‘It’s London Baby!’
The year was 2019 and this statement from F.R.I.E.N.D.S (by – Matt le Blanc) is running in my mind continuously while I was anxiously waiting for the boarding announcement of my flight to London. I was vehemently trying to not shout like he did in order to avoid embarrassing myself any more than I already did by constant tapping of my legs and peeking continuously at the boarding counter for any sort of a movement, while smiling vibrantly.
If I am honest, I never really understood why he was excited or why I was excited for that matter. Is it because, the character and I have never been to London before or because we both were seeing so many things that we thought we’d never see in our lives by being ourselves? Back then, I just assumed it to be the latter. In retrospect I now realise, I wanted it to be the latter.
After they finally gave the boarding call, I entered into the flight with a broad smile and strapped in for what I wanted to be a time of my life; thinking about all the places I am going to explore; cultures I am going to learn about, sceneries I am going to see and many more.
Who wouldn’t be excited? After all, It’s London! And it did not disappoint. The clear sky; the ease in transportation; the enormous buildings; monuments; artistic landscapes; the bridge that I imagined to see when I am singing the infamous “London bridge is falling down” song; the streets from where Sherlock Holmes solved crime; the palace that Her Majesty Herself stays, the iconic Big Ben; the world renowned universities; the Christmas lights; the chilly ice skating experiences; amazing people who are always up for a pint of beer; the freedom, the independence, and many more things.
And after 6 months living in London amongst all these, awestruck by its beauty every day, I became a ‘Londoner’ – one who is wearing a long jacket; carrying an umbrella; and walking any amounts of distance with a newspaper in hands. It was like living in a dream! At that moment, I could easily strike London from my list and move on to the next one. At that exact time, Covid-19 knocked down the gates of all the nations.
What was going as great dream turned into a nightmare in just 10 days. Streets abandoned, some people scared, rightfully so and some paranoid; parks closed; public transportation restricted; theatres shut; shopping turned into online shopping; face to face interactions became zoom calls; and playing games with friends became the official meaning of partying with friends. I was disappointed by all these sights mostly because I did not imagine spending my days in this vibrant and electrifying city within the constraints of my accommodation. With that disbelief, I started spending my lock down.
I was fortunate to have the money, the food, the shelter and all that was left for me was to survive emotionally. So the goals were simple, survive the lockdown in the new conditions and the loneliness that followed.
The first one was easy. With respect to groceries, I used to go out once a week and purchase all everything I required, wearing a face covering, and sharpen my cooking skills. With respect to my academics, well, since I didn’t have to travel to classes and to the library, I spent studying in my room, like all my friends and professors. With respect to movies, Netflix and Amazon Prime video came to my rescue. I adapted to the settings that I was put in, quite quickly.
The second one wasn’t easy, at all. An unquestionable silence started to loom over every day when I video call my family as we understood that the reality. The efforts to engage and enrich myself have all became shallow attempts. Eventually my schedule slipped out of my hands. Random videos available in streaming platforms were on repeat, just so that I can stop thinking about the sound of silence. Going on to the streets lost its purpose as the once vibrant city was no more. All of these have resulted into anger taking the best of me. I was angry but I just didn’t know why I was angry!
Amidst all the messed up things that I was facing and after spending quite some time inside my mind and my room, I found solace in the river Thames. I started following it and its channels that are all around the London. But this time, I did not see the sights alone. I saw the people. Some were running their lungs out in order to maintain their physique, some were patiently waiting to catch some fish. Some were taking pictures of the empty streets while the others were either sketching them or painting graffities on them. Some were playing fetch with their dogs as some were smoking. Some were playing songs while standing within a safe distance, while the others were singing along with their children. What used to be a multi-coloured, multi-cultured, multifarious city, for the first time probably in centuries, became a home to one slogan – “Help the healthcare workers and the NHS”, one culture – “We are fighting together” represented by one colour, blue – the official colour of NHS.
After seeing these, I finally understood why Matt le Blanc’s character was excited in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. It was neither of the reasons I mentioned earlier. The reason why London became the best city in the world, again, is not because of the monuments or architecture or art, it’s because of the people that see the light in the deepest and darkest of situations. The day I realised this during one of my walks was the day I became a Londoner.
The year is 2020 and a statement is running in my mind continuously, as I am vehemently trying to not shed tears of joy, any more than I already did, while smiling vibrantly.
‘It’s London Baby!’
by Leela Tarang Krishna
Leela Tarang Krishna is a perpetual wanderer, a dreamer, and an aspiring lawyer who has survived two lock downs in London.