Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A long long way from home

V & I are noticing women in Indian clothes roaming around central London with far greater frequency than before (as in there are more such women than before, NOT we are suddenly becoming more observant - we are very observant thank you very much) . And these are not just salwar kameez and saree aunties who have come to look after their children/ grand-children. These are bona fide tourists. Backpacks, cameras and sneakers. All the way from India.

I know this is not new. Once upon a time I worked in the tourism industry in India. Till that year traveling abroad on holiday was the pleasure of the rich and well heeled. Let's be brutally honest, you needed black money and loads of it. Alternately you could travel in a huge group,with mummyji's, auntyji's and uncleji's, a busload full, whizzing around Europe with a maharaj cooking all your Indian food as you took in the sights in double quicktime. (No point trying out any new cuisine as god forbid we bite into a forbidden onion or eat on dishes once used to eat meat). That year foreign currency regulations changed and because people could take more money legally with them they were able to consider holidaying abroad with just their own families. My job became the most interesting one of all time. I got to travel around the world, negotiate and create individual holidays for every category of holiday maker from the 3 star wanderers to the super-deluxe craving few. Initially it was a steep increase and as the years have gone by the number of Indians on holiday has steadily continued to grow. It’s amazing what a good exchange rate, a higher disposable income, a competitive holiday market and a world of destinations brought closer by new age travel can and will do.

Yesterday I was sitting near a Manhattan-style tube station, reading the Times, enjoying the odd breaks of sunshine through the quick marching clouds, while waiting for friends to turn up for lunch. An Indian, with his bag on his back and his camera slung around his neck came up and very politely asked for directions to the DLR station. While he made his enquiries his family stood behind and discussed possible routes amongst themselves. A mother draped in the most beautiful Chaderi saree, a father in his neatly pressed trousers and shirt, a wife in salwar kameez – all with appropriate walking shoes. Instructions taken, map consulted and they were off. Explorers of the best kind.

London in the summer is a lovely place to be a tourist. There is an efficient (for the most part) tube system that connects you from one corner of the city to the other. There is an award winning tube map that shows direction and stations clearer than a bright blue sky. The Tube station staff are friendly and helpful. There is a wonderful bus system (at least for central London) that will take you the short distances. And there are so many touristy things to see including five world class museums: National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, British Museum. Small cafe's to buy an innocent cheese sandwich and cola from. There are also a huge number of desi's like me who live here and know the city well enough to guide a lost person. Being of the same colour makes us more approachable.

I don’t want to sound like a blurb for the London Tourism Board but I am glad that more and more Indians are shrugging the fear of traveling abroad and venturing to newer and further sights. I like that there are more people who look like me and will smile back at me as I make my tube journey across town. People who, in that moment, across the aisle in the tube carriage, are wondering where in India I am from, while I wonder where they are from and whether we can prove the six degrees of seperation and find people we know in common back in just six short steps. Just the sight of beautiful intricate saree's will bring a little bit of India into this sometimes parched life. Living so far away from my original home this brings me just a small smidgeon of comfort, for just a second. Till the odd person leaves their litter behind and I remember one of many reasons why I think people should be given a litter 'black star' on their visa/passport for the next time they plan to visit. Three strikes and you're out.

I'm glad people are taking these chances to explore the world beyond their own backyards. While I agree that there is so much to see in India, I am adamant that it's beauty would be enhanced by the experience of having travelled abroad and having something to compare it with. I’m glad that we too have the capability to take holidays, short and long, to appreciate other cultures and cuisines, to see other landscapes and ways of life. I’m glad the world is a smaller place.


  1. hie i've done your tag-finally.

  2. Yep, i've noticed that too, especially with the cheaper air fares to London from India.. But what's more fascinating is to see people take a 'break' from work life and do something like this...

    may the good times last.

  3. Anonymous1:10 PM

    We get a bit of that in Amsterdam too, and since I live right in the museum quarter where every tourist makes a stop, I get to be the map reader. I love doing that, makes me feel like I know the whole city. And usually, we always chit chat and its almost like they brought a piece of home here.

    Lovely post.

  4. Yeah about the Tube staff being friendly, don't think so. My one time personal experience. Tube map on the other hand so impressive I have a huge one on the wall of one my rooms as a souvineir. :-)

  5. But how often do you see women at work wearing the indian outfits esp saree's? I must admit I wouldn't wear them eitehr so i don't know why i expect to see oters in them :s

    You see London through the eyes of a tourist, beautifully described though and yeah London in teh summer is great probably the only time i like it :)

  6. Jane: Good. Yes Regents Park would be perfect.

    Me: Yes, very few Indians take a gap or sabatical year to just travel. But beside mindset that is more to do with monetary incapability. At least they will now take short breaks...

    Sue: Yes, a little piece of India with them - I like that. Amsterdam is ever popular with Indian tourists - saw gazillions of them when we were there in January.

    Labile: A tube map on the wall. Hmmm. Good souvenier but on the wall like a poster - really??? I have always found helpful tube staff. Sorry the ones you met gave you a hard time!

    San: Exactly my point. I wear ethnic accesories: shawls, jewellry etc but never sarees to work (I do wear salwar kameez's when weather permits). But its not because I don't want to rather it's to blend in with the world. The accessories highlight my own culture and dress code. All these people in saree/ salwar are tourists and that's how they get identified - that is how I know so many more are milling around central London.

    I love the summer in London.....

  7. Anonymous12:48 AM

    Could those desis be from across the pond and not from India? A lot of US settled desis are travelling too.
    Also please correct the punctuation -- there is no apostrophe when using a word in plural form (you wrote desi's, cafe's, uncleji's etc ).

  8. Arul: yes, they could be desi's from America although it is more likely that the saree laden aunty-types are from India.

    By any chance are you from the apostrophe police? Thanks for the corrections but will stick to whats there for the moment. Will think of them for next time.

  9. Yoooohhhoooo.. anyone home? Discover the new template :D

  10. Anonymous6:33 AM

    yup...what's( i think there should be an apostrophe here) up with not wearing indian clothes to work? i have many friends here who refuse to do so...i have been wearing them to work(here in the US) since 1997...40in2006

  11. Anonymous1:29 PM

    i am now in india and likely to come to london and spend there for three months on training in october its good to go through your blog and got 1st hand info of london life....usha