05 September 2007
London Heathrow

I am sitting in a restaurant named Chez Gerard in Terminal 3, London Heathrow. My pot of Earl Grey has just arrived. I have just poured some of it into a white porcelain cup. This cup conforms to one of the Coalport styles. It sits demurely with a design that’s both modern and classical. Between these lines, I take a sip of this fresh tea of reddish-brown complexion. The traditional spirit of England meets a new tongue. Just then, my vegetarian breakfast arrives – two vegetarian sausages, two fried mushrooms, two halves of a blanched tomato, a regiment of roasted potatoes bearing the wounds of a knife and a smoking mound of scrambled eggs.

I continue writing after finishing them without a trace. The sausages were the best I have had. The tomatoes were good but not quite as good as those I had partaken one morning in Poole. The scrambled eggs were good but certainly failed in comparison to those at a B&B in Luton. As I reflect on these connections, I write with a heavy heart. Three years have come to an end quite suddenly. As a dying man sees in the moments before his departure, the memories of a lifetime, I recall the many beautiful moments that have been my source of joy in this country. As he sees the faces of his family and friends, I see images of a country that has become a second home. It’s only when you leave, you realize how much you love.

In my check-in baggage is a book I have been wanting to read for more than a year but I never made the time for it. G.M. Trevelyan sits with his scholarly thoughts in “English Social History”. No one can love a foreign country particularly when there exists a vast difference from his home culture. Love comes from understanding. Even an attempt to understand goes a long way in acknowledging differences and appreciating things we have in common. Just as I have visited many places and read many books to achieve such an understanding, Trevelyan promises to continue what I have just begun.

A beeping sound of a cart passes me by soon after I leave the restaurant. The intercom announces in Japanese the boarding of a flight to Tokyo. These sounds are normal for an airport just as the chorus of little boys is normal in the choirs of great Gothic cathedrals. Round pillars are linked by iron brackets to walls with clear glass. This too is normal here just as Norman naves and window traceries in cathedrals. Green upholstery suggests in some way that the hue has been borrowed from fresh green fields of the countryside. The crowds milling about the check-in counters are an evolution of Victorian crowds at train stations or docks boarding for their trans-Atlantic passages. Voices in many languages cross each other in the air-conditioned air just as cultures of many nationalities have come to form what is Britain today.

London Heathrow is a microcosm of Britain. All countries of the world appear to be represented. If a citizen of Timbuktu has not passed through Heathrow, we ought to doubt if Timbuktu exists. I see on a large screen the names of countless destinations. I imagine far-off destinations connected to London by flimsy flight paths. This is not pure imagination. It is reality. Heathrow is connected. We are all connected. As travellers, let us all connect at the level of thought. Our destinations may be different but our goals are not.

At Heathrow, travellers shop, eat, drink or simply wait. Many are at the start of their journeys. Their faces reflect freshness and anticipation. They are prepared to try something new. They are looking forward for an experience which is just about beginning. For others, Heathrow is only a stopping point. They have come a long way. They are tired. Denied sleep hangs heavily on their eyelids. But their determination is stronger. They destination is clear and they wait for their journeys to continue.

I am walking towards the departure lounge. British Airways has just taken off. Lufthansa is getting ready for its turn. Virgin Atlantic is boarding. At the gate for Air India, passengers are slowly filling up the lounge. Air India crew at Heathrow for this flight to Mumbai is just as diverse as the passengers who are to board this flight. I am at the gate. A few paces before me in the queue is a British tourist. He is reading a massive book, “A Suitable Boy”. His discovery of India has begun well. I am gratified to know that I am not alone.


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