“This is as far as I go, love.”
Said the large lady driving the great big National Express bus in which I was the lone passenger left. I looked around. We were on an empty road with not a soul around. Not that I wanted to see a soul, I was looking for people. This was my first time abroad. And I timidly protested, “I was supposed to go to the University!”
She pointed to a few buildings half a klick away and left me in that typically British winter afternoon. I started hauling my intercontinental luggage. It didn’t take me long to reach the buildings. But to my disappointment it was the Sports Park. It was huge; it had every single sport-related amenity invented by humanity, including a cafeteria. I did spend some time in those premises later, though always in the cafeteria.
I started walking towards the next set of buildings and soon reached a small security room. It wasn’t a long walk but I had started to sweat a little. Someone was supposed to meet me at a designated place. But the bus was delayed because of weather conditions, and that someone was now stuck in a meeting. I explained my plight to the security people and they pointed to the Arts Building.
I navigated through the grey-brick buildings and endless after-hour vacant corridors and finally reached my destination. I finally found someone who knew about me. And she told me to report to another lady two floors above. She was kind enough to let me leave the luggage while I solved my existential crisis. The lady on the third floor was the reason I believe in angels. She was genuinely concerned and accompanied me to the Accommodations Office. They gave me the spare key, as the other key was with my contact who was still in a meeting. To this day I marvel at the fact that I did not have to sign anywhere, and could just walk into that awesome apartment.
I think it was about 6:30 when I entered this flat that would be home for a while. My contact appeared soon, apologizing for all this fiasco. And I learnt that the bus was supposed to come all the way inside the campus, but chose not to. The security people were supposed to do much more, but they also chose not to. That morning in Heathrow I had already had a taste of this as I took a seat next to a hairless white man; he turned, looked at me with revulsion and just went and sat somewhere else. But apart from these and a few dirty looks in town, the rest of the trip was brilliant. I met people of all kinds of pigmentations and the campus was overall a brilliant place to be and I ended up making many friends.
Norwich is a beautiful city. All small British towns are charming. I have been to Colchester, to Falmouth, to Cambridge, to Winterton and to Holt and to a slightly bigger town called London. Colchester is supposed to be the oldest town in the UK, but Norwich is not very young. It was apparently established sometime in the 11th century (AD of course).
In my last post I have spoken about the campus of the UEA a little. It is not quite the Oxbridge kind. But it is a beautiful place. There are two rivers, Wensum and Yare, and various broads (large water-bodies), the town is evergreen and full of warmhearted people. Of course, the warmest were Rajat-da and his family (I became a part of their home). Amanda and Nick gave me another home (the best apple strudel till date). And then there were Cecilia and Ian, Eugenia, Brian, Chloe, Lily and Manisha, who inspired effortless connections.
The campus has the brilliant Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. I don’t know how many hours I spent there looking at the variety of exhibitions that was a continuous part of campus life.
Going to town was a bit of a bother as the bus ride cost £2, but you could buy an all day pass for £4. Not that this was used a lot, I had to scrimp and save all the money that I could. England is expensive. So it was a bother when I was shifted elsewhere as the Suffolk Road apartments were being repaired and the cozy flat given to me did not have a kitchen. I mentioned this at the Accommodations Office; they immediately said they would reimburse me if I produced my food bills. And they did. No paperwork or applications, all I had to do was produce the bills. And during repairs I kept my big suitcase in the big apartment. No one touched it.
With all the friends and the classes and free seminars (including one with Iain Banks) and experiments with food, time sped away. I remember walking all alone one evening, in freezing cold, going back to my flat in a hurry and having an epiphany. I realized these are the moments that I shall come back to. These are moments that will never come back. And I did not hurry anymore. Sure, while walking through the large field with nobody in sight, it always seemed that a banshee will appear any moment! But that did not deter me. Looking at the large rabbits that made the campus their home (I wonder if they are still there!) I always reached the dark building thankful for the chance to be there.
The only problem was the general suicidal feeling that bugged you when the sun went down at 4:30 and you knew you would not see natural light for another 16 hours. There were only 5 channels on the telly; and I know you will judge me for this, I watched the entire Big Brother season in which Shilpa Shetty won. It was horrible, but you can’t just work all day. You need diversion, even if it is of the kind that senselessness is made of! Of course, I cooked during these dark hours.
I had a variety of experiments and they were mostly edible. Once I cooked a piece of meat and was impressed with my skill. Then the next day I learnt how an excess of salt can actually burn your tongue. My friend Sunandan came to visit. But he took no risks. We spent our time mostly having pizza.
He was very critical of my egg-cracking abilities. To this day I cannot break an egg properly if someone is watching!
Norwich has one of the oldest cathedrals of England. The Cathedral is truly amazing. The steeple is spectacular and the interior is truly awe-inspiring. There is an amazing tapestry commemorating the Second World War.
The Roman Catholic Church is Gothic in mood, but is not nearly as impressive as the Cathedral.
I could not enter Norwich Castle as it was being renovated.
We did end up spending time in Castle Mall (my first Mall experience as Kolkata was still Mall-less then) mostly for the exquisite baguette sandwiches and Burger King. If you ever go to England, always visit Marks & Spencer. They usually have a bakery section which makes the world seem a nicer place.
I also spent a handsome amount of time in Anglia Square – a part of town not frequented by highbrow spenders. Apart from Poundland (everything £1), Asian Bazar sold Indian groceries such as good old lentils and rice. I remember being overjoyed finding a bar of Liril soap!
Of course, I had no idea Magdalen Street that connected the two is supposedly haunted!
Going shopping for provisions was fun. There was a small cluster of shops at one side of the university. I was advised to avoid Tesco and buy everything from the East of England Co-op – and I did so religiously. There were shops within campus, but walking to the EEC was a bit of exercise that I badly needed.
I don’t really miss the academic life there, but I thoroughly miss the people and the little things. I miss the walks around the broad, I miss the lovely gatherings, I miss the concerts at the Cathedral, I miss discovering that some paintings make sense when you see them from a distance, I miss discussing Rabindranath with Lily and of course I miss the 24 hour library where I discovered Babel Fish.
This was my longest solo adventure. It taught me a lot. Those who had never been alone (not metaphorically or fashionably) will never learn how valuable loneliness is. It can be a gift if you can deal with it, and if you know there is an end to it. This was my big experience that taught me that the biggies are ultimately combinations of events that seem trivial at the moment, but become invaluable memories in the narrative of life.
- As I did not have a digital camera then, most of the photos here are scans from prints made decades ago. Some of the better ones posted were taken by friends who had been able to go digital. My apologies for the low quality and lack of clarity (much like my posts) of those photographs.
Earlier Posts: 1. Old Lucknow 2. Colonial Lucknow 3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam 4. Going to Garhwal 5. The Walkers 6. Palamau 7. Rishikesh 8. Kolkata Kolkata 9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey 11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath 12. Old Times 13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri 14. Once There was a Heaven 15. Serenity 16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 19. Nothing Important 20. Manu's Alaya - Manali 21. Santiniketan 22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala 23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi 24. Tunganath 25. Transitory Blues 26. Gurudongmar 27. The Beginning 28. Yumesamdong 29. Bangali in Bangkok 30. Mukutmanipur 31. Rasvanti 32. The Old Town and the Sea 33. Budapest 34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 37. Presenting the Past 38. Far From the Urban Crowd 39. Silent Night Sleepless Night