Mathur reflects on her recent trip to London
The quality and sound of rain is as different as the countries themselves.
There, a fine, foggy, near freezing sleet that wraps itself around solid
buildings and circles the street lamps, illuminating green and autumnal
dull, gold leaves.
a cooling, rising rush of steam as water hits burning pavements, its
torrent swaying the bougainvillea and wetting the Northern Range, at times
taking the humidity to a fevered pitch, at others, cooling hot, sweaty
Here, through my window, I hear refrains of pan, heavy and light, ringing
out like many clanging bells, celebratory disconnected peals, culminating
in a seamless harmony when the panmen finally, triumphantly, put together
all the elements and play the entire tune. A dog barks into the air, soft
now, after the downpour.
it is the steady roar of traffic, the sounds of a thousand stilettos,
boots, shined and patchy shoes, thundering up and down stairs and
platforms of train stations, the deep echo of an electric guitar in a
tunnel, the palpable swishing about of six million people in London where
smells and sounds of many worlds converge, from Morocco to Montenegro,
almost taken over now by immigrants and refugees. Like groups of
chattering tropical birds descended from the tower of Babel, they serve up
offerings from their countries with spices and tobacco, sweets and silver,
long hubli bubbly pipes out of which you can inhale the essence of apples
in smoky Arabic bars, or jump out of your skin with a strong Turkish
coffee. London has a capacity to absorb all this, mutate with it, and
remain herself, classic, offbeat, exciting, sordid, indefinable, with
Here, it is the familiar sight of the Northern Range, the terracotta
galvanised roofs, the occasional bright peach or yellow house buried in
the hills, or a white one rising out of the landscape. The many shades of
green, glinting pale yellow in bright sunlight, fading into a uniform army
green at night. The glare, the bank girls at lunchtime, the panyards, the
vendors, and speedy taxi drivers, the cool relief of air-conditioned
malls, the cocooning safety of seeing people you know while you drive
London has to be seen from the London Eye, a mammoth steel wheel
construction off Waterloo Bridge, which spins you around and you see the
cityís many angles. Even on this typical sleety rainy day, it is packed
with people eager for a birdís eye view of this city. As the doors clang
you shut into your cubicle, and the steel wheel takes off, you can see the
long stretch of the Thames, with its many bridges and barges, winding
through the city.
beyond, is the Tate Modern, the new art gallery. And here is Big Ben with
its famous spire and cross. And there, the baroque antique houses of
Parliament, with its Union Jack flying high. Chimneys and red buses, and
moving umbrellas. The wheel descends, comes full circle. Look up and you
see through the rain-drenched glass, other cubicles and convoluted shapes
the ground, itís a monkeyís tea party. Donít buy the newspapers to
befuddle your head more with Tony Blairís politics, or the latest
serialisation in the Sunday Times on Princess Diana by another hustler.
the soul of the people that counts and in the hub you can speculate
endlessly on peopleís lives. A smoking man emerges from a darkened
alleyway, a girl in a red sweater stands arguing with a man in a smart
car. The West End on a Friday night is jammed with half-dressed girls
outside techno clubs choosing to be sexily revealing in this stinging cold
rain, and men in leather jackets spewing cologne and loud talk. Groups of
friends meet in Sushi bars and China Town, outside cinema, faces flame
inside and go cold outside.
charm lies, too, in its odd nooks and crannies - the antique bookshops
with little ladders, and dusty old books, and musty men, the cold Satchi
warehouse with its disturbing clever exhibits, Richmond Park, where the
deer roam, streets strewn with wet autumn leaves.
Came home to wonderful warmth and familiarity of island life, small in
scale but unmistakably also a monkeyís tea party. To stories of Abu Bakr
and his tapes, of a ministerís $12 million account discovered by
computer hackers, of fired ministers and Government bagmen. Amidst the
waste, the ruthless grabbing of money from the weighed down men and women
in our streets, there is now, infinite tenderness towards these pannists,
who, practising somewhere in these hills deep into the night and at the
crack of dawn, have finally perfected their tune. Listen to those notes,
rising now, falling now, until it fades away and reverberates long after.
the end itís all that matters. Take time out and be a detached
spectator: separate the ugly from the amusing; watch the moment fill up
with the monkeyís tea party, and music that rings straight from the
purest kernel of the human heart.