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Back in the day when London was reaching out to the world, I wonder if they’d imagined a time when the whole world could be contained by the city. London is exotic and foreign, and feels like home, all at once. It moves ahead and stands still and twirls between histories.
I’m glad to be a part of it, even if it’s just for a minute.
London, July 2011
I’ve taken to writing (myself) postcards when travelling. I’ve this image in my head, of me, thirty-forty years down the line, going through stacks of yellowing postcards, and thinking about the good old days, a cup of hot chai in hand.
Take a Minute. Look Around
‘There is so much beauty, but how many of us stop to look around, at our buildings, our history?’ Shraddha, our heritage walk guide asks. We are standing on a curb close to the massive CST building; hundreds of commuters walk past us. Some give us dirty looks for slowing them down. I’d do the same in their shoes. In stead I focus on the architectural details I’ve overlooked all this time: tiny carved animals scurrying around the pillars; flowers, shrubs and trees fanning out on stone; a peacock displaying full plumage; a train engine, a ship, and an elephant and its mahout, etched in place for a life time; rock solid portraits watching over the city, along with an army of gargoyles and lions; delicate stained glass portholes peeking out between elaborate wall carvings. They all have stories to share, if you’re willing to hear them out.
Up on a Rope, Above the World
He is of slight frame. His wears a red turban, yellow kurta and white pyjama. He also carries a long stick, which he holds across his frame. His colleagues are on the ground. One man plays the dhol, another calls out to visitors, encouraging them to watch the show. Each beat, each slogan, sees a foot being place in front of the other on the tight rope strung high above. The man walks with ease where there should be none. There are no safety nets, just a crowd and stone below. And yet he glides across. He lies flat on the rope. He sits cross legged. He rolls from one end to the other on a cycle wheel. At the end of his performance, he accepts applause and any change you can spare.
A Box of Paint, Lots of Ideas
There are big green ants crawling about. They have headlights for eyes, and bodies made from retired motorbikes. There is a giant dabbawala, Mumbai’s famed lunch box delivery guy. Dressed in typical white, he holds a lunch box and the city on his tray. There are painted rickshaws, modified vespas, there’s even a shiny coin studded fiat. And in quiet corners, there are paintings, sculptures and other delicate art works. There is talent awaiting new homes, all you need is a bag of money to claim them.
Messages, Statements and Common Sense
There is a lot being said. Voices rise through colour and artistic expression. There is a plea for change, a demand for improvement, encouragement for those making an effort. Doors are opening, carpets are being dusted and the linen is getting washed. Like the installation says, you are the engine.
Relocation is a complicated word, and yet it doesn’t quite cover the excitement of a move, the heaviness of goodbyes, or the strangeness of watching your entire life get stacked and sealed in plain brown boxes.
Bubble wrap, tape, box, label. It’s an efficient process except the labels – ‘Books’, ‘Kitchen Items: Fragile’, ‘Frames,’ are such simplistic reductions of the stories and memories we’ve assembled over six years. I couldn’t manage it in a paragraph, let alone a single word.
It’s weird, sitting in an empty house that’s full of boxes. Full but empty. It makes more sense to head out for one last hurrah. We walk down our street, take out regular route, past a line of stores and a market, to our watering hole. I try to memorize everything about this moment, about this place, for later. I wish I had taken more photos, caught up with more people, done more over these last few days. I try to re-live the last six years during this last walk to town. It’s simple enough. It’s harder than it sounds. Tomorrow will be a hard goodbye. But it will also be the start of something new.
This is great. They have escalators running uphill to the park gate. No huffing, puffing, gasping for air, as I make my way up. Instead, I lean back against the handrail and look towards the city. The roofs, windows, cars, all grow smaller and smaller, while the city fans out, growing bigger and bigger.
One word to describe the park: crazy! Crazy, but in a good way. Crazy in the design-genius kind of way. Walking around, I can’t help thinking this is how life should play out – colourful, vibrant, and full of whimsy; incredibly beautiful in its chaos.
For a ‘failed project’ this place is pretty spectacular. In 1900 Gaudi was commissioned to create a garden village for the city’s wealthy. The plan included 60 residential structures, a market place, a palace of worship and recreational spaces spread over 42 acres of land overlooking the city. But by 1914 the idea ran out of money and the project was abandoned.
Gaudi lived here, in one of the two villas that were completed. His home is now a museum. The villa is a soothing pastel shade with some very Gaudi elements of design – the chimney, the tower, the wrought iron work, the boundary wall. It’s cosy with just the right amount of crazy to it.
There’s music, there’s ice cream, there are chirping birds. There are giant soap bubbles that you can run through, and dreadlocked vendors creating them. The bubbles, despite their massive form, float upwards, past the stalactite arches, over the fairytale roof tops. Their journey is followed by the hundreds of visitors here, and for those few seconds, eyes are pulled away from the park and focused above it.
But at the end of the day, all you remember is the mosaics that make this place – mosaics along the sweeping stairways, along the slithering benches, mosaics dressing up the gingerbread structures, along the park walls, mosaics that finally make lizards pretty, and mosaics that you’ll later buy at the souvenir store in forms of coaster sets and picture frames. Mosaics that promise an escape when the walls close in, that create a magical world with simple bits of broken tile.