Notes from abroad
I joked to a friend of mine from Lahore, my home town, visiting me in London: “From King’s Cross to Oxford Street, it’s all my area!” As I would walk with him, every fifth shopkeeper would raise his hand and smile at me, as if I was walking through my neighbourhood market in Lahore.
Here is Atif Bhai from Lahore, in London since fifteen years. This guy instantly presupposed himself into the role of my elder brother, giving me everything from my SIM card to my first illegal job offer. He has a knack of asking very complicated questions about phDs, foreign passports, citizenships and the like, to which I nod my head confusedly while eating from the bag of chips he offers me. Right next to him is Sunny the electronics guy from India, who became friends with me when I was buying a travel adapter and bargained with him South-Asian style and he brought down the price from ten pounds to three pounds, very South-Asian style. Further down, I’m met with jubilant cries of “Gardesh! Gardesh!” or “Brother! Brother” as my Turkish friend at Crystal Kebab expresses his joy at seeing me again, and begins preparing my usual chicken doner as we talk about everything from Ataturk to the attraction of Middle Eastern women. The other two guys here, both of them named Ali, are Iranian, providing me the perfect opportunity to practice my Farsi which I am studying here at SOAS. Indeed, from King’s Cross to Oxford Street, I would walk the streets as if they were Lahori streets: a greeting here, a smile there, a free drink somewhere in between. In London streets there is a spring in my step—the spring of someone at home, or almost.
But I have also felt another kind of spring in my step too, this one less familiar, more English. Tidily tucked in a black long-coat and walking with a James & Smith umbrella into the Royal Opera House to watch a production of Don Giovanni was the apogee of this my English gentleman’s gait. After having my coat taken off by a rather elegant usherette and hung in the cloakroom, I made my way to the lavish glass-walled Paul Hamlyn Hall, which with its air of luxury made me feel I was in one of the dining halls of the Titanic. Feeling the new element, I slid into one of the seats by a table for two, set with a bottle of pink champagne perspiring deliciously in a bucket of ice. After ten minutes of tete-a-tete with a friend, I made my way to the opera house proper, in good time too, as I was informed by another sharply dressed waiter that the table I had lounged at was actually reserved. Too late then. I was now on my way to my plush red seat for the opera, one which I had definitely reserved, as my now ornamental wallet would testify. A plush red seat awaited me amid a sweeping slope of such ones, at the bottom of which Don Giovanni was at it with his girls. But it was not only Don Giovanni who was in the mood: the warm yellow lamp light flirting with the deep crimson velvets was almost as pleasing. After three hours on the art and perils of seduction, the entire house erupted in thundering applause that threatened to last as long as the opera itself. Eventually I made my way out, recovered my coat, and with a lingering smugness thought back on the splendid night as I made my way to Crystal Kebab again, this time seeking to appease a rumbling stomach clearly feeling left out.
Shariq Khan is a writer based in London, England.
Image Credit: Kai Lyu