The United Kingdom offers great opportunities to learn and explore for the energetic tourist. It has exploited its potential for tourism, from London to the suburbs and rural villages,to the hilt. In Oxford, every college was selling souvenirs; one of them was selling milk chocolate too! Tube stations are particularly tourist friendly with prominent, yet not out-of-place, signboards pointing the way to nearby tourist destinations. Within the train itself posters show important tourist spots along the Line. It’s almost as if the Underground administration is assuming many of the commuters will be tourists.
The British are genuinely polite and friendly. Being warm and courteous in every human interaction seems to be drilled into their cultural DNA. Maybe this is because we were so obviously tourists, or maybe not.
As this is my last post on this trip some acknowledgements are in order.
First, I’d wish to sincerely thank my parents for taking me along and bearing my presence. Without them, of course, this tour would not be possible for me. This is a photo of my parents:
Then there are my father’s friends: Mr Joy Bhattacharya and his wife Mrs Sutapa Bhattacharya whose home we stayed in throughout our visit.
They and their son Suraj are among the nicest, most humanely decent people I’ve met. These are the kind of people you read about in fiction or hear of in other people’s stories but never seem to meet yourself.
They most generously welcomed us into their house for this visit. Uncle was instrumental in planning the trip months before, and reviewed the itinerary daily in the evenings. He went into the tiniest of details to ensure our comfort: he sent a taxi to pick us up at the airport, called at least once daily to check if we’re fine, picked us up at Woking several times to spare us the bus ride from Guildford ( even on weekdays) and even remembered to stop at the departmental store on the way for me to buy newspapers.
Uncle is always relaxed, cheerful and full of ‘joy’. It is difficult to imagine how he keeps his good-humoured nature despite the pressures of a successful career. The two days we spent together were well-planned and great fun. It is exhilarating to speed at 77 miles per hour on the national motorways in Uncle’s BMW 520d,which he takes great pride in, and listen to him discourse on the complicated driving rules and etiquette of Britain.
But the driving force of our stay in Britain was Auntie, whose home-cooked meals, esp dinners (in a land where almost nobody cooks from scratch), were tremendously satisfying. She even made tea when we returned wearily from our daily travel, and went into the smallest of details like filling up water bottles and leaving them on the stairs in the evening for us. She ensured that our smallest needs were met. That she did this despite working in a full-time job is all the more remarkable. Auntie has a subtle and nuanced sense of humour which she isn’t hesitant to use. She protested vehemently when we tried to eat out more often to spare her the trouble. Her set-up to make tea is delightfully efficient and is designed to prepare a cup in less than forty seconds. She heartily encouraged my forays into gardening.
Both Uncle and Auntie have a vast circle of friends, esp among the NRI community in Britain. Uncle invited many of them for us to meet. They were a warm, convivial lot not much different from Indians in India, other than the slight accents of some of them. It was heartening to see them drop in readily to swap stories over a nightcap.
When we first landed at Heathrow, the immigration officer asked my father when he’d last met his friend Joy Bhattacharya and was surprised to learn that it was ten years. It is truly admirable that, in spite of such a lengthy gap, they warmly invited us to their home and took great pains to make our visit enjoyable and memorable.