Saturday, June 02, 2012

For everyone who visits this blog, I now post at

I don't intend to retire this blog entirely, because I'm still trying to reconcile the old world with the new, the little girl with the grown-up, and there may be things that I can talk of only here, to be kept secret from that other realm that calls itself sophisticated but wants to be only nine years old at times.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Monday, December 26, 2011

Over Christmas: Yorkshire Madness

I’m watching the first session of the Boxing Day Test at Leeds- it’s ages since I watched cricket on TV- finishing my ice-cream, basking in the general middle-of-vacation bliss. I’d expected my English Christmas to be mostly solitary, confined to a few outings to Brighton beach and maybe one to Hove. How wrong I was.

Yorkshire has haunted my daydreams for years, and today I’ve scrambled up slippery rocks on Ilkley Moor for a spectacular view of the English countryside, to watch clouds come scudding in and settle like a thin veil on the distant hills. I wanted to see for myself the bleak, cheerless, rain-swept moors that have inspired some brilliant literature; thanks to this lovely branch of the family that I’ve just met, what once seemed like mere pipe-dreams are turning into reality. I’m deliriously happy.

Last Friday, I was met by my uncle at London Victoria and we went on to Maidenhead, where I saw a proper English house, and stayed with family I was meeting for the first time, before driving up north with them the next evening. A three-hour long drive in India would have been greeted with trepidation. Here, it is something to look forward to on the marvellous motorways where you can go full throttle without having to worry about a stray cyclist or cow. It was a treat just watching the names of places on signboards flying by, and to pretend I could make something of them in the dark: Silverstone (with a chequered flag icon beside it- I thought I was seeing some grandstands when I realised we weren’t even there yet), Sherwood Forest in Nottingham (with the trees looming in the dark), Sheffield (of which what I saw was Meadowhall, decked out for Christmas), all telling me that I was really and truly in England and that I could stop pinching myself. Three months on, you see, the incredulity is as strong as it was when I arrived.

The roads climbed uphill as we entered Leeds. December is such a cheerful month here, even if dusk sets in absurdly early. The towns are brightly dressed for Christmas and the houses which haven’t been shut down for the holidays are done up splendidly, Christmas trees all alight, a few from head to toe without looking showy. (If only some women could learn from them!) The roads are chock-a-block with cars and people; the unusually mild winter is probably bringing them out in hordes, despite the recession and consequent reticence in shopping habits. My hopes for a white Christmas have been mercilessly dashed, but I’m rather glad of the fine weather. It means we can go out for walks and I can see a bit of Yorkshire without having to be cooped up at home. I would have liked to watch snowflakes drift down softly, form white sheets on the ground and leave pretty icicles hanging off leafless branches- which is how I suppose snowfall is- but I suppose it’ll have to wait for later. It doesn’t make sense to have everything at once, after all, and what would I do without something to look forward to!

My stay at Leeds opened with a trip to a mall at York for some Christmas shopping. The Yorkshire countryside treat began on the drive to and from York, beautiful vistas opening up on either side of the road, the sun going down in a fiery blaze of colours over vast, open fields, with skies that seemed to stretch out endlessly everywhere at once. The skeletal silhouettes of trees stood out against a silky swirl of rich colours, and I knew I was going to be swept off my feet very soon. Trips to Blackburn and Birmingham were still to come; Bradford was yet to astound me with its cultural incongruity.

Leeds is a lovely city, quite a refreshing change from Brighton. The undulating roads are lined with houses that appear very bookishly English to my enchanted eyes. The sky is almost perpetually grey, and blue patches are rare. This is the kind of weather that really enthuses me, but I’m often hard-pressed to remember that over 300 days of grey weather a year isn’t exactly fun. I was caught in the rain one morning on a walk with my uncle, and I’m quite sure he didn’t enjoy the walk as much as I did. The relatively sunny south has me chuffed about the vaguest prospect of rain.

