Tuesday, February 28, 2012


On my third trip to London and my sister's first my father thought it wise to give us a cultural tour of the city, most of it on foot though as the London Eye had not yet been built.

After the usual sights like the Tower Bridge, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace it was the turn of the Tower of London.

We took in the grounds, the white tower and saw how the old monarchy had lived and even saw two of the six resident ravens, the widely believed custodians of the British Monarchy, sipping on water in the warm August sun.

Then the piece de resistance, the crown jewels... the main reason behind spending the £18 per person ticket, to see what our history books had told us.. The Koh-i-noor. It was exciting to enter into the jewel house with the tall and emotionless beefeaters standing guard. In the vault like display room as we were being urged by the ushers to "keep moving" but as we saw it we paused just a while longer at the Koh-i-noor. The world famous diamond at 105 carats and the star of the Queens crown. We truly were in awe.

My father in a moment of proud patriotism pointed out the diamond and said in Hindi; just to be sure that he puts his true feelings across to his children without drawing stares from the rest of the tourists,.."yeh hamare desh se chura ke laye the"..(they stole this from our country) . Just at that moment one of the Yeomen Warders who was right next to us says in chaste Punjabi " Himmat hai te ley ja wapas"....(If u have the guts, try to take it back).

The three of us were so stunned that we were left open mouthed like a fish out of water. We didn't know what hit us..we were like rooted and paralyzed as my father just kept staring at the bearded elderly beefeater refusing to believe what he had just heard.

It must have been the longest 30 seconds of our lives...as the beefeater smiled and said "Been married to a Sikh for 30 years and she didn't want to learn so I had to.....keep moving"... The look on his face of having taken the mickey out of us with his wit and element of surprise made us get back to reality and smile.

This event has been the highlight of my many visits to London and made me understand the level of penetration and integration of various immigrant cultures into mainstream British Life. Even today while saying anything in Hindi or Punjabi anywhere in the world I do always look around expecting a comment from the most unexpected quarters...Once bitten..Twice Shy..

The above is an official entry for the http://www.expedia.co.in/ and indiblogger contest.

Ah Paris!...Warmth in the Summer Sun…

Ah Paris! Paris is like a girlfriend you can enjoy even with your wife. It is not a city but an emotion.
It was the fourth of our seven days in Paris and after exploring the city mostly on foot both over and under the ground ( the amount you have to walk in tunnels for the metro stations) my wife refused to go out for dinner. Instead she wanted..."A McDonalds burger".. Sacrilege in the heart of the land of gastronomy!!

Being the obedient husband that I am, I went in search of the ‘Golden Arches’ from our hotel in the 8th district on Blvd Haussmann, which incidentally is the best area to stay in, unless you want to stay under the Eiffel tower in the 7th district or you are gay and like the 4th district or the 18th district if you are an artist.
Le Consulat at Montmarte 18th district...Creative Heaven

Like all good Indians I carried a bottle of vodka spiked sprite for the journey as it was about 10 pm ( time for my drink) and yet the sun was still very bright. The McD was like a 10 minute walk and just as I reached, there was a sort of small commotion outside which I just tried to side step as a good tourist should. I couldn't help seeing that the staff was shooing away a young girl who was picking up left over food from tables. In my mind I mocked the claims of a first world country taking care of the hungry and homeless.

Just as I walked out I saw the same girl sitting on the pavement sobbing softly. She looked just like the Afghan girl on the National Geographic cover a few years ago.. The same haunting eyes.. She was probably Algerian I thought because she spoke French and there were a lot of them around the city. In a moment of pure reflex action probably spurred by the vodka in me, I handed over the bag of food to her saying “ce fut pour ma femme, mais vous en avez besoin plus” or "this was for my wife but you need it more" in French ... And I turned back and re ordered from McD.

She was nowhere to be seen when I walked back and that was the end of it for me. I never mentioned it to my wife I really don't know why, but I didn't really think about it too.

We went about exploring Paris for the next two days taking full advantage of our research and absorbing in most of the museums (at half price of course.. we planned well!!), the lovely gardens and barely using our carnet of 10 metro tickets as the city is soo beautiful that it needs to be seen on foot. Also by virtue of being close to most attractions intentionally we chose to walk over horribly over priced taxis and metro tunnel mazes.

On the last day before we left we went for a walk along the banks of the Seine. Every year from the 21st of July to the 21st of August the banks are transformed into an artificial beach with huge amounts of sand ,beach umbrellas and loungers. It feels that you are really at a seaside resort and oblivious to the busy city just 10 feet above you.

As we were strolling along the girl with the ghost eyes appears again out of nowhere with a small bunch of wild flowers and hands it to my wife saying “je vous remercie et je vous bénis” or "thank you and bless you".. By the time we realized and reacted she just disappeared in the crowd..

My wife looked at me quizzically and the smile in my heart came to my lips..."I think the Parisians really do like you.." I said and just attributed it to maybe a case of mistaken identity.

In all these years since we have been to Paris what I saw was the usual Champs Elysées, Notre Dame, The Louvre, Latin quarter, Gallerie Lafayette, Opera, Eiffel tower etc. but what I experienced was going to stay with me forever.....until http://www.expedia.co.in/ made me come out with it through indiblogger..