Sunday, October 19, 2008
Coming to live in London has erased for me, in many ways, almost twenty years of my life. Not only have I begun to talk again in the way I used to when I lived in Bombay, but it has brought home to me the tremendous similarity between English customs and Indians ones and the ways in which American ones differ. Allow me to explain...
First of all, here's how my speech is changing. Not only have I gone back to pronouncing words like 'class' and 'pass' with a heavy 'Ah' sound instead of the American 'Ae' sound but my phraseology is also undergoing a marked change. I don't "take care of" something, I now "look after it". I don't "make do" in a situation, I now "manage". I don't come upon "a hassle", I now encounter "a snag" or "a hurdle". When my students come up with good answers, I no longer say, "Good Job", I say "Well Done!" Almost every second one of my sentences is peppered not with "Great" or "Terrific" but with "Lovely". I don't talk about "moving" house, but "shifting". My students are not "bright" but "clever". Young entrepreneurs are no longer "doing better", they are "coming up". When people say, "How are you?" I no longer say, "Good", I now say, "Very well, thank-you". In other words, I speak now in exactly the way my parents speak in Bombay--using the British vocabulary and turn of phrase they learned from their Anglo-Indian education in convent schools. And I am continually amazed at how quickly this change in my speech is happening.
Secondly, there is the matter of custom: I have been overwhelmed, for instance, by the care and concern that has been showered on me in the past two days by the English--neighbors and friends alike--who have discovered that I have an affliction that has rendered me home bound. In all the years that my husband Llew and I experienced illness in the United States, we have never had a single visitor who popped in just to see how we were doing and to visit with us. It has never happened! Not even when Llew was writhing for months in pain under the scourge of shingles did he have a single one of our American friends or neighbors come over to visit us. Whether this has to do with the huge geographical distances that separate us from our friends in America or whether this is simply not customary, I cannot say. I mean, we have had friends call to find out how we're doing and we have received the occasional box of chocolates, but never have people simply said to us, "OK, I'll be over this evening to see you" simply because they know we've been ill. By the same token, I have to say that we have never made the journey to see friends who've been ill either. In other words, visiting the sick does not seem to be customary in the United States and we, though from the Indian sub-continent, seem to have adopted the American way of sympathizing with the ill over the phone and then getting on with our lives--completing forgetting the ways in which we visited so easily with the sick when we lived in India.
So, you can imagine how overwhelmed I feel by the spontaneity with which my newly-minted friends and neighbors in London have reacted on getting to know of my condition. On Saturday morning, I sat on the phone and called a few friends to have a chat with them. When they discovered that I was home bound, every single one of them asked if there was anything I needed, any shopping they could do for me, anything they could bring me, etc. Then, before each call ended, every one of them said that they would be over to come and see me.
As I had anticipated that I would be unable to leave my flat for a few days, on Friday, on my way back from the GP, I had stopped at the supermarket to pick up bread, milk and cheese. However, my salad veggies ran out by the end of Saturday, and when my friend Michelle Misquita Rafferty came over yesterday evening, she brought me Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, long shelf life milk, a TV program for the week and a packet of Eccles Cakes. How very thoughtful of her! Can you imagine? Michelle was my classmate at Elphinstone College in Bombay. She made London her home about 20 years ago, went to Law School here and is now a solicitor with the British Parliament. She lives in Islington and cares for her elderly parents who are rather poorly themselves, health-wise; and yet she dropped everything and made the time for me and arrived with all those goodies!
Barely had she left my place after sharing those Eccles Cakes and a cup of tea with me than in walked Cynthia Colcluff, with whom I made friends only four weeks ago and purely by chance. Cynthia, nee D'Souza, is of Goan heritage, born and raised in Uganda, East Africa. She arrived in the UK as a teenager with her parents when Idi Amin threw all Asians out of Uganda. She met Michael Colcluff, an Anglican priest, in England, converted from Roman Catholicism to C of E and married him. They have two handsome sons, Aidan and Edward, both currently in Law School here in London. Llew and I met Cynthia when we attended the morning service at St. Paul's Cathedral, a few weeks ago. Bishop Michael, her husband, who is now Canon-Pastor at St. Paul's. chatted with us after the service, told us that his wife was a Goan and brought us together in the nicest of ways. Cynthia and I have been getting to know each other since then.
When she arrived last evening, we sat down for a chat. She too had asked me if I needed anything purchased, then thoughtfully cut me a wedge of her home made fruit cake as a present. Just as we were in the midst of a lovely chinwag, my doorbell rang. It was my next-door neighbor Tim popping in to see how I was doing. I thanked him for putting me on to the Holborn Medical Center and invited him in. Tim is a wonderful conversationalist and soon the three of us were in the midst of a thoroughly delightful chat that lifted my spirits considerably and helped me realize how fortunate I was to have created this little network of friends within just 5 weeks of being in London! Tim stayed around for about a half hour and once again told me to promise him I would let him know if there was anything I needed. He also left me the name and number of a good podiatrist in case I need more specialized attention.
That left Cynthia and me to ourselves but for only for a short while before the doorbell rang again and her husband Michael appeared. Over red wine and some tasty nibbles, we spent a lively evening. I could not believe that these folks, whom I had only recently met were giving me so generously of their time and their caring. I felt as if I were back again in Bombay where, when one is ill, the doorbell never stops ringing as a steady stream of people troop in to see how you are doing.
While I was talking to Cynthia and Michael, my cousin Cherry rang me from Kent to give me the good news that my condition can also be treated with homeopathy. She had chatted with her India-based homeopatist on the phone and had consulted her about my condition. Cherry then told me about the London Homeopathic Hospital and suggested that I try to find a cure there. Soon after she rang off, my phone rang again and this time it was my parents from Bombay, calling to find out how I was managing on my own in London despite my injured foot. I was almost moved to tears. I told them I would call them back in an hour and give them the prognosis.
Believe me, it has been a long time since I have felt so spoiled. in fact, my class mate Bina Samel Ullal from high school in Bombay who now lives in Harrow, told me on the phone that she would come along on Tuesday to spend the day with me as she was working on Sunday and Monday. She too wanted to know if there was anything she could bring me and since she works for Waitrose, I asked her for some of their gourmet goodies to which I am partial--their Fig and Walnut Bread, their cold Ox Tongue, their Stilton Cheese with Dates and Oranges, their Wensleydale Cheese with Ginger. I am now looking forward to her visit tomorrow and I know that in the company of these caring, loving people I will heal quickly, if not physically, then at least psychologically. Indeed, the frequent calls from Llew and the unexpected visits of so many friends have lifted my spirits immensely and I no longer feel as if I am alone in a foreign country.
All of this has taught me that perhaps some customs are worth clinging on to, no matter where one travels or makes a new home.