Catch-Up Morning, London Buddhist Center, Chinese Dinner with Bombay Friends

Monday,  August 29, 2016


It is Bank Holiday Monday and while the rest of the country (certainly the city) seems to be in Party Mood (it is also the weekend of the city’s biggest party, the Notting Hill Carnival), I stayed home determined to give my feet some rest. Ordinarily, I would have been rejoicing that I was in London for the Carnival as it was an experience I had always wanted; but when, a few years ago, I did have a chance to get there, I couldn’t wait to get out. The crowds, the heat and the noise–so many deafening steel drums–had made me want to turn and run right back. I can see that it would be a fun activity in company or if you were a youngster. Alone and at my stage in life…I don’t know.

Tomorrow will make exactly a month since I arrived in this city and I have never really stopped. Little wonder my feet are giving out warning signals–ones I am religiously heeding as I do not intend to replay my miseries of all those years ago.

A Home-Bound Morning:

So, true to form, I awake stretching–both in bed itself, by hanging down stairs and against a wall. I recall every exercise I was taught to do then and I am doing them now because the US has taught me about preventative care. So far so good. I am no longer walking for pleasure. I take public transport as much as I can (Tube and buses) and I sit at every opportunity–even in museums on a stool. It seems to be working…fingers crossed.

Up at 6.00 am, I decided to make productive use of every minute I intended to spend at home. So I did laundry, I put my clothes to dry (old-fashioned  ‘airers’), wrote a blog post, made myself some breakfast (coffee with muesli and yoghurt) and showered and shampooed my hair as well as attended to a few personal grooming tasks. While my hair dried, I began work on my Powerpoint presentation for my appearance in Scotland soon. I got stuck trying to transfer some pictures but my friend Murali came to my rescue. Staying with me on the phone, he walked me through the basic process and voila! I solved my problem and am now well into getting the presentation done. Thanks pal!

Most of the morning passed in this fashion. I chatted with my Dad, I was contacted by my friend Bina who wanted to know if I was free to join herself and her husband for dinner that evening (was I just???) and I went through a lot of my accumulated paper to get rid of that which I did not want to keep. And when it rains, it pours. One of my relatives Joel called to tell me he had a doctor’s appointment at Euston and wondered if I would be free to have lunch with him tomorrow in one of the Indian eateries on Drummond Street. Of course I was! Now that I have a handle on my movements for the next couple of days and as I prepare myself for Orientation at NYU where I shall make an appearance as well as take possession of my office keys, I feel much at ease. Llew’s lovely roses are still blooming on my desk right opposite my bed and viewing them makes me feel close to home and to him.

Lunch at the London Buddhist Center:

By lunch-time, I had cabin fever and had to get out. The weather has cooled considerably and my bedroom is now comfortable again, temperature-wise, during the day. I threw the curtains and window open, tried to ignore the street sounds–mainly occasional passing buses or trucks and juvenile drivers blasting ‘house’ music in their cars to show off and draw attention. It was time to get out and since I had not yet explored the London Buddhist Center that is literally at the end of the road on which I live, I decided to check it out. Accordingly, I made myself a tongue sandwich, packed up a couple of cookies and carried my lunch with me. I thought that if I found a quiet spot in the center, I could eat my lunch with company around rather than alone in my garden–it is pleasant enough now during the day to sit outside in the garden although I am not a fan of sitting in the sun and would definitely prefer some shade. I did hop on a bus for two stops , got off at the corner and walked to the deceptively hidden entrance to the Center.

Inside, I was in an oasis of peace, quiet and calm–exactly what you would expect from a Buddhist Center. I was welcomed warmly–my brown skin always leads people to believe I am either a Hindu or, in this case, a Buddhist. There is a red lotus on the gate, a prayer wheel, several prayer flags fluttering in the breeze in a courtyard garden filled with potted flowers and a soothing fountain. I was told to leave my shoes at the door and then allowed to wander around. I browsed through the small book shop that sells prayer beads and other tiny items in addition to books, picked up a couple of their programs for the upcoming months as well as a copy of their magazine, drifted out into their meditation room (the lunch time meditation session was just over) where walk-ins are welcome to join. I asked where the café was and was told about The Cherry Tree Café that is adjoining the Center but you need to leave it and turn left. Although it is not run by the Center, it is a vegetarian eatery with quite reasonable prices. But since I did have my own lunch with me, I returned to the Center and in the courtyard with the fountain lilting softly besides me, I read the Buddhist magazine I picked up and munched my lunch. It was a quiet, peaceful, very solitary experience that was deeply gratifying, for some odd reason.

