London Musings

My parents hail from Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh and my childhood years were spent in the belief that the three seasons of a year are : Summer, Simmer and Sizzler. Apart from enduring the severe heat, summers vacations were spent in reading story books, playing for hours in the front verandah, meeting countless cousins and occasional trips to ancestral village to visit grandparents. Summers also bring back the memories of spicy papads and fresh pickles my mother and aunt were painstakingly preparing to last a year. The mango pickle “AVAKAYA” is the pride of many a Telugu household, its annual preparation bordering on a religious rite, with the intricate Modus operandi handed down the clan for generations.

Our summer vacations were spent enduring hot days and humid nights. Adding fuel to the fiery summer, my disciplinarian father was engaging me and my siblings, with English and Mathematics lessons for the next academic year. Of course , mounting temperatures and rising tempers were the order of the day !! While the maths lessons were our Nemesis , the English lessons provided a reprieve by literally transporting us to the scenic lakes and the rolling hills of mild English summers. The eternal poems of William Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, P.B.Shelly, YB Keats and others took us to the imaginary world of cooler climates and greener pastures. These lessons , with the vivid and vibrant descriptions of the beauty and the serenity of English country side, left a permanent impression on our young minds.

Hence, my recent trip to UK on a family vacation was a “childhood dream coming true”. I was excited and delighted to visit the places and towns that were once the backdrop of our Language classes. The cruise on river Thames in London brought back the memories of a stanza we read in school from “ Symphony in Yellow” by Oscar Wilde.

The yellow leaves begin to fade 
 And flutter from the Temple elms, 
 And at my feet the pale green Thames 
 Lies like a rippled rod of jade

On our tour to the Oxford , we passed through the Chilterns Hills area , with some glorious landscapes, green hills, grazing sheep and pleasant little villages. The tall spires of Oxford University , a campus of many colleges, were imposing as well as inspiring. This temple of learning from 11th century , is one of the oldest and finest academic institutions in the world. The trip to the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, was an enlightening pilgrimage to the birth place of William Shakespeare , widely regarded as the greatest writer and the finest dramatist of the English Literature. One of the Bard’s fine dramas “ As you like it “ was part of our Degree syllabus and the famous phrases from this work like “All the world’s a stage” and “ Sweet are the fruits of adversity” are the immortal guiding lights, to inspire people to put things in proper perspective during hard times.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Scottish author and physician, has immortalized the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes and the address at 221 b, Bakers street in Central London is one of the major tourist attractions. These spellbinding escapades of the detective were our constant companions during the college days and hidden cleverly among the text books, these novels saw us through the ennui of many a dreary class. Sherlock Holmes, in his inimitable style, would probably have said “It was elementary, My Dear ” but my exciting trip to Baker Street was anything but elementary.

Equally fascinating were the visits to Westminister , Charing Cross, Mayfair, Westend and Piccadally areas in London, names the ardent fans of P.G.Wodehouse are quite familiar with. Who can resist a chuckle while remembering the fictional Jeeves, displaying his apparent mastery over a vast range of subjects from poetry to philosophy. The character was so lively and believable that the name has become a generic term for “ Man Friday”.

Hyde Park in Central London, originally the manor of Hyde with the Abbey of Westminster and later on the crown property, is an “urban lung ” and one of the beautifully landscaped Royal parks. The park was huge, the flowers were in bloom, the grass was lush green, the walks by the water were lovely and the views of the surrounding areas simply superb ! After a busy city tour , it was divine to relax on a park bench, feel the grass under the feet and watch the day go by , while reminiscing a poem by W.H. Davies, the famous poet from Wales.

What is this life if, full of care,
 We have no time to stand and stare.
 No time to stand beneath the boughs
 And stare as long as sheep or cows.
 No time to see, when woods we pass,
 Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
 No time to see, in broad daylight,
 Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
 No time to turn at beauty’s glance,
 And watch her feet, how they can dance.
 No time to wait till her mouth can
 Enrich that smile her eyes began.
 A poor life this is if, full of care,
 We have no time to stand and stare
.

After an interesting tour of the historic city of Edinburgh , we took a bus to Scottish Highlands to spend some time onthe bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond’, the lake made famous in many a folk song sung during evenings of revelry in Scotland. We found it tough to follow their thick Scottish accent and tougher is their Gaelic mixed English, made popular in many ballads of highlands like “ O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak the low road, An’ I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;” .

If a place can bring to mind a season, St. Petersburg in Russia conjures up peak Winter.

If a place can bring to mind a mood, the ottoman ruins in Istanbul convey deep Melancholy.

If a place can bring to mind a poem , the Lake District in UK recites “ Daffodils”.

The yellow daffodils gently swaying in the wind on the grassy slopes in Lake District reminded me of this eternal poem by William Wordsworth and transported me back to my class room.

I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.

The Literature Department of British Council promotes contemporary and innovative work from the UK, to audiences around the world through their global network. With a dream of popularizing poetry in public places , the project “ Poems on the Underground” was launched in 1986 in UK and later was adopted by mass transport systems in New York, Paris, Dublin, Stuttgart, Barcelona, Athens, Shanghai, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Every season, six poems are selected to be exhibited on the London underground. Here is one by D.J.Enright , that caught my fancy.

Proud readers hide behind tall newspapers, The young are all arms and legs, knackered by youth, Tourists sit bolt upright trusting in nothing, Only the drunk and crazy aspire to converse, Only the Poet peruses his poem among the adverts. Only the elderly person observes the request that the seat be offered to an elderly person.

The majestic castles, the glistening lakes, the scenic drives, the pleasant weather, the green hills, the grazing sheep, the clean cottages and the picture-perfect English villages have cast such a charming spell on me that I have instantly renewed my childhood love affair with the English countryside. It would be apt to sum up our UK trip with this touching thought penned by the popular poet from Kent, Wendy Cope.

On waterloo bridge, where we said our goodbyes The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes, I wipe them away with a black wooly glove And try not to notice I’ve fallen in love.