Tag Archives: #london

Be Surprised

I was a little down when we were leaving London – it is almost a physical tug on my heart. It gets harder and harder to leave London, much like India. Such is life – and we ordered a Uber to get to the airport.

I got into the cab all prepared to dwell on the sombre feeling of despair as we edged towards the airport in grey London weather. And before I could fasten the seatbelt – Adam said, ‘Hey, look he has the new Prius.’ Adam and I drive Prius, which started as being a cost-saving option but now has become a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I was super excited to see the Prius dashboard and how it could connect to the phone so seamlessly. I expressed my joy in so many words and that got our driver Piotr (from Poland) to start the conversation. He even paused and reversed the car to show us all the features.

And then we got talking – first about how easy it is to be a Uber driver in the US when compared to the UK. Being MBA students, we ended up doing a back of the envelope math on how much a Uber driver will have to earn in the UK to break even. And then the conversation drifted to how he goes home to Poland, and with all the relative hopping, he feels like he needs a vacation when he comes back to London. How expensive it is to live in London but he cannot go back to Poland because his kids are English. We spoke about driverless cars, insurance, Brexit, climate change and before we knew it, we were at the airport.

And I enjoyed the conversation – the conversation was no different from what I would have with any other dear friend of mine from London over tea. The topics – home, longing for home but not being able to go, climate change, Brexit, voyages were all something that I relate it. Mind you; this was the conversation I had with my Uber driver. How often does this happen?

London as a city invites people or rather sculpts people into this mould because the city encourages discussion, openness. Once you cross the local – petty personal problems – then we can see that there are bigger things in play. The diversity in London makes us look beyond borders. What is the point in fighting over a silly line which we call a country border when the planet might not even survive in fifty years? What is the point in investing millions of dollars in the new technology when we will be having a bottle bath in a few decades? And we don’t even use 10% of the technology we have today – do we use our iPhones and Androids to their full capacity. We all have more computing power in our wristwatches these days but do we understand our carbon footprint on this planet?

This blog took its meandering path from a lovely conversation to awareness of our planet – making the title of this blog apt.

How are you going to surprise yourself?

Home Away From Home

I have talked about this topic in a few of my previous blogs. But every time I am in London, I am reminded of my global nomadic tribe despite living in Columbus. I cannot deny the almost visceral feeling that I am home while in London. Every fibre of my being relaxes knowing it has arrived – what is it about London that makes me feel at home.

Well, partly, it has nothing to do with London. It is the fact that I have moved around so much that I feel at home only when I don’t belong anywhere. And where else in the world would that be possible except in London.

When you land in London – you are welcomed in a dozen languages at the airport itself. You only have to step outside to hear all the multitude of languages that are being spoken around you. If you were blindfolded and dropped in London, you wouldn’t be able to identify you were in London just by listing to the languages around you. Different accents, Different looks, Different nationalities – THAT IS HOME for me.

I have walked on the streets of London for long enough to make them my home. The pure nostalgia of walking down the old paths and hanging out at the old haunts – makes me feel like I could go back to my old flat in Cleveland street and be back in my good old London days.

Another aspect of London is the proximity to Europe. This time in less than seven days I had visited Paris (for a day) and Spain (for the weekend). The pure joy of listening to french in the day and come back home to the Italian-English accent of the Uber driver in London feels home to me. Because honestly, that’s how I grew up in London, trips every weekend. Within 3 hours you can immerse yourself in the Spanish culture, eating dinner for three hours and have a nice long siesta and then be back in London for work.

And it is always nice to know that I haven’t lost touch with the ‘Things Londoners Do’ – get irritated at people who stand at the left side of the escalators. I had just gotten off the airport, and I was back in the element – mentally willing the tourists in front of me to shift to the right side so that I could zip down the escalators. The way a true Londoner sidesteps around the tourists, politely smiling at their awes. I used to work at British Telecom, conveniently located in st. Pauls – joke around the office was that we were probably in a large number of photos around the world than in our family albums.

London welcomes diversity with open arms and love. That is what this world needs right now – not divisiveness of Brexit or not – but pure love which you cannot take out of London. I am grateful for the fact that you can take a Londoner out of London but not London out of them.

Everybody Is An Outsider

In our recent trip to London I could not help but wonder on how different my mind and body react to being in London. The tall buildings – crowds of people around you – the buzz of the tubes, buses which you do not notice anymore. I automatically start to walk fast, whiz through the tubes with oyster card. It’s like my body relaxes and my mind feels safe.

I feel safe and at home amongst the tall buildings and the crowds. It is amongst crowds that I truly am myself because no one is watching but I feel connected. It is ironic but you have to know the rhythm of the city before you can connect to it. Cities have a rhythm of their own – it’s like a drum beat, once you know the beat you are good until then it feels very unfriendly and foreign. The connection in the city is not very obvious – slap on the back type connection. This type of connection goes beyond the ‘How are you? and the weather talk.” These are built in by the common experiences of living in a city – the waiting for the tubes, the annoying way the tourists stand on the right had side of escalators, London weather, the times when you catch another stranger’s eye in the tube and share a silent smile over something funny.

Before I left for London somebody asked me, “So, when you come back will you have a British accent?” I laughed and said,”No, nobody British lives in London.” The following is a picture I took one day in tube – this is what I mean.

Everybody is from outside so you don’t feel out of place. Now of course this is true for people who have led a urban nomadic life – by that I mean never stayed in one place forever. In my narrow view of the world there are two kinds of people one who travel [Like Live in different cities not just tourist] and one who don’t. And neither is good or bad – it is what lifestyle suits you. But they both are a world apart in every way you can think of.