The rate at which I’m falling in love with English towns is alarming; much as I’d like to scour every inch of the country, practicality rears its ugly head. But I, for one, am going to hold on to my dreams like a limpet.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Dusk descends on the village of Falmer by half-past four every evening. The sun slips into the horizon inconspicuously, making a brief appearance before it sets. It stays blissfully wrapped up in the clouds almost all day, peeping out occasionally like a celebrity who drives past in a car with tinted windows, offering the briefest of tantalising glimpses. The hills in the distance are rapidly enveloped in an all-encompassing blue shroud, inseparable from cloud or tree. A tinkle against the window-panes tells me that it is raining- again- and a sudden barrage of loud clicks on the glass indicates the first hailstorm of the season; tiny bits of ice, nothing dramatic, melting almost as soon as they fall on the window-ledge. The slanting lines on the clear glass disappear almost as soon as they fall, but I can rest assured I’ll never be deprived of rain here. The girl who eagerly sought opportunities back home to get drenched in the rain is easily pleased here.

It has been a little difficult to get used to the idea of little sunshine or daylight; but the romantic appeal of windy mornings, grey skies and clouds looming over rolling hills easily scores over the relentless, sticky heat of tropical coastal towns (atleast for the moment). Added to it is the possibility of snow. I look up at the sky hopefully, not knowing if the large, dismal cloud overhead will dissolve in a shower of softly-falling, ethereal flakes, or simply melt into nothingness. I scan the horizon, and any unusually-coloured cloud rouses my suspicion. Half the fun, as they say, lies in anticipating things.

The blue darkness often reminds me of the Himalayas in Sikkim, and our drive up through treacherous, narrow mountain roads into the tiny village of Lachung. The slight chill that crept over me as I saw the towering forms of the mountains press close upon us was dispelled by hot, milky tea and a simple, delicious meal; right amidst the hills that I considered intimidating, I was being treated to some of the best hospitality I’d ever experienced, by people whose smiling eyes belied the extremely hard lives they lived. Dawn put an end to any lingering doubts I might have had, as the sun rose in a riot of colour at five in the morning, lighting up the snow-capped peaks and making me realise that I was in one of the most beautiful corners of the planet. Little wonder then, a few hours later when we had to set off, I couldn’t bear to leave, and felt that I had some sort of inexplicable connection with the mountains- that I wasn‘t seeing the last of them yet. The Himalayas do that to you, bring you down on your knees in veneration, hypnotise and seduce you.

England, on the other hand, is winning me over slowly but surely (not that, of course, I had any doubts it would, thanks to the Bronte sisters). The trees at Falmer have now been stripped of every single leaf, bare arms reaching upwards, silhouetted starkly in the light cast by the streetlamps that are on almost all day. Past midnight, a single star climbs up into the sky and shines softly through the branches, sometimes accompanied by a thinly-veiled moon. It has become a ritual of sorts for me to look for them, make sure they are safely up there, before I snuggle into bed. Can I confess that I feel a little disappointed when they play truant? I still have the trees for company though, and that’s a comfort.

I‘m quite sure of what I‘ve been fearing and dreading: I’ve lost my heart to this little village, and I’m not relishing the prospect of leaving it. It is perhaps too early to worry about pangs of separation, but I sometimes hope that it’ll temper my ecstasy and make me level-headed; not that there is much hope of my being entirely practical, because you have to be born grown up not to appreciate the little delights that are thrown at you even when you’re in your most unsuspecting, indifferent state. That I live in an English village with pastures and brick houses, am buffeted by cold winds on rainy mornings when I walk to university, and am likely to have one of my wildest hopes turn into reality very soon, should be proof enough that dreams come true. It would be rather silly, then, to try and ruin my enjoyment of things with caution; I’ll only have to choose carefully what I want to wish for, and it’s a dilemma I can live with.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

English Enchantment

"Is this a typically English day?" I ask a classmate of mine who has lived in Brighton most of his life. The quest for the perfect example of proper English weather has apparently come to an end, for he replies in the affirmative, and tells me that the weather will probably continue to remain so till March. Splendid, isn't it, to think of cold, windy days when you can barely manage a decent handshake and your fingers are so numb they constantly long for the comforting contours of a cup of hot coffee, never mind drinking it? The rain begins as I let myself into my room, and dead leaves are being blown off the trees outside my window. They whirl madly on the road before gathering in little heaps. Soon they'll all be gone (and I can't help thinking of The Last Leaf, but that's just me being morbid), and I can imagine the stripped trees now, stark and skeletal on moonlit winter nights. All I ask for now is a bit of snow in December. Could I be living a more enchanted life than this?

