I love London. London is a mesmerising, incredible, vast, diverse place. It is its own entity, beautiful and unique. Yes, certain parts are overrated but nevertheless, its lure is undeniable. It has a special place in my heart. Sounds cheesy but it’s true. When I leave, I don’t yearn for it. But I re-remember how I much I love it when I get back, or when someone asks me about it, genuinely interested in my answer. I’ve been told that my eyes light up when I tell people about London, in a way that they don’t light up usually. I have countless memories of it, good and bad (mostly good), all of which have made up a large portion of who I am. I know London well. I may not know every nook and cranny, but I feel a pride and comfort of automatically knowing how to get to many places, being able to tell people how to get somewhere without having to think or research and knowing about cool places to recommended to visitors. I have countless photos but here are just a few…
For context, I lived in London for the first few years of my life and then moved to Ahmedabad, India when I was twelve. I came back a lot, still having close family and friends in the city, as well as my love for it. In 2017, having finished my schooling and too young for University, I left India and started my gap year back in London. I spent a few months getting to know it more on my own, something I couldn’t do when I was younger because, well, big cities are pretty damn overwhelming and dangerous for a child. At seventeen, alone, I saw it all differently, yet with familiarity. Of course, I’d been back at least once a year but still, being here for a good few months independently, having time to lounge about and see things at leisure, exploring parts I hadn’t been to… It was incredible.
And yet, the idea of living here any time soon, the idea of coming back ‘for good’, repels me. As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to not just ‘go on holiday’ but to live a holiday, to live somewhere else, never ‘for good’.
When I was younger, I would tell people I wanted to be a tourist when I grew up, thinking that a tourist’s job was to the travel the world. I would sometimes force the term ‘everythingologist’, like it was a thing. I wanted to specialise in everything, and travel the world discovering new things. I would then tell people I wanted to be an explorer, to see various places, urban and remote. Then I discovered my true calling was as a spy, where I could completely immerse myself in a new life, speak a new language and live in a new place. (Though I was telling people so that made it kind of redundant.) I also remember wanting to be an archaeologist, to learn about the world and its history, to spend months in new places, really getting to know a place, past and present. I’ve always had the mind of a wanderer.
London is probably one of the most culturally diverse, international cities in the world. Londoners are very lucky to have access to so many areas that have so many cultures merge, so many cuisines so easily within reach, so many international festivals and events… But no matter how international it is, it obviously isn’t the same as travelling. Pani puri on Ealing Road will never be like pani puri in India. Bibimbap in Soho will never be like bibimbap in Korea. I’m not talking about the taste per say, but the experience, the environment, the cultural significance, the feeling of blending in and immersing yourself in a culture, not being in the know and not feeling so familiarly comfortable. Being a cultured person in your home city and constantly plunging yourself into new environments are two drastically different things. (I feel that I should tattoo immersion on my forehead because I just can’t stop using that word. It’s just so meaningful.)
I think what I’m trying to say is that I would rather know more places less, than know London with a lifetime of depth. There are times when I doubt this decision, believe me; when I’m walking through Camden Market, when I’m speed-walking through St Pancras, when I’m sitting in a cafe on my local high street, when I’m looking at graffiti in Shoreditch, when I walk on the Southbank, when I see great buskers and street performers with so much character…
As I sit in my childhood home writing, I often think about how so many would kill to live here, to be able to not be overwhelmed by the tube map, to be able to get to Covent Garden in less than an hour, to be able to know how to pronounce some weird place names (eg. Greenwich and Southwark)… I love London so much, I think as I sit, so would it be so bad to call this city my permanent home? I wouldn’t have to stress about what to take with me where, as I have been on this year of travel. I wouldn’t have to feel like an outsider and feel confused. London always has something new to explore, it’s not like I would be bored. And if I stayed here, I could become a ‘True Londoner’.
No, I wouldn’t be bored, maybe I would know London better. But then I remember how much I got to experience in India, how I came to appreciate it, how I realised my experiences had given a whole new meaning to life and to my identity. I remember how much I loved spending my entire day speaking Spanish with ease while in Barcelona, how I felt when I’d gotten to know Tokyo enough to guide tourists to their destinations and I realise how that feeling can never be beaten. And then I think how crazy and stupid I was for even considering living in London for the rest of my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone who lives in one country for their whole lives is an idiot, I just know that is not me. I’ve always known this. But it really hit me when I was deciding on where to go to University. I was lucky enough to get into excellent universities in England, Scotland and the Netherlands. To stay in London or to go off to the Netherlands made me really pause in my thoughts. In so many ways, London is much more to my tastes, a massive, international city. The one in the Netherlands, is in a small city less an hour or so from Amsterdam.
When I had to make this decision in Barcelona, I was out with Gemma, my spanish aunty (more about her in my ‘Spanish is Barcelona’ post). We were walking out of a Carrefour and I asked her what she thought. She told me very clearly, “Knowing you, Yaska, you would regret it if you didn’t take the chance to live in a new country for three years.” She was so on point. Sure, I’d have a great time at a University in London but to immerse myself elsewhere for three years? Was there really any question? After Gemma’s remark, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. How had I even considered taking the less adventurous option? How?!
I hear what so many people are probably thinking: How unrealistic I am, this idealistic eighteen year old just doesn’t know about life yet. She’ll have to work. Where will she get the time and money to travel? She doesn’t realise that those travel bloggers and whatnots are an extremely lucky breed. It will all change when she meets someone. She’ll have a family and it will change. She can’t drag her kids all over, they’ll need stability. She’ll leave her fantasies behind sooner or later… I’m sure my like-minded peers have heard the same all too often.
Up until recently, I had so many researched and experience-backed counter-arguments in my head, so many spiteful retorts on the tip of my tongue, so many back-handed comments I wanted to make about how uncultured they were… But now, I realise that they aren’t entirely wrong. I am only an eighteen year old. What do I know? I highly doubt I will get to live in all the countries I want to, for the duration I want to or in the way I want to. I don’t know what will happen if I have children. Nothing about my future is carved in stone. But I do know that I will do all within my power to accomplish what I want and that I’m fortunate enough to have people who believe in me.
So I’ll end this article with two words: