Warmth… in a cold country

THE first person to put up with me in Bournemouth was Prasanna, a warm-hearted computer science student fast disappearing under the rigours of his course. He had made the mistake of answering one of my pleas on the university’s student message board, and I promptly latched on to him.

He lives in a two-storeyed house, roomy but weeping under the onslaught of eight students: seven Indians and one Turk. A hurricane had obviously finished a striptease there just as I arrived. It had also visited the kitchen for a quick meal before leaving by the back door.Despite the situation, Prasanna and his friends — Girish, Navin, Phani, Janardhan, et al — went out of their way to make me feel at home.

“You can stay here if you like,” Prasanna said. “If you don’t, take your time to find a good place. No hurry.”

David Bradshaw of the Bournemouth Media School, one of my supervisors, was similarly helpful. There is a spare room at home, he said, and he certainly could put me up till I found a place.

Fortunately I didn’t have to bother him. I was able to move into a cosy room in about a week. Nonetheless, his and Prasanna’s offers were touching — welcome warmth in a cold country. 

At my university, girls seem to live in them (except at pub-time, when they climb atop six-inch ladders, all legs, in black). They wear flimsy belts with lots of holes or metal bits, presumably to hold the jeans up, but there is no way those contraptions could hold anything up. I am certain they actually use some sort of skin adhesive.

A sustained survey — made possible only by the depth to which hipsters plunge — also reveal thongs (gosh, I hope I have got this right) are quite prevalent. A bit uncomfortable, it looked to me. Like, walking around with something stuck between your teeth.

The other craze is streaked hair. Any colour goes, and the more startling the better. A combination of purple, yellow and green is most favoured.

Rings and studs — on nose, lips, ears, navel, wherever — need special mention. As do ‘pillow-hair’.

By ‘pillow-hair’, I mean precisely that. It is the guys’ fashion statement. Initially I thought they left home in a hurry and had forgotten to comb. Then I caught a cool guy in the loo, painstakingly teasing his hair with water into a frightful mess. He looked quite pleased with himself when he finished. 

 

Racism I had been told, is a favourite pastime in England.

They don’t seem to play that particular sport much over here in Bournemouth (pronounced ‘Bon-moth’, with unnecessary vehemence attached to the first bit), except for poking fun at Americans endlessly, though two Indian friends tell me some idiots shouted the usual rot at them once.

In my three months in England, I have had only one such experience. And that was in wintry Leeds — 235 miles by road from Bournemouth, where my wife is studying — while on a desperate job-hunt.

Noticing ‘Wanted: Assistant’ in a fish stall in the Kirkgate market, I switch on my irresistible charm and approach the middle-aged proprietor. She is serving a customer, mouth split in a stiff smile and stale sales-talk.

I wait. She turns to me. The smile freezes.

I am looking forward to being her assistant, I say. She looks at me with obvious distaste.

“I can give you an application form if you want,” she says at last, and waits for me to say, oh, no, that’s all right, and disappear. Instead, I say, yes, that would be nice.

She stares some more. Hands me a form. Turns back to her fish.

Perhaps she was only objecting to my face. Perhaps.

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