Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The mood in England

England is scared. England is very, very scared right now. Did you read the paper this morning? Now any UK citizen can't be smiling in his or her visa photograph. Yes you read it right. It's to improve security and so potential travellers must produce "a neutral expression with your mouth closed," to quote The Asian Age. The piece continues, 'The UK home office spokesperson says, "It's about having a closed mouth. An open-mouthed smile will throw the scanner off.' A restrained grin is acceptable, officials confirmed, but even the slightest flash of teeth could pose a problem for the equipment".'

When I landed in London, precisely a month ago, to the day, my cousin and I stopped off at Chelsea for a cup of coffee. We parked in one of the residential lanes behind the market, one of the very posh areas I'm told, and I was surprised to see that the road was absolutely empty. At 6.30 p.m. Not one person in sight. She explained to me that it was holiday season so a lot of people who lived there had taken off to their homes in the country etc. Also, she said, there aren't many tourists this time because of the blasts. The streets, I kept noticing, were practically empty. At one time, I said something to the effect of 'so and so costs a bomb' and I was immediately hushed up by my aunt, because even the mention of the 'b' word was scary.

Can you imagine that? We live in that world. Day in and day out. I have a friend in Srinagar who says that it has happened that he's gone to the market with his wife and there's been a blast and they've dusted themselves and got into the car and driven back. They live with that. England doesn't. It never has. Which is why Blair did so much straight talk in India this time. In fact in London, there was a desperate attempt to lift spirits and forge a spirit of unity. Every street light, every bus shelter had this slogan.

7 million Lononders
1 London

It was of course cleverly done with the letters from the two lines merging (will photo blog it). The problem is my London pix are by a regular camera so I need to scan them and post them, unlike Canada which is all on digital.

Anyway, back to London. Every paper only talked of the killing of the innocent Brazilian with demands and probes and resignations etc. Even as you walk into the Heathrow arrival lounge three-four (very good looking) cops strut by, but believe me, they are so heavily armed, you don't even want to try and make eye contact with them. And on my return, just as we were at the boarding gate (No. 42, the last possible gate, and a 20-minute walk from the main lounge where the duty free shops are), the British Airports Authority announced that they weren't satisfied with the security arrangements and hence all of us had to go right back to security. Now I had just gotten off an eight-hour flight and was dehydrated and dead tired and I felt quite bad because there were many old people too, but everyone had to do the drill. A 20-minute walk back to security and then a 20-minute walk back to boarding gate no 42 which means an hour of just walking up and down. That's how scared they are. Nothing is good enough. If there is any lapse in security, however small, they ain't taking chances. But living in this part of the world we all know that they are not going to be attacked again, not in the near future. The chill has been sent and the message has been received loud and clear. So they can do all the security arrangements in the world, but the deed is already done. All they can do is learn from India. Chin up. Go about your daily life and do not let them think they have managed to disrupt your life, your thought process, the way you travel, the way you work.

> The buzz
The only think to make me believe that Londoners were going about their normal life was an article that shopping continued to be on the rise with most Londoners out buying stuff and frequenting markets. In fact, this is where I really felt the 'buzz'. At Oxford Street, on High Street Kensington and in Knightsbridge. I read an article the other day in Time Out Mumbai by columnist Girish Shahane who was writing from Geneva and talking about how some cities had the buzz but others didn't. He also spoke of how some foreigner had told him that Mumbai has the same buzz. In fact, London, New York, Mumbai and Shanghai are the cities normally supposed to have it. Like Lycra. Either you have it or you don't! I don't know about Mumbai (where would you go to feel this buzz, Phoenix Mills?) but London definitely does. It's in the air. The fashion sense. The way women will continue to wear short skirts and stilletos even while shopping and in extreme cold, because they must be well turned out at all times. The way they will wrap a pashmina over a pair of linen pants and make it seem the hippest thing to do. The way four women will effortlessly be sharing lives over a bottle of wine and cigarettes at 5 p.m. But more than anything else I think the buzz is a reflection of how happy people are to be in that city, how much they love it. How much they smile. Do they wish each other while walking by, are manners and courtesy in full display, do they nod to each other like iPod users who know they are part of a unique club, do they smile while chatting on the cellphone? Do they hold hands and hug and kiss in the street? Or are they aggressive, abusive, angry, frustrated, scowling faces. That really is what the buzz in a city is. Talk to most Londoners and they will tell you that there's no other place in the world they'd rather live. Same for most Mumbaikars. That's what the buzz is.