Back Home and Off to the London Eye:

Back home, I took a very short nap and apped my brother Roger who needed some advice from me on buying someone a gift. When I felt ready to leave (I gave myself an hour), I decided to use public transport to go on a sight-seeing tour of London–mainly of bits of it that I have not yet explored. So consulting my bus map, I found a way to get to the London Eye Booking Office (our appointed spot) and left the house. I hopped into the Tube, got off at Tower Hill, found the RV1 bus-stop tucked in a little side street and was off. I thought it would take no longer than 10 minutes to get there. On the contrary, the bus ride was one of the longest I ever took–but, as desired, it passed through areas, south of the river, that I had never seen. And boy, was I amazed by the gentrification of areas like Southwark and Bermondsey that just ten years ago were really deprived neighborhoods filled with dark antiques shops. Today, everything is hipness at its most conspicuous. There are construction site cranes at every corner filling that part of London with glass and concrete skyscrapers to rival Dubai’s. There are coffee sops and wine bars replacing the traditional pub, there are blocks and blocks of spiffy new boutique apartments for yuppies who are eager to live within spitting distance of all the action –and I can understand why! I was fully amazed and quite delighted by my impromptu sightseeing expedition.

Meeting Friends at the London Eye:

About half an hour later, the bus dropped me at the back of the National Theater–stop for those wanting to get to the London Eye. My friend Bina and her husband Navin were set to meet me there at 6.00 pm. I climbed up the steps that took me to the Embankment on the South Bank and in a few minutes, I found the Booking Office. The crowds were simply unbelievable, but I reveled in them–living the solitary life here in London makes me crave the company of people–any people, even strangers. And the Bank Holiday spirit was everywhere. Not just was this area flooded with tourists, but here were local Londoners as well enjoying the evening (it was delightfully cool and devoid of the clammy humidity that made the past few days so uncomfortable). Pavement restaurants were buzzing, cold drinks were consumed liberally, the London Eye was humming as throngs queued up to experience the thrill of seeing London several hundred feet below them.

Soon Bina and I connected, hugged, kissed, shrieked with pleasure and walked towards Navin who was waiting a few feet away. Bina and I go back ages having been childhood friends and classmates in Bombay. They live near Harrow and thought of spending the day with a relative in London before hooking up with me for dinner. We spent one hour gabbing away on the Embankment on a bench slightly away from the milling crowds and caught up. It was such a pleasure to talk about my month in London, to tell them about my plans going forward, to hear about their own doings and the happenings in their family. Indeed, there was a lot to talk about.

Dinner at Zen China Restaurant on the Embankment:

An hour later, when it was close to the time of our 7.00 pm reservation, we walked a few meters forward to our restaurant–Zen China, a Chinese place with an enviable location. From the table at which we were seated, I had a brilliant view of Westminster Bridge, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. And, as the evening darkened, the lights came on and shimmered in multiple hues upon the Thames. It could not have been a more beautiful location. As someone who never goes into restaurants when I live alone, I do miss eating out–there are only so many sandwiches you can relish alone!

So, when I ordered a G&T and we ate prawn shumai and sesame toast for starters, I felt blissful. Here I was in the fond company of folks I have known for almost as long as I can remember, talking about people who are dear to all our hearts, pausing to read and select from an enticing menu and giving ourselves up to the leisure that only a long weekend can provide. In the end, we ordered Hot and Sour Soup followed by Noodles with Chicken and Sizzling Chicken with Black Bean Sauce. Everything was delicious but made more fun by the rarity of the occasions on which I meet these beloved friends.

Pictures by the Embankment and Ride Home:

It was dark by the time we left the restaurant for we had ourselves a very unhurried meal. I started to get concerned about getting home late–I still have fears about walking alone in the dark in my neighborhood which is a good five minutes away from the Tube station. Still, we made time to take a few pictures as the London Eye was lit up a vivid red and Big Ben was superbly lit too. London By Night is a sheer delight to the senses–not just the eye but the ear as well. Traffic noises have ceased by this hour and sounds of human excitement take over. It is all about the Selfie here and dozens of people pose themselves against the iconic landmarks of an ancient and deeply historic city. On Westminster Bridge, Bina and I recalled taking a picture almost thirty years ago! Where have the years gone? We still feel as young and light-hearted as we were then.

At Westminster Tube station, we parted: they took the Jubilee Line to Harrow and I took the District Line going eastwards. It was about 9. 45 pm when I got into the train and within seconds became aware of a delay as a person took ill on the train. We were held up for about 15 minutes while the paramedics got to the scene and lifted the patient bodily out of the compartment.  The train then went through and by the time I arrived home in was 10.30 pm–not my favorite hour to be returning from anywhere. I  hurried home, prepared for bed, brushed and flossed my teeth and went straight to bed. And so ended another nice day in London.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…