Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cultural Surprises: London - 1/12



Like 'Culture Shocks', this is 'Culture Surprises'. 'Culture Surprises' is my travelogue and peoplogue. Travelogue to discuss about all my experiences in every new place I visit and peoplogue to discuss about all my experiences with people from different cultures I meet. So, it is not necessary that I talk about only cultures here. It's about everything new that I come across. So, purists... please bear with the coinage of the title!

ON YOUR MARK... GET SET... GO...

It's one and a half years since I wrote about travelling westwards. My desire to travel and the work towards that started a year before that. It's not that I was particular about going to the west only. I was so desperate to travel that I was okay with any place (If you haven't read all my travelogues please don't jump to a quick conclusion and reduce it to just 'foreign craze'. It's a long story and it has many sub-stories around it. This series of blog posts is to talk about all of them.). When I was losing hope in life for not being able to do things that I wanted to do, the Singapore opportunity came. The last series of travelogues was about that. Someone posted the Tamil version of it on a popular Tamil magazine website (Vikatan.com) in the 'Good Blogs' section. That remains my most read blog post till date. That also motivated a lot to write travelogues. I think when I wrote about Singapore I would have compared everything there with India. Now that I have seen two countries, needless to say, everything that I write about London will be written by comparing with two countries, both India and Singapore. This is what travels do to people, right? They expand the horizon for us.

When I started to Singapore, I was not sure how many days I was going to stay there or in how many days I would have to pack up to travel back home. I left alone thinking that I could take my family later if my stay became a long term one. But I came back within a fortnight. This travel also had the same confusion and lack of clarity about duration of stay. But I decided to bring my family with me this time. On my own cost. I thought let it be like a family vacation if we had to go back. In case I would have to stay back, they wouldn't have to travel without me. Also, it's not that easy for them to travel without me such a long distance unlike Singapore. No pain of separation as well.

The travel was confirmed after 4 PM. I booked the tickets for family at 8 PM only. The departure was at 10 AM on the next day. As you know, there are many things that we have to buy for an overseas travel. But we couldn't do all that. We just bought what we could buy after 8 PM and started packing up as quickly as possible. We could have bought a few things earlier. But we didn't want to waste money by buying things before getting a confirmation on the travel. We have heard many stories of last minute changes in travels by their companies and clients from many people. So we were not ready to believe anything until it happened. We have to inform at least the closest relatives and friends, right? But that itself was around 20-30 people. We called everyone as quickly as possible and spent the rest of the night packing up. We couldn't even inform the daughter's school properly. We called the next morning from airport and informed.

After a short nap, we woke up in the early morning, got ready in no time and reached the airport on time leaving a lot of time for check-in and security check. It was the first air travel for the family. My wife was not ready to believe anything till the last minute. My daughter didn't believe that we were going to London. More than believing, she didn't like going there. Why? Fear. What fear? That's again a story. I will tell you that later. It's that fear and dislike that she expressed as disbelief. Then there was another fear. That was the fear of flying. Convincing her was another big task in itself. Until we reached London, she kept saying that were traveling to Singapore only and not London and she wanted us also to believe so. We also had no problem listening to her. But we kept telling her, "We are going to London...", "We are going to London...", whenever we got an opportunity and tried to prepare her as much as possible.

It was Emirates Airlines. Once we boarded the flight, after seeing all the beautiful air hostesses she was getting little comfortable. Once they started speaking to her nicely, she became happier. They gave a few toys to the children on board. After collecting them, she was all the more happy. So, one problem is solved finally! We had to change flight in Dubai. The only condition she had there was, "If it is a fat plane I won't come. It should be a slim plane." So the fear of flying is almost gone now. After boarding the flight in Dubai, they gave another toy. Now the fear of flying is completely gone. Now there was only one fear. That was, the fear of London. That, as I said, we shall talk about later.

The travel between Bangalore and Dubai was good. It was a hassle-free travel as it was only 3 to 3.5 hours in total. There are many ways to London from Bangalore. One, landing straight in London. Two, via Dubai. Three, via Delhi. There must be many more as well. Via Dubai must be one of the preferred options for Bangalore to London travelers. It was not very crowded in the flight between Bangalore and Dubai. The travel was mostly over sea only. While nearing Dubai, the landscape was beautiful. I don't think I saw such good scenes when I traveled to Singapore.

