Indian in England

Musings of a student

Monday, May 31, 2004

The English like it cold

THERE is a nice warm glow inside me. That’s because I have just finished a nice meal and a nice drink at someone else’s expense, which is a nice reason to have a nice warm glow inside you.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I have a nice warm glow because it is nice and warm here. The sun has been shining non-stop -- well, sort of -- the last couple of weeks. Frankly, it’s worrying me.

I am not the only one. Even the natives are unsettled. Initially they thought it was only the summer. But now I see worried frowns.

Give the English wet wintry weather and they are in their element. They put on rain-jackets and gloves and Wellingtons, and allow their dogs to take them for a walk. A walk is usually a few miles each way, across the muckiest paths possible, and is most enjoyed when it is raining. En route they meet other dogs walking other Englishpeople. While the dogs stop to mark territory, they exchange smiles like semicolons, and remark what a jolly fine day it is.

But let there be a stretch of sun, and they can’t cope. They begin to burn. This is mainly because they pay tribute to Salman Khan, which is only natural, as he honestly deserves hefty tributes for his beauty and brains.

I mention all this since I want to come directly to the point and tell you the summer is here. While this means I don’t have to swallow frozen sandwiches for lunch anymore, it also means I don’t get to wear my black leather jacket. Which is a tragedy.

It’s a tragedy because the said item allowed me to carry half my office and quarter my home on my person. Besides, it made me look incredibly hunky. And it ensured I didn’t have to iron my clothes even once in the last six months.

Now I know why the English are content with the cold. I am beginning to see the wisdom of winter.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The sun's shining

PEOPLE, the sun is shining. So I am making some hay. Enough of it, I hope, for next month’s fees.

Meantime, let me wish my good friend AYYAPPAN, who got married last fortnight. Like a good friend, I forgot his wedding day in the midst of all my hay-making. So here's wishing him and his brand new wife Lakshmi a wonderful, wealthy life with tons of happiness, health, and whatever else they may care to order...

And now here are my responses to your responses...

Phantasmagoria: Always a pleasure, ma'am. Here you are! *grin*

Krishna: Yes, sir, I am right here in Bournemouth. Since November.

PseudoFreud: So I got competition, do I? Well.

Rash: Yep. Can’t help it. Too much blood, too large a heart.

Chakra: That’s a question. And a thought. But there is the beach, right? And it is summer, right? And there is my blog, right? Hell, what else do you need in life!?!

Dan: ‘The police have arrested a man who allegedly impersonated a police officer.’ Never can digest so much news at one time, I can't. Incidentally, wrote for my old publication yet?

Preshit: Thanks, mate. Used to work in Mumbai. But coming across ‘bhannat’ for the first time. Bhannat. I like it. Bhannat...

Ponytail: Was, if I remember right, and I always remember right, giving you much-needed advice on how to conduct yourself professionally. That’s serious talk, not chatter. The nose incident, can’t remember it. I am sure you must have done something to deserve it.

Anita: Rubbing nose, or any other body part, with Ponytail isn’t all that appealing a thought. But pushing him around, that’s appealing. And, er, Ponytail isn’t really an Eskimo, though he has this igloo to protect himself from the vagaries of... well... everything.

Joyee: Good to see you again. When do you start blogging?

Now excuse me folks, I got some hay to make.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Oh, the poor Britons!

MY heart bleeds for Britain. I am serious.

What brings about this profuse seepage is the fact that the British have very little to be happy about. There is so little spice in their lives -- apart from baked potatoes -- that I am seriously worried about their welfare.

In winter their most interesting conversation is how long it rained (“A bit wet, i'nt it?), while in summer it is how long it didn’t (“Nice day, i'nt it?). Twice every year, for the sake of some activity, everyone turns their clock one hour back and one hour forth, to summer time and winter time, and derive immense pleasure (“Ohhh, that was such fun!”) from it.

It is my theory -- actually, it is someone else’s, but what the hell -- that this lack of excitement pushed them into the business of colonisation. You can’t expect a man to spend his entire life staring at the rain and drinking tea and taking the dog out for a walk, now can you?

