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An estimated 4-minute read

My journey through the centre of the Earth

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Ever since I quit my job at Colby, Hewitt & Richards LLP last year to take up employment at the London office of the US firm Bradbury & Laithrose, it has become increasingly clear to me that things are looking up. The world economy is recovering and the bank manager is a friend again (even a skeptic such as he was moved to increase my credit card limit after a single glance at my new and vastly improved salary slip).


Naturally, as a consequence of my newfound riches, I have moved to a pretty nice part of South Kensington. It’s a small flat and the heating is pretty ineffective but if I crane my neck from my kitchen window I can see Laxmi Mittal's car park. Pretty good stuff that.


My move to Kensington, however, still leaves me a significant amount of travelling time (given that the B&L office is still in that hell-hole called the City of London). I find that the variety of people you meet on your way to work is pretty incredible. Some examples:

  1. The man who is late for a breakfast meeting- he is the one staring at his watch trying to stop time while simultaneously increase the speed of the train;
  2. The executive who regrets dating the college girl who knows how to party- he is the man with bloodshot eyes who doesn’t smell very nice; and
  3. The nattily attired, demure and incredibly handsome Indian lawyer- he is Nandii Reywal.


But when I say the people you meet on your way to work, what I actually mean is the people you see on your way to work. That is because everyone on the tube is busy doing nothing. On second thoughts, they are actually doing something. Except that “something” is ignoring everyone around them, if you know what I mean?


To clarify that rather confusing formulation above (to tell you the truth I rather enjoyed it- it will make sense if you read it slowly), the whole tube experience is a pretty impersonal one. Nobody smiles at you or attempts to strike up a conversation. Most people are either listening to bad British pop music on their I-Pods or reading newspapers in a concerted effort to pretend that the person next to them doesn’t exist. I once saw a man who was snoring soundly with a newspaper held up firmly in front of his face. Pretty impressive, I thought to myself.


There are also other peculiar habits that I have noticed such as crowding next to the tube door. Anyone who has ever travelled in a Bombay local knows that the surest way of getting an umbrella/knee in your nether regions is to crowd next to the door when there is space available inside the compartment. Quite evidently, Slumdog Millionaire didn’t adequately educate the British tube traveller.  


So while you are quietly contemplating the anthropological value of studying tube travellers in London (especially the pretty females ones), most times you will hear a robotic voice announcing that the train you are on will terminate at the next stop or will be waiting here for approximately 30 minutes or that your destination station is no longer accepting incoming trains. As luck would have it, often this is when you look around and spot one of your Indian friends on the same train- you both then bitch happily in your native tongue about the wonders of the most expensive transport system in the world and promise to quit this country and go back home in ‘another couple of years’, i.e., once you have made enough money.


The train eventually reaches your destination and a stream of people bursts through the doors. You look around and everyone walking is fast towards the exits- age no bar, sex no bar. It is often said that you can identify a Londoner by his/her quick gait. What is a ‘Londoner’? Is it even a real word? Am I not a ‘Londoner’ if I don’t walk fast? 


Anyhow, once the crowd has passed another great London tube mystery will reveal itself- the mystery of the single glove. Every successful tube journey must have this. There are just millions and millions of single gloves lying all around London tube stations. I am sure these gloves were manufactured specially to decorate the Underground. These gloves have no pairs and are of absolutely no value to anyone. Who would want mismatched gloves? I suppose that at some level it keeps people honest.


Once you get past the damn escalators, which are machines from hell designed to shave off the front of your pointy formal shoes, you are just a few steps away from the exits. This is where the final surprise lies- you will see Londoners continuing to be deeply engrossed in their novels, newspapers, magazines, Kindles, Galaxy Tabs or I-Pads even when their morning joy ride is over and they are walking on busy roads outside the tube station. Personally, I find reading and walking a pretty inefficient combination, since I would have to keep re-starting each sentence to make sure I didn’t smash into oncoming traffic. Imagine having to do the fast Londoner walk along with that- its all a bit much for me.


Today, at the end of a journey substantially similar to that described above, I stepped outside the tube station and it began to rain. 


"Great!", I thought to myself and began planning this blog post in my mind.


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