All that comes to our mind about deserts is the dry useless land. But they are so beautiful when you see from top. You don't have to fight for a window seat to have a look at these beautiful scenes these days. Every seat has a video screen, which shows the front view, bottom view and back-side view from flight. In fact, one doesn't even have to take a flight to see all these. We can just see all these sitting in our place using Google Maps. You would love it. But I should say that I had some fantastic views, which may not be available in Google Maps. But most of them should be available. Just try. I was wondering if there was so much beauty in this world, which I hadn't seen till then. If someone like me who is so bad in appreciating nature and beauty was so excited looking at them, I am sure it will be much more beautiful for people like you.

When we changed over in Dubai, I tried to look at one important thing, that is, how many Malayali brothers I could see there. Maybe they were all in the city, not necessarily in airport. Still I could see some of them. But not as much as I thought I would. They were roaming around as casually as they would in Trivandrum or Cochin, with the same trademark coconut oil-applied Mammooty-Mohanlal mustaches!

I have always wanted to experience the Dubai weather (rather, the Middle East weather). But I couldn't do that as we were inside the airport itself. My belief is that whether it is cold or hot if there are people living there already I should also be able to do that. So, it's okay. I can experience it some other time. I still think that it may not be so different from the weather that I grew up with.

My understanding is that those who live in cold weather get fair and those in hot weather dark. Going by that logic, the whites being white, the Africans being black and we Indians being brown make sense. But how is it that the people in Middle East are fairer than us? I know, it's not a sensitive thing to talk about colors of people but please look at it purely from an anthropology perspective. This is my biggest question of the century.

The mankind has always had a problem with other cultures. Anything foreign is scary to us. It's a global phenomenon and not specific to any particular community. I realize that I am not an exception too. I spent all of my childhood in a Muslim neighborhood. But we never had any difference with them. The way we ate, dressed, looked and everything was the same. None of them was like how they are stereotyped these days. I should admit here that when I was walking around in Dubai airport and looked at few faces I did feel that fear. A particular face with a particular type of beard scares me. Please don't get me wrong. You should understand this right - I never felt this fear when I was with Abdul Rahman uncle or my friend Syed in my street. Likewise, there is a different kind of fear while speaking to the whites, which we don't feel while speaking to the Arabs. It's the colonial inferiority in this case. At the end of the day, it's the result of many unknowns. I can't be blamed completely. I could have avoided talking about this. But I didn't want to hide an experience that I had. Everyone talks about freedom of expression these days and the same everyone then goes the extra miles to teach a lesson to those who practice it. That's the reason I had to explain myself so much! So please don't use this opportunity to cause any damage to the world peace.

The travel from Dubai to London was nice too. The same kind of beautiful air hostesses. Needless to say, my daughter liked them as well (Did I too?!). They gave another toy and exchanged smiles and pleasantries with her every time they passed by. So while getting down she went after everyone of them to say, "Bye!!!". Like the travel from Bangalore to Dubai was mostly over sea and little bit over land, this one from Dubai to London was the other way around. It was mostly over land and little bit over sea. The journey over land was unbelievably beautiful. This is the travel that changed my opinion about deserts. This is the travel that taught me that the deserts are beautiful too. What is earth's beauty? It is the ups and downs. The hills and valleys. Has anyone ever told that the plains are beautiful? The sand dunes and mountains are so beautiful. I haven't seen much of earth's beauty in my life yet. The scenes that I saw in this travel will surely be the best or one of the best in my life. I am sure those who have traveled on this route will agree with me. Otherwise maybe there is something wrong with my taste. In case you have traveled on this route many times but haven't seen this yet, please don't miss it next time when you travel on this route.

It was mostly the Dubai faces on board so we didn't feel out of place. They are closer to London than we are so I told myself maybe London has a lot of Middle Eastern people as well. There were only a few whites. The sunlight and plane were travelling almost in the same speed. Finally the nature won. When we landed in London it was dark. Are you wondering, "OMG, landing itself is happening now only?"? Unfortunately, that's my style of writing. Don't worry. In the next part, we will enter the city. Or, let me not be so optimistic - Let's try our best to enter the city at least in the next part! :)

- TO BE CONTINUED...

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