Blogger Mustbenuts said...

By George, I think she's got it!

13 September, 2005  
Blogger Yours Truly...Conman said...

one enlightening world tour its been for you!
I don't know... it's a different matter I guess that the newspapers and news channels reported that a day after the blasts the tubes were still packed - people were going to their offices and refused to be bogged down by the attacks.
That apart, bombs scare everybody. Srinagar is different. A bomb blast there is as common as going grocery shopping. They see it everyday. They've become used to it. You can't blame London for being scared. Not everyday can someone just plant a bomb in the heart of England. It's a country that least expected an attack on it.
And what you talking about India. When the Jo Bole So Nihaal blasts happened across Delhi, the next day... all the cinema halls were empty. Not a soul went there to buy tickets. That's what being scared is... as if they're gonna bomb it again the next day.

13 September, 2005  
Blogger GSB said...

I know Conman, but in India I think we live with the fear in such a way that we are immune to it. We know freak accidents happen, buildings collapse, floods ruin the country's financial capital in a day. But in London yes they were going to work but breathing a sigh of relief every time someone with a knapsack, especially someone brown, got off the tube. You could smell the fear. I can't explain it. In India, yes a hall will be empty the next day (no one is blase enough to go for a show the very next day) but you don't smell fear. I also agree that they didn't expect it (they should have; every paper has written that Blair knew he was almost inviting the terrorists by siding with Bush) but their tubes and buses have zero security. The buses don't even have a conducter for heaven's sake, only the driver who also functions as a conducter. Anyway you would know, you've lived there. So if you go to visit now, you would really notice a big, big difference I'm sure.

13 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

"So a book cover flapping in the breeze reflcted against candle light looks menacing and scary on the wall."
-- a la Plato's Cave, from 'Where the streets have no name' blog by writer-in-exile.

A fear of one's own manufacture?

14 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

There may be no compulsion, but yes, there are times that clear binary thinking is important. So it's either Unity or failure, at critical junctures, and it becomes important to recognize divisive forces for what they are (desperate attempts to attack the Unity to which all would otherwise testify).

Nah... no falling for the same old 'divide' trap.

14 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

Y'know, writer-in-exile, your "indescribable" response high up in the sky (CN Tower blog) could take awhile globalizing.

Is it fanciful to think that it eventually will, though?

14 September, 2005  
Blogger the cowlick said...

Interesting. Melbourne is next, so they say. I can't wait for some excitement :) (Did I say that out loud?)

15 September, 2005  
Anonymous madmadmadworld said...

Melbourne's about co-hush-habitation, LA is about, uhmmm, l-l-love?

Surely, no one would have a problem. But then, it's a

15 September, 2005  
Anonymous buzziness as unusual said...

This buzz thing, holding hands on the street, kissing etc. Is being DEMONSTRATIVE really such a big deal? That's not the culture in this part of the world. here it's all ishaare ishaaron mein

15 September, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya like, all undastood

16 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

Paradoxical moods often are, but the trick is not to fall for false dichotomies; that is the only context in which Life & Leisure could be of relevance here. There's of course the smile paradox to think about as well.

23 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

Speaking of an L&L buzz... between one and the other... and distinctions/dichotomies etc... a web log can go "lamp", go "spider" --- or lamp AND spider.

Happy Equinox!!

23 September, 2005  
Blogger writer-in-egg-style said...

... or, is there a lamp/spider role reversal on?


23 September, 2005  
Blogger GSB said...

God I don't even know if I should bother with replying to half these comments, so, I'll choose the latter. I won't. Hey people, could you just please try to keep the comments a little relevant? Thanks

24 September, 2005  
Anonymous zzzzzz said...

here's to football's greatest ever net-free goal, a work of true art

11 July, 2006  

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