This was my first time in London. I was gifted a Lonely Planet London for Indians version by a very dear friend of mine. It had enough pointers to places I should visit and things to do while in London. That was good to start for a beginner in a new city.But to understand the fabric of a city and the way it interacts with its people, one has to spend at least few weeks living there. In spite of my limited time in the city ( 3 days and few hours) I was able to observe and feel the city, courtesy my interactions with friends who live their and their experiences with the city.
Of all the things and places I hurried to see and experience, the most strong impression I have of is my time spent commuting in the London tube ( underground, overground, DLRs with variety of lines – Jubliee, Piccadelly, Victoria, Central and what not). It was quite impressive network that crisscrossed the city connecting most of it quite well. I have lived in Singapore and the MRT network there is as impressive. The reason I was impressed with the tube and the tube stations is not its network and connectivity, its the people who travel in it, its the art work, ads that are put up on the tube station exits. One of the friends who took me around was a history buff, who has been studying the history of London, to better understand this organism. His thoughts has been quite instrumental in my ability to articulate what I saw and what it meant to me.
European, Chinese and Indian/Pakisthani/Bangladeshi waiting on a tube station
London tube and the people who commute in it:
All the time I spent in London, I spent around 7-10 £ / day just on the tube and buses ( that’s a lot of commute by the way ). I changed many lines and commuted between zones 1-4 most of the time. Every time I got into a train, whether I stand or be seated, I saw only 3/ 10 ppl were British or English speaking Europeans ( I can not make out difference between people of different origin within Europe, until and unless they speak ). The rest of the people were Latino, Africans Indians, Chinese and other South-East Asians. This is quite reflective of the fact that 33% of people occupying London are immigrants. London because of this is truly cosmopolitan.
Ad of a new movie/ TV program on the wall of tube station
London tube and art culture of London:
Everywhere I have traveled, within India or south-east Asian countries, all public transport modes have ads on their stations, on the trains and buses. London tube stations have fair share of this as well. The most number of ads I remember seeing of was that of the new Kindle Fire. But other than this, there are enough posters of plays, musicals, theater, exhibitions on the walls of tube stations.
Escalators in one of the tube station, notice the posters on the right hand side, most of them are of some drama, musical or a comedy.
This in my opinion is quite reflective of the role that these art forms play in people’s lives. There are also certain tube stations have beautiful mosaic art done on the walls of station and the stairways that take you out of the station.
Mosaic art on walls of tube station
The last observation is a very personal one, but none the less reflective of the people of London. On my way out of the city to the airport, I was on the Heathrow International Airport again using the tube. One of the passengers was an Indian and he had to get down at Terminal 4. The maps of the entire route for that tube was on the coach’s wall right across him. He was very anxious as the stations past, and the number of people in the coach went down. He did not know when will his station come, and was continuously asking his neighbor as to where should he get down, how many stops from where should he get down. But his neighbor had to get down before him. Having come to know this, he became all the more anxious. An old English lady was observing this guy quietly all this while. Once his helping neighbor got off the train, the English lady started to have some small chat with him and eased his tension. Safely got him off at his terminal and continued her journey.
Like I had mentioned in a earlier post, for all the travel in my life so far, this remains a noteworthy experience because this time I ‘actually’ experienced that time old belief of travel changing an individual’s outlook. I set on that plane to London with apprehensions and a preset opinion about this country. Experiencing the everyday life, a closer look at the city’s fabric and the myriad nationalities which form the London ‘social’ I feel a change setting in, within me, that says, “you were so wrong!” . That old zen story about the Zen Master demonstrating open mind to his pupil by asking him to pour tea in a cup which is already filled, I have just lived that! My cup is now empty, and will remain so every bus, every train, every plane and hopefully every ship that I take to a distant land hereon.