A bit of background!
It is a well known fact that I’ve longed and dreamed of visiting England. To understand how much England meant to me growing up, you need to understand the circumstances of my birth, my upbringing, the influences that shaped my view of the world and gave me the only language in which I can embarrass myself by rambling grammatically.
I was born, as you know. However, what you may not know is that I was born just 11 days (and 13 short years) after Independence, with a Capital I. What this means is that I grew up with English authors, English texts and English as a “first language” in school in a country just starting to shake off it’s post-partum blues.
The colonial influences ran strong in school and English authors, by which I mean, British authors, made up the bulk of my early reading. By the time I reached Grade 7 we were reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Tom Brown’s Schooldays in school. The latter book, made us wonder about a school life that we could not fathom.
Of course, well, before I reached Dickens, and later Hardy, Shakespeare et al, there was Enid Blyton. Tales of the moors, escaped convicts on Dartmoor, rocky outcrops of Cornwall that formed a natural swimming pool for the school, smugglers and secret tunnels fascinated me. Indeed, my very first novel, read at age six or seven, was Smuggler Ben by Enid Blyton. Caves amongst the rocky shores, secret tunnels, strange lights and mysterious activities; these were the ingredients of the earliest memory of England. Oddly, Smuggler Ben is an Enid Blyton book that very few Blytonians seem to recall. I know because I created a Blyton fan group on Facebook and the book is almost unknown.
Then there was Biggles. Biggles fired the imagination on two counts. The adventure and mystery was definitely a draw. And then there was the technicalities of flying. Biggles, Algy, Ginger and Bertie were, I discovered later in life, caricatures of characters I would find in many book. Biggles – taciturn, brave and a leader. Algy, the perpetual second in command, always held in reserve. He didn’t get much of the action. That was left to Ginger, the youngest member of the gang, with slightly dubious antecedents. He was the active sidekick to Biggles. Bertie was comic relief, valiant but with the self-deprecation and casual manner that was stereotypical upper class.
Then, of course, I grew into Anthony Buckeridge’s world of Jennings, with his friend Darbishire muddling through school, with Venables, Temple and the rest of the Fourth Form. Temple’s initials are CA, so he is called Dogsbody, or Bod, because CA Temple, or CAT… A very interesting concept that seems to have triggered in me a latent need to connect seemingly disconnected terms that exists to this day.
In my teenage years, James Herriot opened up the vistas that were the Yorkshire Dales. Hardy’s Wessex, Dickensian London, Wodehouse’s Shropshire conjured up a vision of a land I had no hope of ever seeing for myself. As the years went by, England remained a wistful dream. There was no thought given to actually visiting the country some day. There was no way, no hope ever of being able to see all that I had read about. The Covent Garden of Eliza Doolittle, the pigeons in Piccadilly, the maze at Hampton Court that Jerome wrote about so humorously remained mere images, written to the static memory in my brain. Indelible, unreachable and romantic.
Then there was cricket. I regularly visited the British Council Library and read the history of the counties that played in England. Yorkshire, Lancashire, Sussex, Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Derbyshire; the names ran rampant through my cricket mad brain. I read and absorbed the names, the grounds, the stories, the personalities, the history.
History was not just the history of Indian kings and dynasties but the stories of Henry VIII, Victoria, Elizabeth, Drake and the Spanish Armada and Captain Cook, Nelson, Wellington, Churchill. I saw WW2 through English lenses first. It was much later that my reading of history expanded beyond the British point of view.
Music was not just the music of Bollywood, but the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Cream, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, The Who, even Cliff Richard and Tom Jones. Though, I believe Tom Jones is actually Welsh! We heard the blues through English bluesmen before we heard the original.
In short, I was well steeped in things English, British. I had never been there, but I knew a lot about it. I did touchdown in England, enroute to the US, on that fateful trip in 1995 to be at my brother’s funeral. I passed through a second time on the way from Calcutta to Toronto as an immigrant. In both cases, the experience was limited to the lounges at Heathrow, buying very expensive coffees with odd-looking coins.
In 2014, I finally visited Europe, for the first time in my life. I went to France. Emboldened by the experience I was determined that I would visit in England next. In 2015, I came within 2 days of booking my tickets and hotels.
It wasn’t till 2018, that I finally made the pilgrimage to England.
In this series, you will read all about it.
Won’t you? You will, right?
Come on! It will be fun! There’ll be photographs! And a very interesting video!
Maybe, I won’t ramble on so much… there’s always hope!