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A ‘stranger’ in London

London Big Ben, double-decker bus and red telephone box  

Having won free air tickets to London in a contest, I soon found myself in a flat at Chiswick.

Within hours of my landing, with no jet lag, I set out. My host, an eminent Sri Lankan cardiologist, had briefly explained to me about the nitty-gritty of movement in London. “Don’t look directly at strangers. That may invite trouble. A few ‘spirited gentlemen’ may take it as a challenge, a hat thrown into the ring,” he warned rather grimly.

I covered myself with a thin cashmere paired with a sweater and a muffler, all under an overcoat lent by the doctor. A deerstalker on my head completed the attire. I thrust my hands deep into the pockets, enjoying the chilly winds and the warmth the layers of my clothes provided.

The roads were almost empty. As I stood at an intersection, wondering which way to go, a car pulled up near me.

“Good morning, sir. Can you direct me to the road that leads to North Ealing,” asked a silver-haired old gentleman at the wheel.

I reeled in wonderment. There I was, a complete stranger to London, nervously re-running the doctor’s cryptic instructions in “doing” London, and here is a motorist asking me for directions.

“Search me, sir,” I told him cheerfully. “Just landed in London few hours back. A total stranger, that is.”

“Really? But you look like one who has been here for long. Sorry to have bothered you.”

Mistaken for a resident? Attaboy! I patted myself.

As I started walking towards the station, to catch my train, an old lady vaguely resembling Agatha Christie tapped my shoulder. “Excuse me, young man. Can I bother you to direct me to the local church? You must be knowing it, belonging to this place.”

“Belonging to this place? No way. I am a tourist from India. Landed only hours back at Heathrow.”

“Indeed? But you do look like one who has been here.”

I told her, “My stay here is only a few hours old, nevertheless, without the singular powers of detection of Sherlock Holmes, I can tell you that the church is over there on your right. You can see the spire from here.”

She giggled, patted my shoulder and went away.

London seemed to be decidedly friendly. I thought I would require guidance on my maiden trip out. Instead, ironically two Londoners sought that from me.

jsraghavan@gmail.com


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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 9:57:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-stranger-in-london/article35652581.ece

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