Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Love Note to London.

When my baby sister, Emm was three, she used to love the idea of driving on a bridge with cars driving under it. She was a beautiful child, pouty and stubborn, and her wide eyes would become wider still every time we drove on one. Even then I was too sensible to know what a silly thing that was.

One day, my parents were driving us to the sports complex for our school's Sports Day and she was with us. On the way back, they pulled over the car and let her stand by the edge of the bridge and stare at cars for as long as she wanted. She stood there with the world at her feet, feeling like life was finally complete and like everything was exactly in its right place. Like nothing else in the world mattered or could ever matter because she had had that one moment. She was happier that day than I had ever seen anyone before or have since, and that made her even more beautiful in my eyes.

And today for the very first time, I felt like I was her on that day.

Standing on Waterloo Bridge with the cars flowing in utter nonchalance beneath me and the silk of moonlight on the dome of St. Paul's cathedral: that was it. My one moment. I had gone to Shakespeare's Globe to see the Taming of the Shrew earlier. It was a majestic building, and a troupe of actors from Pakistan were performing in Urdu. They played the national anthem on the sitar and I couldn't stop myself from singing it out loud. Too many times, I threw my head back and laughed at the frequently cruel jokes. It was a tremendous performance, and I was proud. Yesterday, I went to Harrod's to look at the golden fetters of life. I was wearing a yellow dress and the Armani makeup artist insisted he must paint my lips red. I let him do it, and it was the most exquisite colour I have ever seen. I didn't buy it because I knew I shouldn't but I dreamed about it last night, so I think I will do it anyway. Three Arab men came up to me and I had to explain to each of them that I didn't speak Arabic and I was not interested in being their "habibi". It was strange. I had never felt so perfect as I did walking down Knightsbridge and South Kensington dressed like a summer dream with sunshine in my hair, convinced that all the happiness in life was one very expensive lipstick away. I smiled at a stranger in the Chanel shop, like it was something so forbidden and therefore delightful.

As the sun went down the carefully designed buildings in Sloane Square, I drifted into the Victoria and Albert Museum for a Friday evening reception for the glitterati, with wine in tall glasses and canapés. I saw an exhibition of British ballgowns through the ages, and a sculpture of Eve running. In the courtyard, someone was playing party music and people got up to dance as life slipped by unnoticed. Sometime during the hours of abundant sunshine, I had pushed someone in the fountains of the newly refurbished Leicester Square, refrained from four scoops of Haagen Dazs, with raspberry sauce and nut crunch, please, and drifted into the M&M’s world to buy a tee, just short of being tempted by Cinnabon. Then, it was time for lunch, and there was the fountain of Russell Square and the determined smell of two best friends and their sons chasing squirrels as we soaked in the end of an era.   

At the Globe today, actors spun in and out of the audience, allowing us for three hours to be a part of their fairy tale. We walked back along South Bank along the Thames, with couples who kissed and tourists who were enthralled by all that this hopelessly wonderful city has to offer. And then there were sunrises on Blackfriar’s bridge, sunsets on the Millennium Bridge and midnights at Hungerford Bridge, just short of Westminster, with the chime of the Big Ben ushering in the start of a new day and awakening every Cinderella fantasy I could conjure from the faint traces of my childhood. Then there was Waterloo Bridge, surrounded by grander monsters, making even the grey waters of the Thames magnificent by the moonlight. And on it I was, for this one divine moment, so happy I thought I would die. Like nothing before mattered or could ever matter because I had that moment and nothing could ever, ever take that away from me.

I could cycle back home then with the cool night breeze on my bare shoulders in alleys dinghy and perhaps someday on the bright streets, or have Snog on top of Trafalgar Square as the Olympic clock wound down second by second, day by day. I could peddle through the hippie stalls of Camden Market looking for an eccentric trifling which I’d never use, trigger multiple allergic reactions by combing through a hundred-year-old book in the British Library or go to celebrate the end of the week in a late evening concert at the National Art Gallery. I could do anything, be anyone.  Nothing and no one could stop me.

I don't know if I want to go back to Pakistan. I know I will, but I don't think I want to. I know that is meant to be 'home', but in more ways than I can name, this is too. It pushes me, and breaks me, and challenges me to be things I had never dreamed of, in ways Islamabad might never be able to. As I walk here in the footsteps of giants, London makes me truly believe that one day I can be one of them too. So next time when I start to lose my mind because life is getting out of control, remind me of how I lost my heart to this tragically beautiful city and that will be all the strength I need to be okay.