Magical, unexpectedly cosmopolitan, a reverberating success coupled with a grand display of a diverse crew of characters of different skin colours (some may not like it), London is an old-world theatre. An astronaut on the moon would describe the city as a critical juncture in the history of the world whilst it revolves around its economic axis. The river Thames has witnessed the scenes of a one-act play that London’s biggest characters have performed effortlessly: colonisation, the rise of left and right politics, racism, and Brexit. When English men and women sailed across the oceans to conquer the more ‘uncivilised’ countries, London was still peopled by artists of great repute. One of them was Shakespeare whose plays not only reflect the living cultural and literary atmosphere of belongingness that British citizens share but also the indisputable outcome of a genius.
London is also a solar system with millions of planets around which a deep, dark abyss of darkness moves one to closure. That one cannot discover London in the same way as one cannot discover India in a lifetime is a given. The stars are certainly its restaurants; the moons are its cafes; the meteors are its moving diasporas; the streets are its pathways for satellites and rockets.
Therefore, let us ask ourselves: How ethical is it to travel into space? Londoners advertise consent — you need a visa and need to follow certain rules when you are in a relationship with it. The underground stations highlight consent, in the bathrooms and up elevators posters explain what everyone is talking about. Consent creates high expectations to follow. In this land of aliens and indigenous peoples, those without a visa are prepared to come back with one and those who work tirelessly to affirm their role in contributing to the strong work ethic that Britishers possess, are hoping for an expansion of London as a capital of the world, to the frontiers of prosperity and jolly good times.
Students are London’s second longest residing tourists. They die to read History and Anthropology at various levels in London’s universities. This after years and years of enter and exit, enter and exit, London accommodates them, puts up with them — even respects them. There is a degree of credibility attached to the student who studies hard, whether international or national. The fleeting moment when those who say London is a craze for the rich is swallowed up by what is supposed to happen when they graduate. Securing a job is as much an asset for the international students who stay on for a couple of months to relax and apply to all the visa-granting work that they can get their hands on. London has been polite to those with large family kitties. It is the price you pay when you enter space — you are not guaranteed a return to earth because your ticket was the rocket you blew up.
The lecture theatres, the outings and parties, the friends, the families, the food stalls, the rain, the headnotes on the Evening Standard enticing and persuading onlookers to hold viewpoints, the architecture and museums, the debates and speeches, the parks and cigarette smoke, the buses and post offices and shops and accents and clean air and aged buildings ageing with senior citizens, and walking sticks and black benches and rough sleepers and low-grade racism from all quarters, amongst the pomp and lights on Oxford Street on New Year’s Day. These are just a few images of an international student’s life. From his diary from the weekend you may just have one word: Hangover. Alas, the pubs in London are like the pubs in England: They distill minds to sleep.
At the end of the evening, London is the most pleasant arena of imagination on one’s bed. It puts everyone, no matter how bad or good they are, to rest. Had London not been this sweet to me, I would not have read this year. I spent a whole year talking to myself about London. I visited family friends to enjoy the connections of this carnivalesque show to my part of the earth. I swept my mind of past knowledge throughout the classes I attended in my School, overheard conversations, misspelt quite often only to realise that the computer has dumbed me down, tried my hand at making intelligent friends, noticed the enticing air through which a camera’s lens clicks a photograph of a smiling group on the first night of snow in December. This tourist in me has licked ice-creams off plastic spoons on Russell Square many, many times. Having piled his cupboard with books he found near a dustbin, he realised that the artful palette upon which London draws its colour is his own carefree mind that has gently moved from side to side on his white pillow for 365 days.
London is thus a movie too, with a beginning and an end. The middle is watched with the baited breadth of a hungry viewer. Those who wish to see it adapted into a book or play may choose to discover the city again and again. The Mad Hatter on Portobello Street, who stands with his box of pretty tchotchkes every Saturday, invites every Alice to perceive the drama and spectacle London has to offer with the fine energy and brilliance of a craftsman. In fact, visitors will become the artists and astronomers who have transformed this city from the spheres it once was — a theatre and solar system — to a fantastic cinematograph signed by the director herself. God is surely proud to be an English citizen.