Monday, November 07, 2005

Please mind the gap

I-pods. Cell phones. Burberry. Blackberry. PDA of the electronic and human kind.
Reports that were meant to be read last night, skimmed through while trying to peek the headlines on someone else’s Daily Mirror.

If you can overlook the unscheduled stopovers at Willesden Green. The signal failures at Farringdon. And line closures on weekends which can leave you marooned at home, travelling by tube can be rather wonderful. The people watching alone makes up for a 30 minute wait at Kennington.

There are the Japanese women. Poker straight black hair, perfectly tweezed eyebrows and smooth, poreless skin make these women a delight to watch. Whether they’re dressed in severe black suits or jujube coloured leggings and bizarre t-shirts you can be assured that the bag dangling oh-so-casually from their arm will either be an Louis Vuitton or Gucci.

The young couples surgically attached at the lips, hips and every other joint and crevice of their bodies. One such pair had me examining a wad of chewed gum on the floor from Finsbury Park to Heathrow. That’s more than 14 stations. It was either discover the myriad textures of used gum or discover the myriad kissing techniques of East European backpackers.

The City types in black, navy blue and charcoal grey. Pin striped perfection with suitable arm candy – sudoku, the FT/Economist, palm pilot or an Ice Blonde Consultant.

The second and third generation Asians with their mocha coloured skin, pierced noses, bleached hair and low rise jeans. Not all that different from their cousins back home till they open their mouths and out spills a torrent of in-nits, wassats and other words that have made half the alphabet redundant.

Ageing parents from the sub-continent out to see the sights of London. Men in heavy jackets borrowed from sons pouring over maps and trying to make sense of new fangled cameras. Women in bulky sweaters that clash with their silk saris, feet encased in woollen socks and brand new Clarkes sandals. They look out of the window on the overline. Gazing at the never-ending stretch of identical, grey, Dickensian suburbs. In the dark of the tube they try not to stare disapprovingly at the cleavage bearing, body pierced youths and draw them to their husband’s attention with an indiscreet foot nudge. Only to be snapped at and told to look out the window.

Sleek Somalis women in their fake Dior headscarves and bright skirts. Ruddy cheeked Germans. English roses. Asian lilies. The tube is perhaps the best representation of multi-cultural London.

But one person from all my train journeys stands out in my mind. It was on the way to a play after work one night. I was on the Circle line to Sloane Square. The train had been emptied of the rush hour madness and there were but a few of us in the compartment. An old Englishman stood by the door in a suit that looked as tired as he was, holding a Guinness in his hand. His cheeks were bright red and he had what seemed to be a bad cold. Till I noticed that he was crying. Every now and then he would take a swig of his Guinness and fresh tears would course down his cheeks. Everyone in the compartment would look at him and then look away lest he tried to off load his tale of woe on them. Everyone was thinking the same thing - Why was he crying? Remembering his dead wife? Thinking of the daughter that didn’t call anymore. Maybe he just had a few more months to live. Or maybe it wasn’t anything so dramatic at all. Perhaps his favourite team had lost another football match.

I always keep an eye out for the old man on the Circle line. Silly I know. I’m not sure why I do it. If my life was a movie I will see him again a few months from now. Laughing and talking with his young daughter. Holding hands with a his wife (how pessimistic of us to think that she was dead). Or maybe drinking another beer and celebrating his team’s 2-0 victory.

23 comments:

shub said...

silly, I know, but damn! i'm feeling sad for the old chap! grown men crying is too sad, no?!

Shyam said...

Shoefi, I hope it DOES work out like a movie and that you see the old guy happy again. I also hope it was only a sports team loss rather than any more significant personal loss!

Nisha said...

Hmm...I must say that all your posts have a very interesting play of words....you write very well.

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Falstaff said...

Nice. I'm reminded of a scene in Roth's Sabbath's Theater, where Sabbath, riding the subway while high, fixates on a young woman, picturing her as Cordelia and himself as Lear. A heartbreaking scene

Love the descriptions, btw.

Shruthi said...

Feeling sorry for the old man :( Why don't you go and lend him your ear... maybe "you are the sunshine he's looking for" ;)(cliche.. cliche)

Mridula said...

Daughter not calling her father? Well, I too don't, because my father lives with us as of now! Can't ever imagine a daughter doing it, but then I know it happens.

√úbermaniam said...

That's life. Thanks for the reality check. Sniff. Btw, great blog. :-(

apu said...

Daily travel often does bring interesting sights, though sometimes we just pass by them in a second. I remember for a week, everyday on my way to work, I saw this couple with a daughter in a wheelchair standing outside a temple, possibly there was a hospital nearby. The daughter looked mentally handicapped too. But what really stayed with me was the so-obvious affection on the parents faces for their child..

ammani said...

Lovely description. Makes you wonder how they'll be describing you in their blog :)

Swathi said...

the essence of the diaspora of ppl found in London is well captured and also loved ur speculation of the reason behind the old man crying

S said...

you bring before the eyes the real tube travel..great writing....hey could be the old man stumbled out of a Ladbrokes or a Corals....

WA said...

Sad about the old guy. Loved the detailed people watching description

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

shub - it is :( and this guy really tugged at my heart strings

shyam - so do i

nisha - thanks

falstaff - thanks... I'm not familiar with the eg u gave but it's made me very curious to find out. btw i loved ur post on an autumn day

shruthi - :)

mridula - check out Charu's post on the sad state of the elderyly in India at www.indsight.org/blog

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

tdu - ur welcome and thanks

apu - temples are a wonderful place for people watching. at the luz hanuman temple there's a woman who has been coming every day for as long as I can remember and doing what i think is called adipradakshanam(?) what's she praying for and why hasn't god listened to her yet i used to wonder

ammani - hmm I'm thinking 'a strikingly beautiful indian girl kept giving me the eye on the tube tonight.' ha ha

shruthi, s, wicked angel - thanks!

MumbaiGirl said...

Very evocative. I made my husband read it too and he too felt it was brilliantly observed and written. I met an old man like that too on the tube, recently. He had blackening nails and looked very unkempt. He said he was a war veteran. When I was about to get off the train he gripped my hand really hard in farewell because, I think, he was so lonely.

San said...

oh i know it's horrible to feel sorry for people we don't know - but I have this terrible habit of soing that, and I shouldn't.

:(

TomCruiseChellum said...

Reminds me of the endless Fridays I spent in a Dhaka hotel watching the crowds pass by in the Foyer
of Hotel Sonargoan and my own ceaseless fasicnation with watching the janata in all its moods and colours at India's countless Railway stations.
Btw your blogs are taking on lyrical proportions.
Keep blogging

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Leela said...

Nice observations! I loved the one about the ageing parents and the admonition to 'look out of the window'. :)

me-unplugged said...

Did you see the old man again? Was he with his daughter celebrating the victory?
This reminds me of a lot of people who talk to themselves... I've heard them pouring out their woes... wonder who they talk to.. atleast I hope someone is listening...

Mali&Madhu said...

The things that passes off for Guinness these days. Apropos of your later wordsmithery "Ticking Away", did you know that you can get Draught Guinness out of a bottle - with a widget in it that releases CO2 or whatever as you pour it to make it looks like a good draught? I bought one the other day and drank deeply. And I wept. Look how the mighty have fallen. If Guinness can compromise, how well will the rest of the world fare?

LAK said...

Good writing--positively waxing lyrical! This post is the converse of "A picture is worth a thousand words"--you painted real pictures with your words. And yes, like Ammani, I too felt maybe someone must have observed you observing them and put it in a blog!