The London tube life


“A 100 years ago, when I decided to work in London, taking the tube at rush hour made me feel like I was a part of something really big getting into a packed train every single day”, my colleague laughingly exclaimed. The very same evening as I walked into St.Paul’s station after a long day of work, carrying Berry over my shoulders, I thought about what my  colleague had said earlier and strangely, I felt the same as I hung at the door crushed between a bunch of bankers in the train (see pic above, that’s what I got into). But to be honest, I am just a regular person getting home in the evening and there is no other grand scheme around that. But making it seem more complex than it is makes for a fun commute.

I have learnt a few things about the tube in the last couple of months and this knowledge is in no way exhaustive as I only take one train straight from home to work and back everyday, with no changes, etc. When I get into the Ealing Broadway station in the morning, I make sure I quickly scan the entry gates before I approach them to find the least crowded one. I thoroughly enjoy the cheap thrills I get when I pass through the gates fairly quickly bypassing a long queue.

When I am with Berry, I don’t mind what compartment I get into since I am offered a seat anyway, but unfortunately I can’t accept the offer since Berry prefers that I stand (ok, I prefer to stand simply because Berry won’t scream her lungs out!). If I am alone, I usually going into the second compartment from the last with school kids in it so I can get a seat in the first couple of stops. The important thing is to stand in the middle of the compartment, strategically, making sure that I am equidistant from all usual suspects who are expected to get out of the train soon enough. You don’t want to be sitting near someone who is extra formally dressed because they won’t get off till Bond Street.

When I get out at St.Paul’s, I usually take climb up the escalator since that’s the fastest path out, even with a baby. If you wait to stand on one side of the escalator, just getting onto the escalator can take ages, especially if both east and west bound trains arrive at the same time. Once you have gotten ahead of the crowd, getting out of the exit gate is a piece of cake.

On my way back is usually crazy, with or without a baby. Its peak hour with most people getting out of offices and desperately trying to get home soon. If the frequency of the train is pretty high, then I usually go stand at the head of the platform near the beginning of the train since it tends to be less crowded with more people getting off than on. If frequency is low, then the platform gets very crowded all the way and it doesn’t matter where you stand. All trains to Ealing Broadway, tend to be more crowded than other destinations and so its okay to let them pass if its impossible to get in.

But if I find myself letting more than 1 or 2 trains pass, I immediately gear up to board the 3rd train irrespective of how crowded it is. Remember, there is always place for one more person on the tube and as long as you believe that, you have a chance to get home sooner than later. Its like the Hilbert’s hotel problem. You just get in and even if every person around you in the train moves 1 mm, you will have enough space to let the door close behind you. The moment you are at Tottenham Court Road or Oxford Circus, the change over helps empty the tube a little bit and if you once again, go stand in the middle of the compartment, placed strategically equidistant from people who might get off soon, then you have a seat.

It’s not like I am the only one doing all this. When you do the same thing over and over again, you device all these silly little games to give you cheap thrills, to make your commute seem grander than it really is.



What makes some cities a little more daunting?

Every time a non-Indian remarked how crazy a city Bangalore (any Indian city for that matter) is, I was always amused and never really understood them. They pointed out the outrageous traffic, reckless driving, spicy food, talkative people, etc. as evidence to this perception. Having grown up with it, I could not associate these things as being somewhat strange or crazy, in fact, it’s what I thought made my Bangalore what it is, and if one did, they would have to love Bangalore for all it’s madness. In 2012, when I visited Japan for the first time, I stayed there for about a week and I severely missed chaos. I knew I’d go mad if I stayed longer. This didn’t happen when I first moved to Barcelona. It was chaotic enough for me to not miss home and not chaotic enough for me to feel lost. Living in developed countries is fairly straight forward – good infrastructure, established processes for most things, less uncertainity, etc. and one can get by with just a working internet connection.

When I landed in Jakarta two weekends ago, the humidity engulfed me as soon as I stepped out of the airport and there was a strange whiff of familiarity that I had stopped appreciating about emerging countries (even my own) – vehicles sprawling all over the place, tonnes of people gawking and invading my personal space, an instinctive fear (though uncalled for) to clutch my purse harder, watching my step every second and looking on both sides before crossing the road. Soon enough, I was comfortably escorted by a chauffeur in a private car and I was swept away from the discomfort of having to try to convince a taxi guy in broken English, Spanish (that’s my instinctive non-native tongue now) and Tamil (I have no clue why) to take me to my hotel.

First week was fairly smooth given that I was protected from most uncertainties except having to order my own dinner, which is fairly straight forward in South East Asia as menus are usually quite picturesque! I even had a chance to live Ramadaan Indonesia style, that too with the husband and that was enough to make some good memories of this city. But every time I struggle with basic things like not knowing how to tell the taxi driver to go left or right, not knowing when and where is a good place to cross the immensely wide streets, navigating my strides close to the edge of the road as there exists no footpaths, not knowing which animal I might be eating or not knowing whether the guy who hoots at me every evening while I walk down the shady alley from my hotel to the restaurant has good or bad intentions makes Jakarta a little more daunting than it is. This is not taking into consideration that one needs to grow a whole new social circle in a new place.

Locals grow up with this or learn to cope with it over time, but for a foreigner, the chaos and uncertainty takes a while to go down and especially, given that I come from a country that is very similar, I expect the worst simply because of my own prejudices and inability to understand the language here. As I walked the aisles of the Ramadaan food festival at La Piazza last evening, I was reminded of my Frazer town Ramadaan walk with Harsha last year and wondered if all the heat from the cooking wasn’t enough to make up for the warmth I was missing in my new city!

Idiosyncrasies of the Indian Immigration

This is officially the longest and most painful of all my travels (I’m not sure if it beats my 18 hours trip from Mangalore to Bangalore in 2007) simply because of all the explaining and waiting I had to do. Ever since my pocket was picked in Barcelona in mid November, I’ve done a billion trips to the police stations across Barcelona trying to get all documents in place so I can go home for the Winter break and come back peacefully. But apparently none of this mattered to the Indian Immigration at the Bangalore Airport – not the copy of the NIE, police complaint or the Authorizacion de Regresso, which was the official document issued by the Spanish government allowing me to re-enter Spain. All they wanted was an apology letter admitting that I was travelling without the required original residence permit and that I would promise to travel with the original henceforth. All this after making me wait for 75 minutes. Now, would this have been any better had I spoken in Kannada? Maybe not. I tried and then quickly realised that the Immigration office in the Bangalore airport was full of Tams, so all my effort in vain. This goes to explain that there is no single formula for success in the Indian immigration.