In someways it is the difference between lonely and alone. When you are in a city you are alone but lonely. And that is a huge difference. Being alone is a state of being and Being lonely is a state of mind. And I am just talking about my experience here – I am sure for others it doesn’t matter where they live. We all came alone into the world and we will go alone out of the world too. Whatever happens in the middle is only a journey which we all travel inner-ly, it does not matter whether we have companions or not.

We are like an outsider for our inner self who is traveling alone in this journey called Life.

London – A walk down the memory lane

We lived in London for seven years before moving to Columbus. I am fortunate enough to have explored London in different phases. You experience a different London when you are a student – a different one when you are working – a different one when you are on paid holiday. London is the locus if you are into traveling so a lot of people visited us – in fact my dad used to joke that our place was like a B&B and with that comes a truckload of memories. Also the time in London was my phase of self-exploration and I spent a lot of time with lots of people – which again has a lot of memories attached to it. When we lived in London it wasn’t evident but when you come back to London I realized how every place/cafe at least in central London is like a memory stone.

Next year we would have spent five years in Columbus. And one would think that London would feel strange after having lived in Columbus for so long. But thankfully that wasn’t the case. It felt like as if we had never left – like we belonged..

Primarily its because of the connection with the people. I met up with my friend – Ranjani and we started off where we left. It was just like old days – we curled up on the sofa with a throw, had tea and chatted. It’s funny how somethings never change or rather they just follow the same path – we joke about her tea making process, spoke about common friends before moving onto what’s happening in our lives. It’s a straight cut to the chase – no formalities or talking about the weather if you get my drift. Such interactions are precious.

Another reason is the city itself – everybody is from outside so if you have led a nomadic life then you know what I mean.

One morning we went to one of our regular haunts Costa cafĂ© on Tottenham Court Road and plonked down with our electronic devices. The old couches had been replaced with the swanky chairs but the drink/ambience was the same. And then one of our friends Nick walked in and it seriously felt like old days. There is something so comfortable about hanging out with old friends – almost like muscle memory feels very familiar and comforting. And it happens on its own.

We spent a lovely day with another couple talking about food, being vegan, cycling, podcasting, dance classes. The range of topics we talk about is so different because London opens up your horizons – just living in a city which is so diverse in every which way makes you more accepting and broad minded. As you walk down streets or in the tube and you hear people talking in their native language it feels like home. I don’t feel like an outsider any more – I feel like I belong.

Walk down the SouthBank with one of Adam’s good friend – Viktor made me feel like we had never left London. The same familiar sights – book market/ Wahaca food truck/ ping pong and the hoards of people crossing from Waterloo station to South Bank. It felt so familiar – things have changed and they haven’t

We even made it out to my old Flat in St. Johnswood and as we crossed over to Regent’s park the single decker red 274 Bus was a familiar sight. We have so many memories associated with this bus. It was our single connection to the school while we were students at London Business School. And most of the time it was a race between us and the bus to see who could get there faster. And it was funny how every time you waited for the bus it never showed up and the minute you decided you had enough and you want to walk to school it will show up.

The first few days have been a whirlwind however they filled up my reservoir of memories in my emotional tank which I did not realize needed filling.

I Don’t Drink

I was telling a colleague about my Belize trip and I mentioned about the delicious virgin mango-coladas. And his question was “How come you don’t drink?” I thought it would make for a good blog post. Here we go.

Growing up in India in 80s and 90s in a middle class family, I just assumed that Alcohol and Smoking were bad. End of story – no questions asked. And drinking is not a common part of a daily life in India.

Alcohol and me did not cross paths until I started working in Patni Computer Systems. We had a big release. I was the youngest girl on the software team. My team along with tech lead decided to go out and celebrate with drinks. As they packed up early I told them I wanted to join too. My tech lead who probably thought of me as a kid told me, “No, you run home – this will be really late thing.”.

On the bus ride home I decided I was going to go drink as well that day. So I reach home, wait for my dad to come and tell him that I want to drink. And to my dad’s credit he didn’t even blink. He said, “Ok, let’s go out for dinner and we can drink.” My mom was horrified and I remember her telling my dad, “You are going to drink with your kids.” My dad replied, “Well, its good that they are drinking with us and not with strangers.”

We went to Copper Chimney in Bombay [now Mumbai] and my dad ordered a Bacardi Breezer and my brother not be left behind saw his chance and said, “I want one too.” He got one too. I had a sip and it tasted terrible. It wasn’t sweet or fruity. With all the hype around drinking I was expecting it to taste better than my favorite mango drink Frooti or Maaza. I left it as it is. My brother gulped it down though.

My dad told me, “if you don’t like the taste of Bacardi Breezer then there is very little chance that you will like the other alcoholic drinks.” Honestly, that did it for me. When other people talked about alcohol I didn’t care much.

It was in Phoenix that I changed my view – “Anybody who drinks alcohol is bad” to “People who drink alcohol are normal people,” as almost everybody drank in US.

Fast forward to London Business School in UK. If you know anything about UK the drinking culture is very popular there. There is a pub at every street. And MBA graduates are not going to be left behind so they had these pub crawls and they are a big part of the social life in B-school. I joined a couple in the beginning and saw my friends getting drunk to the point where they would end up puking. Now, that did not interest me at all. I didn’t like the smell of beer which was pretty pervasive in London Pubs and that time smoking wasn’t banned in public places as well. I hated the smell of smoke on my clothes and it would never come off. Hence, I made a socially limiting move to not go out drinking – it reduced my social circle and networking a lot but there was no way I was going to drink smelly beer and smell like smoke.

I would still go to a few events and end up drinking coke or lemonade – not bad at all. After a few drinks others are too drunk to even notice what you are drinking.

And now I do Vipassana and one of the precepts is that you do not have intoxicants – so that sealed it for me.

I hope you all enjoyed this little walk down one of my memory lanes.