nose at him, replied, ‘Yes, we know. We are from India.’ The man suitably snubbed, quietly stepped back. Well, it’s payback time, mate!
Tussads was even more claustrophobic than the last time I had been there. I could hardly glimpse any real work of art as all the space had been given over to the popular stars of Hollywood, Bollywood, Sports world, films and TV cartoons. People were going crazy photo-oping with them. The royal family languished and even Modi had just a few takers. I used the island of space around him to get myself clicked whispering into his ears. The caption to my photograph with Modi reads: Psst…the price tag of your kurta is showing and…it is in pounds sterling!
There is no doubt that London’s grandeur impresses the first-timer tourist. Our tour guide pointed out that Westminster Palace that houses the British Parliament evidently has a green carpet for the members of the House of Commons (commoners) and red carpet for the House of Lords! Class demarcation is something we must have inherited from the British.
From the top of the London Eye, we got a birds’ eye view of the majesty of London with the London Bridge, the Big Ben, Westminster, the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and even the Buckingham Palace spread out before us. Thames dotted with its barges flowing by reminds one of Wordsworth’s ‘Composed on Westminster Bridge’:
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky…
Still, one wishes the London’s majesty would be enhanced with a little more Brit generosity. As we were enmeshed in a traffic jam at Trafalgar Square-minus pigeons, I queried our London City guide of her views on Brexit, the vote being around the corner. She was unequivocal about the harm Brexit will do to the British trade with higher tariffs, financial services industry and the economy on the whole, yet her concern about immigration outweighed these anxieties. A curiously helpless, inbuilt horror of foreigners that the English possess must have built up this illogical, silly intolerance to the Europeans who blithely crossed over to the island when UK became part of the EU. The just, fair, righteous English character that the Brit likes to portray seems just a veneer. Underneath, they are quite racist as many Asians (or other foreigners) living here would ratify.
Brits are proud to live in a wealthy country and believe that UK attracts immigration because, even today, the pound holds sway. They forget that their wealth was procured from the countries they had colonized less than 100 years ago. Instead of hitting out at immigrants living in the UK, they should try to make up to non-Brits for grabbing what was not theirs just a few years ago.
This has been my third visit to a country which has always held a special place in my thoughts ever since my childhood when I had become familiar with the works of English poets and writers. Travelling through England always filled me with a sense of homecoming yet I could not but face up to these unwholesome realities about UK in the global context. As we sped towards Harwich to catch the cruiser we would board to cross the English Channel, my excitement was sobered somewhat wondering what the vote will be: to Remain or Brexit.
I know now.
First published on www.storyfuntastika.com Copyright@Sutapa Basu 2016