One year. Away from home. New city, new country. 18th April marked the day we left our comfortable nests in India, gathered our belongings, our hearts, and flew to the city of London. I can't believe it is one year already.
The morning after our first step in this vibrant city, I got up to new sights and smells. The spring air, the smell of freshly grounded coffee and bakes, the many heads in business suits hurrying their way into the crowd and out, the busy buskers tuned to their beloved instruments, the disheveled figures hanging on to their dreams from the night before - everything beckoned me to a new adventure. And that's what the past year has been, an adventure, a journey and on the way many lessons.
Delete 'comfortable' from your dictionary
Comfort was a default mode, back in India. Just a year back (before the 'big move') we had moved out of my in laws place to our own rented place. We had both our parents a few minutes of drive away, we loved our jobs, loved the known neighbourhood where everybody bar few knew our names, we were dependent on our happy little elves - morning tea, breakfast and lunch prepared by our ever so helpful cook, our cleaning lady and laundry man on our doorstep everyday, we were happily set in our routines - my job, my weekly dance classes, working on the blog and The Dance Bible late at nights, visiting family and friends over the weekends - we knew what the next day would hold for us.
But all that changed when we decided to move to London. We embraced the unknown - from loving my job to being unemployed, from waking up to bed tea and getting back home to a clean house to doing all things by myself, to living in a city without the warmth of family, to living in a neighbourhood where even the next door neighbour doesn't know my name. There were times of discomfort, there were times I was vulnerable and unsure, but looking back I wouldn't have it any other way. I have come to appreciate life more, I have had time to introspect and know what I really want from life, I have grown as a person and now knowing that I can swim through high tides and wade through storms, makes me more confident and sure of myself.
|Sculpture at Fort Saint-Jean Marseille, France|
It's okay to start all over again
The first 9 months in London, I reinvented myself from a career woman to a homemaker and it came as a surprise to me that I actually enjoyed it. I had sufficient time to pursue my writing, blogging, The Dance Bible. I also worked on few freelance writing projects, joined a novel writing group and steered my life towards things that mattered to me. Then, realizing the necessity of a second income, I started working full time this February and got back to the banking sector. Again Reinventing. Reevaluating. And taking each day as it comes.
Love to Live in Less
We've gotten accustomed to simple living, shifting our focus from hoarding materialistic things to gaining life experiences. If someone asked us to move homes or even country tomorrow, we could. Me and my husband happily live out of one cupboard, in a one bedroom apartment. We spend almost everything we earn on traveling and experiencing diverse food and culture that surrounds us. For all our travels, be it a weekend getaway or a week long leisure holiday, we have learned to pack everything in one backpack, enjoying the blissful feeling of 'less is more'
Help break stereotypes
Not everything you hear about a person, a culture, a country is true, and stereotyping a country is even worse. Living abroad has given me interesting perspectives on what foreigners think about India, and has given me a chance to help break few of the negative stereotypes. I distinctly remember few of the conversations I've had and how at first I either became defensive or laughed at the absurdity of the questions. But later I tried to create and present a picture of my country as I knew it, in words that in a best possible way conveyed that India has and is moving forward.
Not so long ago, one of my colleagues asked, rather commented in a sarcastic tone "People in India get married to dogs and trees, don't they?" At first I laughed it off, but then we delved deeper into why this superstitious ritual is still practiced in certain rural areas. How and why certain sections of the society believe that taking part in these regressive rituals will help bring astrological compatibility to the soon to be couple.
Being generic is not always right, and being ignorant but still opinionated is completely wrong.
Another time I was out with my colleagues for a Friday night drink. Few expressed their surprise when I clinked my beer glasses with theirs, expressing that they thought Indians to be conservative. "Not all..." I said and shared with them snippets of my life back home. Every household is different, isn't it? Sure we come from a strong patriarchal society but we are breaking through. All my growing up years, I had lived such sheltered life, sheltered to the fact that there was a world out there where women are looked down upon, where they had to struggle to make people believe in them, where they had to stand up only to be put down. I come from a family where the women are respected and treated as equals and their opinions are valued. I have always made my own decisions, my own mistakes and through it all my family has stood by me. My parents are my best friends; while I've shared a glass of beer with my Pa while watching a game of cricket, I've shared my boyfriend experiences with my Mum and sis sipping on coffee late at midnight.
India is a lot of things. We need to tell the world to keep an open mind, as we do when we move and settle in their country.
