I love London! On my first day, I was in fantasy land. How can streets and sidewalks be this clean? Where’s the garbage, poop, and unidentifiable muck? Why are cars stopping for pedestrians? Tap water is drinkable and power outages rare?
In India I spent my final week in Mumbai. This city is incomparably larger than Pune–and urban life is amplified and multiplied. The noise, the air, the population, the traffic, the rain and wind and humidity! Since I stay with a friend, however, I was generally shielded from the struggles of daily life.
Take food. I’ve raved about the cooking of Abelin, my friend’s wonderful housekeeper. She’s among my favorite memories of India. Not only did I glean cooking tips from her, but by example she demonstrated the power of strong spiritual faith (she is Catholic), of self-awareness (she knows exactly who she is), and of joyfulness (she is always smiling, always positive). I initially overlooked how, step by step, her delicious dishes came to be–until I went shopping with her.
It was drizzly that day, and we had to cross a few tricky roads to reach the vendors. Once there, dozens of sellers were squatting under makeshift tarps, on soggy ground, deep in mud, with the odor of rotting produce and who knows what from days past. Holding her little umbrella over both of us, I walked very gingerly, as falling would’ve been a nightmare.
The sidewalks were clogged with vendors, so pedestrians had to navigate through whatever space remained. Shopping in Pune was child’s play in comparison. I could hardly imagine lugging a heavy bag of produce, gripping an umbrella, dealing with multiple cash transactions, traversing slippery muck, trekking a considerable distance for staple ingredients. In this mega city, produce is still sold in village-scale format.
When we arrived home, I felt as if I deserved a medal or something. I was exhausted and needed to shower and shampoo; even my top was speckled with brown spots. It gave a whole new meaning to home cooking.
Would any foodie in the West cook at home if they had to shop the Mumbai streets for themselves? I doubt it. Of course, anyone with enough money avoids such chores by hiring a housekeeper/cook–and visitors who stay at five-star hotels and eat out never experience or even see how most people live. (I saw no other foreigners on the street that day.)
So, here in London, I feel a sense of relief, of freedom, of autonomy. Near my hotel in Bloomsbury, there are countless food options, including lots of grocery stores and healthy takeout; a Waterstone’s bookstore (a chain, but more literary than Barnes & Noble or Chapters); two tube stations; the British Museum. Beyond, I can get anywhere, by foot or public transport.
Yes, life is fast-paced, ambitious, and expensive in London. But, life is also easy here, likewise in Vancouver, San Francisco, and everywhere I’ve lived and known. In India, you must have a different set of survival skills.
More London moments: