Friday, March 03, 2006

the london emails - anecdotes (london, email no.4)

a series of emails written during the summer of 2004

London (part 4)
A not-so fascinating description of parts of England where most people will
never set foot:

Harrod’s is a big deal, I gather, if you like shopping. People come here
from all over the world. The rich and famous come here to shop, the rest of
humanity come to be shocked.

Me, I came because I needed to use the loo.

What an awesome place though. They have departments for products I didn’t
know existed. Like designer baby-wear. For men who have been dragged along
but don’t care to shop, they have a barbershop, and also a pub. They have
food halls and restaurants. A hot dog costs eight pounds. An ice cream
sundae is ten. You can buy beluga caviar by the kilo, it’s cheaper that way.
Only 2,970 pounds, if you are interested.

They also have a little fountain that serves as a Dodi and Diana shrine.
There’s an engagement ring and a dirty wine glass from their hotel room
which is meant to represent the love they shared before they died. Good
thing no used condoms were recovered, I guess. This is a big tourist
attraction, and everyone comes and takes photos standing next to it.

As with the Diana fountain in Hyde Park. I went to look at it, but it was
closed by the time I got there, and a closer inspection was impossible as it
was surrounded by wire mesh fencing. So after two months of being closed and
undergoing inspections, the fountain is declared perfectly safe. It just
needs to be fenced in, open only for limited hours, and be monitored by half
a dozen staff. Brilliant.

Meanwhile, from the grimier section of the city, I can report that half a
thousand supporters of the London Awami League marched down Brick Lane on
Sunday. Exclusively men, mostly middle-aged or older, neatly dressed in
shirts and suits. They walked fast, and the sloganeering was loud and

There are always cool public meetings going on in the east. Posters invite
you to discussions and debates:

Who is ultimately responsible for the protection of people and property in
the muslim world?
What responsibility do we as part of the muslim ummah, have towards these


Khaleda and Musharraf.


Brothers and sisters welcome. Controversial speakers from Calcutta Dhaka
London and Luton. Lunch will be provided.

I rarely eat lunch, so the meal that concerns me most is dinner. This is
often taken at a place called Lahore Express. I even have a regular waiter.
A friendly Punjabi fellow, he wears glasses, is clean-shaven, and came to
London recently looking to make his fortune. And oh, his name is Amaar.

This place attracts a lot of Islamic types. First time I go, I see this
young man seated, traditionally accessorized with skullcap and fistful of
beard. But he is not desi, he is white. And though his jacket is old and
worn-out, I can make out three words: Shareeah, and more remarkably, New
Zealand. Wary of strangers (almost as much as of those I know), I don’t
approach him, but eye him furtively and try to eavesdrop when he chats to
the waiter. What I overhear, in a definite kiwi accent:

“Waiting…won’t let me go….Scotland Yard is waiting to hear…police over
there…it is tomorrow already…they have to get back…maybe tomorrow”

Who is this mysterious kiwi brother, and why is he having problems with
Scotland Yard? What is he doing alone in the Bangladeshi East-end? I didn’t
ask, and he disappeared, never to be seen again, so no idea, this will
remain one of those great unsolved mysteries, like the cell-phone guy in

And no, for those of you who are wondering, I have not added an ‘a’ to my
name and become a waiter at Lahore Express.

I think I have worked out why World’s End in Chelsea is called World’s End.
There is a little shop there called World’s End. It belongs to Vivienne
Westwood who is apparently a famous designer you all know and I don’t and
who started out here. And in this little shop some people (yakaid) met who
went on to form the Sex Pistols. The shop is cleverly next to the Chelsea
Conservative Club.

Now to work out Petty France. To which has been added Petty Wales.

Just finished reading Kevin Rushby’s Children of Kali.

The praise for the book includes the Literary Review, who say: “Children of
Kali stands out because of the author’s remarkable perceptiveness and
genuine effort to explore the city’s slimy underbelly...”

Unless I am misreading a metaphor, I think Literary Review have misread the
book. The book isn’t about any city at all – the author travels through a
dozen towns and villages while tracing various historic and current events,
none of which particularly focus around any city.

Actually there is some slimy underbelly action in Kolkata, where the author
in between other pursuits plays gin rummy in a dark room with
ganjah-smuggling gangsters. This lasts a grand 3 pages out of 277.

Another bit of praise, History Today. “A fascinating description of parts of
India where most people will never set foot.”

Just wonderful, why don’t we name those parts after him. The author doesn’t
go to any uninhabited areas, incidentally, he is visiting towns and
villages, riding public buses and interviewing policemen and chaiwallahs.

Also read Run Out the Raj by Dennis Castle. Memorable line:
“These stupid English names,” chuckled Mr. Dikshit.

Arab Street (Edgware) is a bit surreal. Take for example the only poster I
see on Iraq:


Museum anecdotes:

The British Museum’s biggest hall is the Gallery of Oriental Antiquities.
When you enter, the Chinese collection is to your right, and the South-Asian
collection to the left. The Tibetan collection is placed left of centre.
Accidental, you think?

Perhaps I am too suspicious. But I will casually mention there isn’t a
single Muslim/Islamic artefact in the South Asia section. That part of the
region’s history has been divided and attached instead to the Islamic

At the National Portrait Gallery, I see a painting which makes me laugh most
loudly and inappropriately and makes everyone else stare at me. It is titled
‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’, and it shows Queen Victoria handing a
bible to some jewelled black savage kneeling before her.

I cannot stop laughing, because I am reminded of something Desmond Tutu
said. When the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bible; they
said "let us pray" and we bowed our heads; when we looked up, WE had the
Bible and THEY had the land.

You guys take care you hear.