Trouble is, nothing happens here. I listen to the BBC news bulletins every morning and it makes me want to immediately start staring at the rain and drinking tea and taking the dog out for a walk.

Of a three-minute bulletin, four minutes are news from everywhere else but Britain. The rest is for weather and the kind of information you normally find in weeklies under the head ‘tidbits’. Like:

A recent study shows 98 per cent of rivers in England and Wales have fish in them. This is attributed to better sewage maintenance.”

“Britain’s leading horse breeding expert Mr Twinklethrope
(or some such) has criticised the government for not allowing him to clone horses.”

I swear I didn’t make these up. I listened to three bulletins that day. As the day progressed, and as usual nothing happened, they kept stretching these two items, bringing in lengthy sound-bites from Twinklethorpe and the fish-man. Twinklethorpe said he criticised the government, and the fish-man said the rivers had fish indeed.

Another morning I was informed more Britishers are clearing up their dogs’ poop from public places -- 27 per cent more, the BBC man said happily, quoting a ‘recent study’.

I find all this strange because I am from India. There we get real news with our morning tea, and pretty much through the day:

“148 people were killed and 348 injured when the Dhakka-Lagao Express derailed early this morning near Vishakapattanam. A senior railway official said the accident occurred because the engine driver forgot to board the train after the last stop.

“Opposition MLAs today dragged the speaker from under his chair and stripped him, bringing to end the winter session of Parliament. They said they were exercising their democratic rights.

“Gujarat Chief Minister Morendra Nari said for every shot Pakistan fired into Kashmir, he would shoot two into Pakistan President Mervez Pusharraff the next time they met …”

In the absence of such excitement, it is only a matter of time before the British try their colonisation trick again. That, of course, will necessitate a quick trip home on my part to lead the freedom struggle, and, frankly, I am not looking forward to it. I am lagging behind my work as it is.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Mind your English

BEFORE I came to England, I believed the English sort of knew English.

They do -- sort of.

My feeling is they started off on the right track, but got lost somewhere along the way. This probably happened while they were legging it across India in tight breeches (“Oh dear, it is so hot here! How about a ginger beer, Dick?”), buying cardamom and ginger (“Could I possibly have a pound of that, mate, and another of that? Cheers.”), and on the side parting a few moronic maharajas from their crowns (“May I request the pleasure of seeing your headgear, Your Highness? Excellent…”).

Anyway, the English have forgotten their English. This pleases me greatly, because it allows me to waylay an Englishman and say, “Hah, I bet I can spell better than you!”

The English, however, haven’t gotten around to figuring out their linguistic depravity. They still believe they are wizards. So they make fun of the Americans. Only the other day my landlord Dick -- whom I shall introduce at an opportune moment -- said as he collected his weekly pound of flesh: “Hah! The Americans! They don’t speak English. They speak American!”

Now I am not saying don’t be nasty to Americans. Personally I believe they deserve all that they get for letting a prize imbecile shack out in the White House and shoot holes across the world. (“Rumsfeld, if you have finished with Iraq, get a move on Dagoria, will you? And get one of your girls to roger that old goat Saddam a bit.”)

So go ahead, be nasty to Americans. Meantime, let me have a little fun, reviewing a few -- just a few -- things I have noticed:

In London, Leeds, Bournemouth, and Wakefield, respectively: Kings Cross, Kings Road, Worlds Best Chips, Graziers Arms… And at a presentation by a top official of a certain university: Invigilators responsibilities… (For god’s sake… er, is it gods sake?)

At a car sale somewhere between London and Leeds: ‘Cars available at shocking prices.’ (My… but who would want to buy?)

Inside my institution of learning: ‘Do not open. This door is alarmed.’ (Okay, won’t… but tell me what alarmed it?)

Outside my institution of learning: ‘Vehicles parked in unauthorised positions and likely to cause an obstruction may be towed away and will only be released on payment of a fee as prescribed by the university.’ (Now that’s what I call uncomplicated English.)

