What a day. I’m so used to waking up in the countryside -well, pretty much the country. Surrounded by fields, my town is just far enough outside of London to be peaceful in the morning. Today I woke up in Southall, West London – otherwise known as Punjabi central. I wrote about it in another post a while ago, when I got lost whilst driving. This time I was there on purpose, attending the pre-wedding mehndi night of a friend. Tulasi and I had prepared a dance to perform and also sang a traditional Punjabi song with the bride-to-be’s sister. It was lots of fun and of course, as usual, people were pleasantly surprised to see how much we are comfortable with Indian culture, especially the older generation. Perhaps, as immigrants to a country that viewed them with reserved disdain, two white girls dancing and singing in their mother tongue was something they thought they’d never see. Sometimes I feel silly at the way it attracts attention, but in another way, I like the unexpected enthusiasm it sometimes brings out in people to go and see what those ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishnas’ are all about (even though Bollywood dancing is not it). One lady came up to us and after praising our performance, emphatically said she would see us at the temple on Sunday. Another, the hired ‘party auntie’ whose job it is to know all of the traditional songs and customs, enthusiastically told us she could get us more bookings at all the events she attends. ‘You’d be more popular than me! Just do your special dance!’ she exclaimed, waving her hands with a flourish, her hair sprayed bouffant wobbling under her sparkly veil. We politely declined.
So, back to today. I thought it would be sensible to stay in Southall for the night, as my work placement the next day was very close by. I left the house as the sun rose over the terraced roofs, tightly packed into the narrow one way streets. Despite the sunshine the air was freezing. We are still in the grip of our bizarre winterlude. Along the main high street, countless men loitered, wearing work boots and staring into the distance, or huddled in small packs with friends. My friend told me they are all immigrants, usually living in extremely austere conditions. Every morning they wake up and go to one of the nearby gurdwaras, which serve free food to anyone who comes to their door, then wait on the street to be picked up for a day of labour on a building site. Work may come or not, but they wait in the cold regardless.
Surviving in the city seems an austerity, no matter what you’re trying to do. My entire day was spent travelling from one place to another – bus, train, car and walking. The actual work I was doing only accounted for about 10% of my day. The rest was spent in transit, squeezing into carriages, running to catch buses, waiting on cold platforms as the delay announcements marked the passing minutes. I felt like I was trying to run through a pool of congealed porridge. Everything took so long, so much effort for such a futile purpose. I remain baffled as to how people can commute long distances daily in this way. After a day spent in London, I always feel like running for the hills.
After finally getting back to Southall to pick up my car at the end of the day, I was almost at breaking point. I still had a two hour drive home through the rush hour traffic. An hour later, as night fell with the snow, someone beeped at me. I burst into tears. I don’t think I’ll ever be a city girl.