Monthly Archives: February 2007

I’m deeply amused, and also, in a way, deeply touched.

I’m wanted by the police. In Bangalore. Kumaraswamy Layout, to be precise.

Let me explain. Sometime in 2004, I was driving towards the city when I came across some idiot making an illegal U-turn just before Sarakki, and blocking traffic in both directions. I therefore called him an idiot and carried on, little knowing that in him burned the fires of unrighteous anger, assisted by a short fuse. He stopped behind me at the traffic lights, and I, seeing him, rolled up the window and locked the door, thinking to myself that he really couldn’t do anything. Right?

Wrong. Next thing I know, I’m sitting in a pile of shattered glass, as the driver-side window caves in under a fist, and while I’m still stunned by that realisation, he’s cuffed me across the face. In the time it takes me to unclip my seatbelt (ah, responsible driver that I am) and open the door, he’s cuffed me again. Not hard, mind, but enough to leave bruises that lasted a few days, as I discovered later. I had the car in gear, so I accidentally released the clutch, jerking the car into the auto in front of me. I clearly remember the irate auto driver coming out to yell at me and then realising he didn’t want to get involved in something of this magnitude, and quietly slinking back to his auto.

Anyway, some slanging ensued, based primarily around the recurring themes of Who did I think I was, calling him an idiot? and Didn’t I have any respect for my elders and betters? and Didn’t I know who he was? to which my responses were along the lines of I thought I was someone who knew an idiot when I saw one and No, not when they were idiots and No, and didn’t care anyway.

This went on for a while, and I was shaking with anger, but managed to refrain from hitting him back, and eventually he drove on, and I went to the police and registered a complaint, and got the window fixed, and went on home. I didn’t really have any faith that the complaint had actually a) been taken down or b) would be acted on, so I forgot all about it, had the bruises looked at (nothing serious) and carried on punting down the grand olde River of Life.

Until this afternoon, when the AP fielded a call from Kumaraswamy Layout Police Station, saying that I was wanted to give evidence in connection with the court case. I really, really, really wish I could go do it – but there’s no way, of course, and I don’t have the contact details of any other eyewitness. I was alone in the car. It’s a source of some satisfaction that the idiot has had a court summons, which should have given him a hell of a scare, and if he really is a politician’s son, as we speculated (on the grounds that no one else would try to get away with that sort of thing in public) it would have been sweet to actually do something about, but that’s impossible.

I’m really quite touched, though, that this eventually floated up to the surface and was dealt with. A sort of faith-restoring moment. Also deeply amused, of course, that it’s reappeared in this way. Ironic, but amusing. As the AP noted, the wheels of Justice grind exceeding slow, but they grind exceeding fine.

Oh dear Og, make it stop!

I can’t tolerate this any longer – the sickeningly sweet, overpowering, cloying, everywhere smell of lavender hanging in the air. Nothing seems to work, really, to persuade it to relinquish its deathgrip on my room, and I don’t mind saying that I’m finding it more than a tad annoying. Have you ever tried to live with the smell of lavender suffocating you and infecting everything you eat? I thought not. Don’t try it.

Oh, and what happened was that I knocked over a bottle of air freshener in one of my tormented night-time thrashings, and as fate would have it, the cap was slightly unscrewed. The oil leaked out, and as they say, the rest was a disaster. I couldn’t walk into my room without getting an instant headache for close to two days, and even now after it’s dimished to vaguely manageable levels, it annoys me the moment I walk in.

Oh well. The price of clumsiness, eh?

And here’s the funny thing

It’s a curious realisation – but London is starting to feel like home. At least to the point that I’m feeling comfortable and starting to be familiar with a little bit of the place. This was a sudden realisation when I was running along the rain-slicked pavements of Roman Road last week, with Hevia keeping time with my footfalls. It was a sense of knowing where I was, where I was going, of feeling… connected.

This isn’t a feeling I’ve ever had about London before. It’s really quite a cold place, emotionally, and I can imagine that anyone living here on their own would really find it quite difficult. Occasionally, though, little things happen which break that pattern, and I’ve lived here long enough now to be on chatting terms with a few local shopkeepers, and to know my way around this little bit of the East End. I remember when I came to London last year the two things that struck me the hardest were this feeling of coldness, and the pulse and pace that seems to drive Londoners everywhere. It was exhausting, but I seem to have bypassed that by living in a relatively quiet backwater, where the great tides of Finance don’t really flow as strongly.

It’s a city of some subtlety, though, and quite sudden constrasts. I now teach maths to a student behind Oxford Street once a week, and as I take the No. 25 home from there I’m always struck by the way the character of the city changes abruptly and sharply as the journey progresses.

Oxford Street is all light and glitter as I walk up towards Centre Point; understated gloss that screams of money, in a typically restrained English manner. Department store glass fronts rear up on all sides, everything polished and gleaming, with seemingly limitless extravagance on display to enthrall and beguile. Selfridges dominates one side of the street in an arrogantly elegant sprawl, pillars rising up out of the pavement with devotional floodlights playing up the columns and flooding strangely austere window displays. Other smaller, humbler shrines nestle in the shadows – HMV, Louis Vuitton, FCUK, and the decidedly proletarian WH Smith and John Lewis.

Little changes as the bus threads through Tottenham Court Road and High Holborn. Stone facades and solid, conservative architecture house solid, conservative entities: all the formal, black-suited financial heavyweights that make up the Square Mile, from the Bank of England downwards. Some buildings break the regular, reassuring squareness and attract the eye by their shape – the Gherkin and Tower 42 sneering away towards the sky, the cluttered, hunched heads of the construction cranes as they delicately steer steel bars into place around their feet, and most of all, the dome of St. Paul’s appearing without warning between two buildings, giving no hint of its presence. It always startles me – shoeboxes suddenly broken by an arc of stone, capped by a spike, a brief glimpse seen down a street, and then a breathtaking rush as it opens out, trees framing the pillars and dome.

In the middle of all this, the monstrosity that is the Lloyds Building evokes intrigue and horror in almost equal quantities. It just seems impossible that something so grotesque should have been purposefully created, and at the same time strangely draws the eye. I am repelled and drawn in each time I see this building. Cheapside, Cornhill and Leadenhall pass in a blur of anonymous offices; more stone facades, more restrained hints at money, and then the bus swings past Aldgate and everything changes.

Stone gives way to brick; glass fronts to council housing; departmental stores to Bombay Saree Store and Khan’s Kabab Paradise; black suits to sherwanis and burquas – a far more jumbled, distinctly shabbier neighbourhood with graffiti splashed on dilapidated, abandoned buildings and the remnants of the day’s market scattered across the road. The transformation is almost instant. One moment you’re surrounded by faceless financial offices, and in the next you’re watching a bustling street market surge and pulse around you. I love it. I love the fact that there are still family-owned stores around here; that people you meet come from almost every ethnic and geographical background. People might talk disparagingly about multiculturalism being a curse and impossible to live with, but I think there’s nothing like it to bring a sense of life and energy to a place; just look at Camden. Central London is glitter – but sanitised glitter, a carefully manicured show that sweeps everything unwanted under the carpet. Whitechapel is quite the opposite – a glorious, frustrating, deeply annoying, exhilarating mess.

London from South bank