On sunshiny days- which are merely bright, but not hot, because the rays rarely manage to make their way down to earth unmolested by cold winds- we walk on the green, verdant slopes around Falmer. It is a Saturday afternoon, and hordes of people, some in blue-and-white striped tees, are walking from Falmer Station to the Amex Stadium for the game between Hull City and Brighton & Hove Albion. We leave 'civilisation' behind for the vast, open spaces that are just a short walk away. The grass is thick and manicured (a friend of mine asks if it grows that way- I need to find out if it does), criss-crossed by cobwebs that shimmer brightly as they catch the rays of the sun. In the distance, the hills arc gently against bright, cloudless blue skies, dotted by plump (or traditionally-built, as Alexander McCall Smith might say?) sheep and cattle. Roads cut through the hillsides, not in the rough, autocratic manner that they do back home, searing deep gashes into them and making them bleed, but ribboning smoothly through only where necessary. The occasional glint of glass reveals a car driving into oblivion. Are there any mysteries in these hills? They look harmless: soft, quiet and friendly. Will we stumble upon a hidden spring or a haunted Victorian mansion? The only thing of interest we do find is a memorial pushed back into the woods, dedicated in 1775 to the memory of Frederick Frankland, Esq., by his son and daughter. (The word daughter here probably means daughter-in-law: the inscription bears the names of the son and his wife, and presumably follows pre-Victorian traditions.) Groups of picnickers watch their kids play football; the shadows are beginning to lengthen and some of them are already stowing bikes and prams away into their cars.

Aimless walking brings us to the village of Stanmer. Through a line of trees, we catch a glimpse of a large building; on closer inspection, it turns out to be Stanmer House, once a proper house, now used for functions and open to the public only once a week. We save our investigation for later and move towards the imposing church that has caught our eye. It looks very English, made of grey stone, with a majestic spire spiking into the sky. We have to walk through a graveyard to reach the door of the church, and the inscriptions on the gravestones bear the names of Earls of Chichester and other 'distinguished' people. The area around the church is heavily shaded by trees; what would it be like on a rainy day, with the wind howling through the branches and the fragrance of damp earth pervading the air? (I wish I'd brought my MR James along; of course, there's always Project Gutenberg to fall back on, but without the musty odour of mottled old paper.)

We walk further into the village, past some stables and a bit of pasture-land. One of the horses grazing there approaches the fence, cropping grass eagerly and ignoring his feeding-trough; he looks up momentarily as we pass, then his beautiful brown head dips back earthwards, business beckoning. We pass a tea-room- and now I'm really and truly in Storybook England, where men in tweed suits and women in printed dresses sit at high tea, red brick houses with little white gates and smoking chimneys in the background, their village the nucleus of a wide world that may not even exist for all they care. I think back to Enid Blyton and Peterswood, where my love affair with England began, later kept alive and flourishing with the abetment of the Bronte sisters, PG Wodehouse and George Eliot.

The journey has just begun, and there is plenty to look forward to. I live in a state of eternal anticipation, thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

England: First Impressions

I am in England, and I’d be purple all over if I tried to pinch myself into belief. It’ll take a while to sink in. In the short span of time since leaving Bangalore, I’ve seen a look-alike of Freddie Flintoff and one of Frederick Algernon Trotteville, tried shortbread and cheese-and-pickle, and drunk water purportedly from Scottish and Welsh springs. One of the items on today's agenda is finding some gingerbeer.

My journey started in the usual klutzy manner, with a briefly scary moment on the escalator when my cabin bag almost went tumbling down; it took me a while to recover, because I was obviously not in my senses when I next went crashing into a benign Englishman. He accepted my apology with a gentle smile, and if I thought I’d seen the last of him then, I was wrong; he came up behind me as I waited for the security check, and told me politely that the ladies’ queue was “over there”. I was beyond feeling sheepish at having joined the wrong queue. This wasn’t the first time I’d done it, after all.

