Dec 09, 2023
Dec 09, 2023
I, along with my wife Neerja and two sons, were there in London for the first time in circa 1983- bewildered by the grandeur of Tower Bridge, beauty of Westminster, collections of Natural History Museum, depth of the Underground rails which ran even beneath the Thames river, and our inability to understand the English spoken by the Englishmen. I was sent by the Indian Government to study at London School of Economics and we subsisted on a stipend of pound 300 per month. For our commuting I had purchased monthly tickets of the Underground, which were economical and allowed unlimited free travel on the Underground and the bus as well within London's limits.
We were highly impressed by the courtesy and helping habit of the White people - particularly public servants, because often when the load of the bag carried by Neerja or our sons was too heavy some onlooker would volunteer help. But, as we know, exceptions are a must to prove a rule, so there were encounters of a different kind also. One day we boarded a bus for going to Watford, which was a suburb of London, to visit the famous Iskcon temple. I showed the monthly tickets to the young gruff driver (a White). There are no conductors there and the driver doubles up for the conductor as well, The driver growled at me 'they won’t carry you there, pay one pound each ' - his face mocking at me and his eyes emanating contempt. I paid 4 pounds promptly and avoided him meekly as I was at a loss to respond to his unuttered misdemeanor.
On another occasion when I was at Paddington Underground station with my elder son - who was tall for his age of 15 and was already growing hairs on his chin- I asked him to buy one adult and one child ticket (permissible for children up to 16 years of age) for Holburn station. As my son asked for the tickets, the Black employee at the ticket counter retorted 'child ticket for whom?' On my son's pointing out to himself the Black grudgingly issued the ticket while muttering, 'why don't you sit in your mother's lap?' We felt quite hurt but as our train was already arriving, we rushed to entrain.
But the third incident that occurred with us at the Heathrow Underground station, was so typically Indian that it tickles us to hilarious laughter even today. From Central London we had come to Heathrow on our monthly tickets little knowing that it was out of our tickets’ valid area. As we alighted and showed our tickets to the ticket checker, who looked like an Indian, he said, 'But……' and then looked straight at our faces and suddenly his face became stony- eyes not moving, ears not hearing and lips dead still like those of the Gandhi's three Monkeys who won't see, hear or speak any evil. At his total silence we were getting confused, but then as soon as he found that nobody was around, he conspiratorially made a slight movement of four fingers of his right hand indicating to us to move out of the gate quietly. When we were out of the gate, we could not resist looking back at the ticket checker, and he could not resist winking at us as Gandhi's First Monkey would do while mischievously indulging in some small evil.
More by : Mahesh Chandra Dewedy