En route to my institution of learning: 'For Sale ... Estate Agents' (How much for one?)

At -- and this is the one I love most -- the expensive private hospital I work: ‘Disabled Toilet’ (Gosh. Who broke its leg?)

I am not finished yet. Guess how they greet you over here? Not with ‘How are you’, like civilised people. They say, ‘Are you all right?’

Imagine. There you are walking in to work, smiling benignly, and they go ‘Are you all right?’ Why shouldn’t you be? The first time I heard it I was taken aback. Had I shaved only half my face? Or, horror, had I forgotten to zip up (again)?

Recently when someone greeted me thus -- and what else can you expect from people who say ‘Cheers’ for ‘Thanks’ -- I said my health was bad, and listed out ailments from fluent diarrhoea to SARS and AIDS, to which the gentleman said, “Excellent… catch you in a minute” and kept walking.

“Sure,” I told his back. “But I bet I can spell better than you!”


Thursday, May 06, 2004

Why I am mad

PEOPLE think I am mad, which I am, of course. But they think I am really mad.

Why, they ask, have I chucked a decent job and gone for an academic qualification -- and energetic sofa-lifting -- that will not make me rich, famous and popular, since I am already rich, famous and immensely popular?

In answer, let me reproduce what I wrote to convince the folks at my university, who asked me the same:

This is my sabbatical after nearly 10 years in journalism. As a journalist fighting constant deadlines, what I have missed most is the opportunity to give all I have to a news report or feature.

Events unfold before me; I am an eyewitness to history in the making. And all I can think of is my deadline, how to get the maximum in minimum time.

In the race to present a ‘comprehensive picture’, to ‘cover all angles’, the minutes of the event --- the little bricks that go into building it -- fall only in my peripheral vision.

I see those fleetingly. I wish I have time to stand and stare.

I never have.

This is my chance, my chance to stand and stare. This offers me a luxury that journalism rarely does: to focus on a topic of my choice, a topic I am passionate about, closely, minutely.

Which, as you can probably make out, is mostly bull. What really brings me here is the glamour of a certain prefix.

That, and the weather.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Sure? Confident?

LAST week I hosted two episodes of a British version of the Indian Kaun Banega Crorepati, which incidentally is the Indian version of the British Who wants to be a millionaire.

Ah, I can see my ex-colleagues in Mumbai shutting their mouths with their hands. Gosh, didn’t they have to put a gun to my head to make me do plain ol' audio for a couple of desperate -- and eminently forgettable -- reports in 1999? Amazing how the lure of money can cure camera-shyness.

And so I sat last Tuesday on a bar-stool-like contraption, facing my first competitor in the hot-seat, the first question for him blinking at me.

There was no audience -- I had insisted on that; if they wanted people and clapping and laughter, they could mix them all in later -- and we were in a claustrophobic space. The overhead lights were harsh and I was beginning to sweat, which is something I do wonderfully well when...well...overhead lights are harsh and I begin to sweat.

“When did mammoths cease to exist?”

My voice sounded squeaky. So I repeated the question, constricting my throat muscles to attain what I hoped was a Bachchanish baritone:

“When did mammoths become extinct? A) 15,000 years ago B) 10,000 years ago C) 20,000 years ago D) 5,000 years ago.”

That was better, I patted myself. Almost there. Next time drawl it out and serve it with a half-smile -- just so the women can swoon, you understand.

The hot-seat guy, a student, was evidently more in touch with the mammoths than me. He came up with an answer immediately.

“A,” he said. “15,000 years ago.”




He nodded.

I locked it. We moved on to the next. He answered. Next. Answer. Next. Answer... Then I threw a couple of toughies at him, stuff I didn't have a clue how to pronounce.

“What is… *gulp* …Pleistocene epoch?”

“What is… *double gulp* …Holocene epoch?”

So it went.

At the end of the session, I shook hands with him. Then I removed the ‘Exam in progress’ board from the door. Then I went home, having earned £30.82 from the university’s Learning Support department for ‘scribing’ for a disabled student.