Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Notes from London: In The Hindu Sunday Magazine

Published March 18, 2018 in The Hindu's Sunday Magazine section. Read it here or see below.


This time around during an essential-for-the-soul stopover in London town, I lived in Brixton a while. I say lived, even if it was for days four to five because Brixton is many lifetimes, simultaneously, side by side, in constant transit with and despite each other. In an instant it felt like I have lived here long, and am not just a curious cat passing through, lifting up and poking through the alleys and jumbled streets, writing notes and window-shopping souvenirs, strange Caribbean foods and sage sticks from the corner mystic store run by Sri Lankans. I lived with beloved friends in a strangely constructed block of box houses; the building a delightful case of Brutalist architecture, the sort that signifies distinct articulation of what it is/is not, practicality, uniformity even, coldness. It is the sort of architecture I currently greatly love passing before, stopping by, seeing photographs of, marvelling in its coldness. Though in the alternative life I shall lead, we will only ever build a cob house on the farm, I tell the husband and myself.

The building used to be “rough” I am told, “not a place you would come to if you didn’t live there or didn’t know well anyone who did.” The case now of course is of the neighbourhood being all gentrified and these blocks being among the cooler postcodes to live in. The breeze is getting colder and I find myself pulling my jacket closer already. I shall not be around for the full blow though, instead, revelling in the gorgeousness that autumn – “Autumn is the hardest season. The leaves are all falling, and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground (poet Andrea Gibson) – my most favourite of seasons, brings. Autumn is lovely everywhere, and when I remember to look up from the fascinating street up above busy, beautiful Brixton, autumn is gorgeous here too.

There I was, that morning, waiting for a friend outside the Brixton Tube station when a tall man wearing frilly black panties, a barely-there length of cloth passing off as a skirt, bare chested except for perfectly round fake breasts tied across sauntered by. No one looked at him, except perhaps for the briefest second. That is why I love cities, even when I hate them. That is why I love London, even if people are rude and the streets are crowded and polluted. Cities are difficult places, feelings for them never remain the same for more than a day. Yet London has the largest bit of my heart. If I could have been the sorts, I could live in London for a few weeks a year, to hang around, walk everywhere, see art, sit in cafes, bask in the late summer sun, read, walk more and just be, one of those sorts. This light-headedness for London will remain a few days more, until I begin to notice why I live in dread of the shape and smell of all cities.

For now, I am at Brixton Market Row in a cafĂ©, chosen deliberately for how empty it is. I cannot place myself in the middle of an earnest Saturday evening crowd at the end of some eight hours of flaneusing. The chef makes me an off-the-menu veg pasta, with excessive butter and cheese. Just before, I have visited the artist studios of friends at Somerset House, then taken myself to Tate Modern, along the Queen’s Way Path, along the dirty Thames. I crossed the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral to pick up some walking guide books from the tourist centre, crossed back, walked to Borough Market and found it way too crowded, bought myself a slice of too sweet Victoria Sponge and then a sushi box to offset the palate, stopped by at the Barbican Centre because the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy had made two new works outside its halls and taken photos of everything, for that is what you do these days. Accounting thus for a full day of being out and about town, the carb heaven in that cheesy pasta was that day’s idea of just the perfect day in the city of my heart.

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