Sir, what brings you to London? asked the young gentleman who happened to be a Sikh, at the immigration counter. Well, I spent best years of my life and youth in this country and I have come back to re-establish my contacts, I wanted to say but instead I of this I submitted, European Society of Cardiology meeting. And how many days you intend to spend? another routine question and the answer was, Seventy two, and I paused and completed, hours. The luggage was already on the belt and it took a few minutes to settle in the limousine and all set to say hello to London after quite a while. The same old Heathrow airport, it used to be three terminals and now it has expanded to five. Three decades ago a Concorde used to welcome everyone to Heathrow and now it is an Airbus 380 displayed (read sponsored) by Emirates.
We took a taxi from our hotel at Cromwell Road to Hyde Park. This used to be my favourite spot in yester years. During my stay in UK, I used to enter London via Edgeware Road invariably turning right and stopping in the middle of Hyde Park for a few minutes before heading to south. The water pond used to inspire me and I enjoyed looking at people enjoying themselves. It is a huge park and people from all walks of life come to have good time. Some enjoy jogging on their familiar tracks, others walk briskly along lake, some prefer company of their pets and others opt to relish the nature – the trees, the grass and the breeze. Yet many more come to see humans and animals who are stuck with a lonely life. Some come here to celebrate their joys but many more throng this place to immerse their sorrows in grass, trees and lake.
As we alighted from the car it changed from a light drizzle and started raining. We crossed the road, braved the rain and started walking along the lake. Most people were either carrying an umbrella or covered in rain coat. As we got a little wet we looked for a cover and luckily got a coveted space in a verandah overlooking the lake. Having a freshly brewed aromatic cup of coffee was an ultimate luxury. I and my friend Dr Azhar, consultant respiratory physician in nearby Bedford picked up the thread from where we left a couple of decades ago. Almost three decades ago we used to work together in Wolverhampton as young trainee doctors and later I moved to Leeds and he to Luton – a nearby hospital. The topic this time was our children and their careers.
The rain continued unabated for an hour and that reminded of us different journeys we took together in the rain. After settling down we ventured for a walk in the lush green lawns of the park along the lake. Many foreigners had gathered to enjoy weather and picnics under the shade of huge towering trees. An assembly of large sized geese appeared from the lake gently shedding off water and started exploring grass for food. Many of their cohorts enjoyed swimming in the lake. The large well-kept lake, the sprawling lush green lawns and tall majestic trees with multiple clusters of birds painted beautiful scenery in the water soaked ambience.
When we first ventured on ‘tube’ it was nerve wrecking. We used to be jittery -carry a map, stare at the maps displayed, check on every station and count the stops. We looked forward to the day when we would go around confidently and yes after a week it did happen. Even now the first journey from Earls Court to Temple station with one exchange was a little daunting but then suddenly whole of London lies in one’s reach the difference between a few more stops and a few more exchanges. This perhaps is the unique beauty of London as the every place is approachable.
Visiting Harrods was a part of nostalgia. We, friends of old times, were always keen to visit the world biggest store of that time but very occasionally bought anything. This time it was all different. The place was inundated with youngish looking Arabs holding multiple bags. It has all the outlets where prices are outrageous and one only wonders who will take their bates till you look up and see people carrying bags. It has multiple sections and one imperceptibly leads to another one and it becomes a maze and gets lost in this world of super-rich. As one exits on the side streets one comes across a dazzling collection of latest sports cars and convertibles parked on both sides. It was more of a display of dazzling cars – all in competition.
London has become cosmopolitan city. Walking on Cromwell road from Harrods to our hotel near Cromwell hospital was a revealing experience. The weather was cold with intermittent rain. London used to be famous for pubs and this time I could spot a host of tea cafes like of Paris fame. All tea cafes were filled with Arabs enjoying the ambience with their families. New demands drive economy and sensing the new scope people opted for new options. Shops in Knightsbridge and Kensington where Arabs dominate local scenario cater for the local demands. Most people on the street were either from the continent, subcontinent or Arabs. Even Hyde Park had lots of people and that too from varied backgrounds. Similar diversity was very obvious while travelling on underground. I observed many cars bearing foreign number plates and some even left hand driven. Most of these cars were high class and latest models. It was interesting to note that Edgeware Road had in recent years metamorphosed into a food street and most restaurants offered Lebanese food. Mahtoush restaurant was perhaps the best as it had a waiting line outside the restaurant. And of course the food was simply finger licking and wonderful.
London has changed a lot in the last few decades but still it has retained her basic characteristics of welcoming people from different origins. It still offers lots of attractions according to varied tastes of visiting people. It has very robust infra-structure and very reliable transport system second to none.