The face of London’s Transport system has changed a great deal since my time in this city.
When I first arrived here, fresh faced from the flight from Kolkata, the 80s were in full swing and a layer of grime lay like a film over the entire city.
It was hardly the healthiest of times. When I arrived in London, I was reaching my late twenties and starting to collect a small tire of flesh around my midriff.
In India, I had been a vegetarian. Living with my parents and my two younger brothers, we had eaten wholesome food in large quantities. Coupled with the excessive amount of cricket that we played throughout those long balmy evenings, those bounteous meals kept us healthy and sickness free. I’d left home in order to find myself a decent education and a career. My parents were under no illusion as to how hard that might be, for an Indian-bred man, with no formal qualifications or experience. However, they’d somehow managed to get the money together over the course of a few years and were eager to let their son see something of the world.
During the 70s and 80s, large numbers of Asian people were looking to move to England.
Many countries, still shaken by their newly acquired independence, were now gripped by civil conflicts and wars, leaving swathes of young men and women looking for work. As such, during this period of time, the number of immigrants from places such as India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were huge. One could look on this huge migration of people as a dilution of English culture, or you could see it as a natural consequence of three centuries of Colonial rule. English culture had become so ingrained with the lives of those living under their rule, that many people from Asian cultures looked on to their ex-colonists almost as guardians.
That’s certainly how I viewed her Majesty’s Government upon my arrival at Heathrow Airport.
I’d been born just a handful of years after the British retreat from India; what they left in their wake, besides countless white, Imperialistic buildings, infrastructure and hundreds of miles of train lines, was a power vacuum that led to countless inter-caste struggles. My parents were great fans of the British, despite growing up as essentially second-class citizens, they still felt that the country had benefited from the Colonial forces. All I knew was that they had built the hospitals, schools and cricket pitches where, previously, there were none.
They were the white men who had come to our country centuries before, in order to take our resources and exploit the people living there.
But they had also given me the buildings and structure that had provided me with an education and countless hours of precious memories. So when I arrived in London, I was a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, I was humbled by the flight (which had been my first) and the glittering airport, far grander than any we had in India. On the other I was a little surprised by the scruffiness, the garish lights and scowling faces. The vision of England that my parents had shared with me was one, full of well-dressed aristocrats and business men. The one that was presented to me was a surprisingly diverse melting pot of races and classes.