The flight was rather uneventful. Though I did feel like we were packed sardine-style into the aircraft, I knew I was lucky not to have been squashed between rotund people. To my left sat the aforementioned clone of Freddie Flintoff, bringing out his Kindle occasionally to read a business manual. He and the Indian man to my right took it in turns to guffaw at the movies they were watching. I tried to lose myself in my copy of ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’, but for once Murakami failed to rise to the occasion- lack of sleep mingled with excitement suppressed to sobriety had made me delirious.

However, the real flavour of England made itself felt in the drive from Heathrow to Gatwick. Gentle mounds emerged abruptly out of flat stretches of land, smooth and populated by little copses. The trees by the roadside broke into autumn colours at intervals, flashes of magenta appearing in the otherwise uniform green cover. Horses grazed in distant meadows, swishing their tails as they cropped the grass hungrily. We passed some pretty, quaint cottages with creepers climbing up their walls, and it wasn’t quite difficult to imagine a highwayman go clattering up one of their driveways, wanting to see his Bess at the casement window.

As the coach made its way into Brighton, rows of neat brick houses, rather alike one another, came into sight. The winding streets of the town were quiet; as we approached the Brighton Marina, the roads seemed to come to life. People scurried to and fro laden with bags, or took a calm walk down by the Brighton Pavilion (an absurdly Moorish structure, but I need to find something out about it before I condemn it as an incongruity). I caught a brief glimpse of the sea, a nice sleepy blue, glinting in the rays of the waning sun.

The vagaries of the English weather have been slow in making themselves felt, but I know it shan’t be long before I’m talking of constant rain and the perennial absence of sunshine. With a not-too-pleasant summer having been replaced by autumn already, a snowy winter can’t be too far behind!

Distant Shores

I don't wake up soaked in perspiration any longer; at half past seven in the morning, a thick mist envelopes the trees and the highway, and a soft rain falls steadily. It doesn’t sting or hurt or drum down forcefully like tropical rain, but falls as if it was always there, a constant fixture like the air or the sky.

This is England, and I’m actually here; in a different continent for the first time, but in a coastal city as usual.

I didn’t have a first ‘memorable’ glimpse of England, closeted that I was close to the middle of the aircraft, as far away as possible from a window. I don’t know if majestic buildings rose into the sky, their spires and domes getting larger by degrees, or if a lake-dotted landscape came into view. Never mind, though: there is plenty I can do and see, and I intend to make full use of my year here at Brighton.

September is just coming to a close, but autumn seems to be here already; on the road leading away from Heathrow, the leaves are breaking into a riot of vibrant colours, the more staid greens complementing them beautifully. On walks through the campus, my new Malaysian flat mate and I are amused to note how the English girls walk around in short skirts and flimsy tops, while we bundle ourselves up in our warmest coats and prepare for a year in jeans. A brief glimpse of the sun and its soft warmth on our skin feels heavenly; it doesn’t take long for a nippy wind to arise from nowhere and chill us to the bone if we’re caught without our jackets.

My room looks out at a little brick cottage whose purpose I’m unaware of; beside it is a clump of trees at whose feet are strewn dead leaves. The slightest gust of wind sends the dry leaves floating from one of the trees. Another of its kind has already been stripped bare, and stands up like a toothless old man, robbed but proud. The trees absorb the noise from the highway and turn the roar of engines into distant swishes; I owe it to them that I don’t toss and turn in bed all night, but sleep like the dead.

Being thrown in with five new people in an apartment is an interesting experience. We’re all Asian- Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Lebanese and Pakistani, with Turkey providing a partial European flavour. (Four of these countries are on the F1 calendar- digression.) It has been an interesting experience this far, and the abandon with which we are able to mingle with one another and talk politics and religion has almost surprised me.

The sky is turning a deep, inky blue, without the rose-coloured splendours of a tropical twilight. There is much to see, much to do, and a whole year of learning ahead.