Just got back last week from a short holiday break in UK, which was as refreshing as it was enlightening. We were hosted by my wife’s cousin and his family, who went out of their way to create a cozy home-away-from-home for us in the cold climes of the Queen’s country. So Kalpen and Madhuri – take a bow. You, along with Bharati Maasi, Neil and Ansh, not only opened your home but also your hearts, while redefining warmth and generosity in your own unique way – a big thank you to all of you for playing such wonderful hosts to us. Of course, the elaborate gastronomic delights concocted by Madhuri just elevated our vacation to another level! Your hospitality and the new friends we made with the extremely lovable people while in Southampton, made this trip even more memorable.
I have always believed that the character of a country is identifiable by the way they treat and preserve their history. As Indians we are acquiesced to the utter disdain with which our national monuments and heritage sites are treated. So it was heartening to see how history is conserved in UK. A very good example of this would be the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral – which incidentally hosts an original Magna Carta manuscript. Not just the awe-inspiring spires but even the lush green lawns surrounding the Cathedral – so beautifully manicured and maintained, scattered with contemporary modernistic wire-mesh sculptures, make it a must-visit spot. The charming old lady who gave us a complimentary tour (unlike in India) of the interiors, explaining in detail its history in a crisp English accent, just added to the allure of the place. In a similar vein was the New Forest area – a beautifully preserved wooded area in Southern England, land of the famous New Forest ponies. This was the first time in my life that I have been so close to a pony in an open verdant pasture – a divine experience indeed. Our visit to Legoland in Windsor was another highlight of our trip. Clean and well-maintained rides, and though each ride had long queues it moved smoothly, thanks largely to the well-behaved tourists. Apart from the amazing miniaturized versions of famous cities meticulously recreated using Lego blocks, the most endearing ride for me was the winding five-minute boat-ride which takes you through an artificial forest, with some of the most famous fairy-tale characters made using Lego blocks, mechanically animated, with apposite sound and lighting, for company. Even the villatic houses and streets in most counties that we visited were quaint and extremely well-maintained. If you are a classic English murder mystery aficionado like me, it is easy to comprehend why English writers set their stories in such picturesque surroundings.
The chaotic traffic scene in the city of London reminded me of a more civilized version of the same in our own Mumbai. The Tube covers almost all of the city and is a marvel in itself, transporting people all across this busy city. Did you know that every week, the Underground escalators travel the equivalent distance of going twice around the world? Westminster Abbey and Big Ben give you a feeling of awe on account of its stunning architecture, while Madame Tussauds continues to amaze with its near life-like wax statues and the London Eye gives a breath-taking aerial view of the city. Standing serenely at Trafalgar Square in the midst of the imposing fountain, its famous lion statues and pigeons, fulfilled a long-standing dream of mine (I could not do this in our previous outing). Another notable feature is the lane discipline and the comity towards fellow-drivers shown by vehicle owners in England. Almost no one honks – in the fifteen days that I spent there I heard a car horn only twice! In general, no one jay-walks across roads and traffic rules are adhered to. Giving way to another car in a narrow lane, will always earn you a nod of thanks.
I regret having missed meeting up with an old school friend who stays up north in Sheffield, as our schedule was mainly focused on visiting the south of England this time. But there is always a next time, dear friend! Do not take all of the above as a travel brochure endorsing the wonders of England – I am no fan of the queen or her country. This is just to highlight the insights it gave me into what goes in the making of successful nations. England is a country plagued by many problems, some even more ominous than India, but the positivity displayed by its citizenry is what makes the difference. It exhibits amply that it is not the economic index but, what I term as the human index of a country, that determines its eminence. This human index is what, I believe, makes most Indians want to settle in super-expensive countries like US, Canada, UK, Japan, Australia, etc. rather than relatively prosperous countries like UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. It is impossible to expect help from governments (of any country), but can we not show some respect towards fellow human beings? Our country has a more vivid history, with incredible monuments which emphasize our rich heritage.
Can we not respect our national monuments and heritage sites by not littering and scratching names or scribbling obscenity into walls? Why is it so difficult for us to follow rules and be faithful to laws of the land? For a change can we not stop promoting “Being Human” and promote ourselves to a “human being”? Time to clear the cobwebs of our mind…