Experience Glittering and gritty, this city is ever-welcoming of wide-eyed newbies, writes RIJUTA DEY

“No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”

Samuel Johnson

This statement will ring true for eternity. It is another thing that Johnson is also credited with penning down two of literature's most vitriolic (and depressing) poems — London and The Vanity of Human Wishes — that give a sound thrashing to everything remotely connected to the city.

Still, for me (and for anyone with one strand of hope or optimism in his / her body) London's sheer vitality and scope of diverse interests more than makes up for the occasional pangs of home-sickness.

The first thing that struck me about London was its pronounced diversity. Pursuing International Journalism from London's City University, I found myself in midst of a truly multi-cultural milieu. My perceived exoticism (“Your hair is naturally jet black? You don't use any tanning cream to get that complexion?”) tickled me as much as my evident sense of wonder amused my peers. I squawked in delight when a ‘tom-tom' (a modern day ‘map' that calls out exact directions while on the road) chirpily told my cousin's car to “reverse, go straight and then right to exit”.

I have managed to tame my awe-struck self since then, the pretence of nonchalance slipping only when in company of other dazzled mortals.

I had chosen my University precisely because of its location — central London. Studying English Literature for my graduation, I had, in my mind's eye, walked along Fleet Street, pondered on the banks of the Thames, beheld the St. Paul's cathedral and bowed my head for those distinguished souls who rest at Westminster Abbey. It was with a sense of déjà vu that I re-enacted all these, and more.

I found out that London of the travel brochures differs significantly from the lived reality. It's oft repeated that it's an expensive place; here the word ‘expensive' took on a life and personality of its own. I no longer consider Delhi's paani-puri rates or Chennai's auto fares exorbitant. Now, at home in Chennai, I am startled at the fact the shopping bag packs in so much in Rs. 100. In the so-called ‘economy' superstores of U.K., it's a bargain to find a pack of six (very small, I might add) apples for 1 pound. Do the math.

I am one of those who can easily adapt to local food customs. Yet, my stomach squelched in protest as I forced down a cold chicken sandwich, even when the temperature was 10 degrees. Why people eat cold food in a cold country, and drink ice water (when they do drink water) is something beyond my comprehension. I have also seen notices on tourist buses that ask passengers to be considerate and ‘not offend' other passengers by consuming ‘hot food'. The rationale is that hot food ‘smells'. God help!

With Starbucks and Costa Coffee dotting almost any respectable street, it wouldn't be far fetched to deduce that Londoners run on coffee-fuel. Sipping coffee and dressed mostly in black, the average Londoner is chic, smart and perpetually in a hurry.

On the famed London Tube, people are tuned into iPods or buried behind a book or a newspaper, too busy to make small talk with their neighbours.

It is impossible to claim that one has partaken of all that London has to offer even after a four-month stay. I doubt if I ever will be able to exhaust London's theatres, galleries, places of historical and cultural interest, etc. ; it's so like Mary Poppins' bottomless carpet bag.

London lies glittering and gritty, ever-welcoming of the wide-eyed newbies as it continues to bewitch its old lovers.