If I would have ever given heed to typical British stereotypes that Brits have a stiff upper lip or are rude or one should never make eye contact while traveling in Tube, I would have never found my feet around here.
|Street performer in Milan|
Every country has its good and bad
London has been very kind to us. I've never felt like an outsider, have received help graciously whenever needed, have never felt safer (even when returning home at eleven in the night all alone) and have met incredibly talented people. But one thing that remains a sore point with me even after a year is that this city is ludicrously expensive. To find a decent place to rent in this city for people who are on a budget is next to impossible. Living further out from central London is usually the solution but then one has to deeply rely on public transport and make a trade off with their time. From grocery to beauty salon to even dance classes, everything is steeply priced. I still feel the pinch, even now when I have stopped the mental currency conversion from pound to rupee.
This is my only complaint. I've heard others crying over how crowded the London Underground Tube is, but clearly they have no idea what it is like to travel by Delhi Metro especially when one has to get down at Rajiv Chowk metro station.
Another misconception that many have of London is that the city is dangerous. Sure some parts maybe rough and sure you need to be vigilant when traveling at odd hours or in an unknown area, but I have never felt fear in this city. Not like the fear I felt in Delhi, when as soon as you step out of your home, irrespective of what you are wearing, there will be at least five pair of ugly eyes on you; when in crowded public transport men take advantage and consider their right to touch you inappropriately and you have to use your elbows, bags and umbrellas to shield yourself; when going out at night is next to impossible for a woman without having to depend on their father, brother or husband.
Your best asset is your smile and empathy
I've learnt that all you need is a smile and an eagerness to listen and empathize with people to strike up a conversation and build friendships.
That I knew not many people in London, that the city was an unknown canvas didn't deter me to try and engage with people. The first thing I did when we shifted here was to find a writing group near my area. After a few random searches on Twitter I found @GreenacreWriter and went on my first writing walk. I met few great people from here and went on to work with one of them as a volunteer teaching English to kids.
I was then approached by someone on Facebook to host their book event. All that was common between us was a Facebook group, and the fact that we were writers. I accepted the offer and what an enriching experience I had! We talked about writing and women empowerment, about India and the pleasures of traveling, and about the importance of giving back to your own country. I met a lovely old couple who run an NGO in Bangalore, India and amongst other people a lovely bartender who shared her tales from backpacking in India and how Yoga had changed her life.
Even during my travels, I've realized approaching strangers with a smile is all you need to share your life stories with one another. After watching a Flamenco show in Seville, I got talking to a lady from America and how we both love dancing and traveling. Both our husbands were watching us from the other side of the street as we couldn't stop giggling and talking, like long lost friends.
Another time I was dancing at a pub with a girl, who just few minutes before was sitting two tables away from me. As we danced she opened up to me sharing her struggles as a single mom and studying law full time.
There is so much to learn from all such enriching experiences. You realize how every person has his own demons to deal with, yet they wake up each morning with a smile, feeling grateful for what they have.
The Gift of Travel
Shifting to London has been a lifestyle choice. We have decided to live on budget and splurge on travel. Our aim for the next three years is to explore Europe and United Kingdom as much as possible and London offers a fantastic base to do that. Imagine escaping to Spain, Portugal or Southern France to catch some sun in the peak of winters, or spend a weekend in Paris on your birthday or travel to Germany to enjoy the spectacular delights of a Christmas market! All of this is possible from London and you don't need to save up on your holidays for that. A weekend with a day off or a public holiday clubbed in, is all you need.
Every time we go somewhere new, we get the opportunity to appreciate the ways of a new culture and new city. Each time we are amazed by the history, the architecture, the people, the incredible ways of nature and everything in between, and all we want to do is keep traveling.Falling in Love all over again
Being away from home, dealing with changed circumstances and new experiences has made M and me more in tune with each other. Having started our relationship as friends, it is easier for us to understand and support each other, but having no friends in the vicinity has made that bond even stronger. We've also realized the importance of respecting each other's space and not limiting one another. We know we are two unique individuals and apart from few common interests we are vastly different. There are days when M wants to relax at home and watch a game of cricket, while I want to be out exploring a weekend market or a book event. We give each other time and space to enjoy one's own company.
Traveling together has also helped our relationship 'fly'. It gives us an opportunity to break away from the 'couple-bubble' and look beyond a Friday night takeaway and movie marathon at home.
One year and counting! London, you have been fabulous and I am open to more and more such adventures! Keep them coming...
" I don't know where I am going but I'm on my way"