Four months after moving to Kingston it has finally dawned on me to blog about my ‘first impressions’ in this London borough by the Thames. (Am a whatever! I know…) As the prologue has already reached my readers, (those of you who have read the post Bangalore to London would know what I am talking about) it is but natural that the story should continue. So here goes…my usual commentary with some pictures all from my first week in Kingston. 😀
I arrived in Kingston bent with approximately 50 Kgs of luggage on a Saturday night on the 24th of September. I had never crossed the Indian border before, let alone set foot in the UK and I had no idea how I would locate the University Halls of Residence or whom I would call if I did not find it. Luckily I found a black cab at the airport, the famous taxis of London driven by know-all-the routes drivers and the cabbie after much consultation of maps and discussions with colleagues over the radio managed to put me on the doorstep of the Halls in record time and without any haggling. I was already smitten by London and the town of Kingston.
I had been expecting to walk into a cold, drab, colourless, hateful town and I was naturally taken aback by the greenery, beauty and the order around me. I am a hardcore Indian by heart but I should admit I felt…relief! Clean and green just as I liked it and add some order to it (orderly traffic, neat roads, no haphazard parking or crammed rows of buildings) and I am sure to fall head over heels in love with any place that could boast of these three things. Maybe it’s the effect of growing up in a little, unpolluted town or maybe the effect of living in an overpopulated, chaotic city for the last three years, but the result was there to see. I loved Kingston and I was ready to ignore the absence of rainbow colours of an Indian city. The weather did not bother me too. It was still summery in September and I felt at home.
The moment I checked in and was shown to my flat I crashed out. It was like in a Tinkle story- the traveller who arrives someplace after a tiresome journey to find a nice little room and immediately he pulls out a sheet from his bag and crashes out. Well that’s exactly what I did. I was knocked out flat flat for more than ten hours and when I opened my eyes it was nearly ten the next morning. I showered, called up family and decided to go out for breakfast and explore the town. But not in my wildest dreams was I prepared for the ‘adventure’ that day.
I met a flatmate and following her instructions walked to the bus stop nearby. If the previous night I was smitten, then that morning I was madly in love with the place. My Halls are in a campus called Kingston Hill and though I did not see any hill nearby, it did not take me long to realise that the campus was a conserved area, bordered with woods and teeming with squirrels and birds. I walked with a spring in my step to the bus stop and waited for a bus, got into a trademark red double-deck when it arrived and only then realised that I did not have change to pay. All I had were notes of 50£ denominations and just as expected the driver exclaimed ‘50 pounds?!’ when I presented it to him. I got out of the bus red-faced and decided to walk instead. I had been told the town centre was a 20-25 minute walk away and I trudged along taking in the fresh morning air. That’s when I started getting a creepy feeling down my neck. Something did not feel right. I kept walking but I was not sure if I was going the right way and that’s when it hit me. There was nobody on the street to ask directions…not one soul!! Nearly eleven on a Sunday morning and the main road in town was deserted. I almost freaked out…was there a curfew of some kind or something that had happened in the town I wondered. But I was not sure and hurried past closed storefronts and houses with no signs of inhabitation. There weren’t even any vehicles on the streets, only buses and a few bicycles.
Then I came into the town centre and finally saw some human beings… It felt like I had come out of the theatre after watching a spooky movie. 😀 I was plain stupid and had not realised that people took weekends seriously here. I found a sandwich bar and bought some coffee and breakfast and as I sat eating on a bench in the town square I saw people slowly emerging, first in ones or twos, then in crowds, women pushing buggies (prams), children skipping about, men with families… I could see the town literally ‘coming to life’. And then I heard the music, a violin playing and I went after it…following the sound around the square till I found a street musician playing in front of the mall and people stopping to listen to him… That did the magic. It all felt strange and I was still homesick but I had been won over.
Then on it has been a rollercoaster ride. There have been the lows when people have been rude to me, when I had problems catching the English accent, when I had to go through the tedious (for weird old me) process of making friends etc etc but there have also been the highs such as the pure pleasure of learning new things every day, the kick I get out of exploring London, the peace in the mornings while I wake up to the strumming of a guitar etc etc. It’s nice to be a student again and it’s nice to have all the time in the world to do what I want to do- write.
Sometimes I do ask myself whether I did the right thing in quitting a well paying job, spending a ton of money for a ‘phoren’ degree and coming to live in a strange country amid strange people. But then I remember this saying (Audrey Hepburn’s I guess) “The most important thing is to enjoy your life, to be happy, it’s all that matters.” As long as I am happy with what I am doing, I guess am doing it right and that’s all that matters while I take life one step at a time.