Season's flavours

An amazing English summer is now turning bleak

By The Thin EdgeRuchir Joshi
  • Published 14.08.18
  •  
North Devon, England, August 2018

Well before it starts, two different sets of friends tell me they have tickets for two different days of the Lord's Test. This puts me in a bad mood. Why couldn't they have thought of asking me if I also wanted to buy a ticket at an extortionate 40 pounds? In London, I watch the first Test on TV surrounded by hot sunlight, wondering if the British security services had managed to get the Americans to use their HAARP technology to tweak the weather over Birmingham. The ball swings, our batting fails except for VK in the first innings, and we lose by not a huge margin. Ah, well, no doubt Team India will come back strongly at Lord's, what a pity about that ticket I don't have.

The record-breaking summer continues unabated, the grass and flowers crisping up in all the parks. People on the streets are now carrying all sorts of strange water-bottles, made of steel, of aluminium, with a filter inside so you can fill up at any tap, super-insulated to keep the water cold and so on and so forth. I myself keep things simple with a trick someone has taught me: take a plastic bottle of one of the famous water brands and keep re-using it; fill the bottle with filtered water but not fully; put it in the freezer an hour before leaving the house; when leaving take out the bottle which has now frozen solid (the empty space now filled with the expansion of ice) and put it in a plastic shopping bag to contain the condensation before popping it into the backpack; keep sipping the icy water across the day as it melts.

During this elongated heatwave, the London transport system comes under heavy pressure. The double-decker buses are like hot tiffin boxes, many of the underground lines are not air-conditioned and become oven-like, the overground trains are the best, when their signals are not failing they actually have proper air-con so the 20 or 30 minutes you spend curving around the city's northern periphery are actually quite pleasant. In this kind of weather, in certain parts of the city, you can almost fool yourself you are back home: in North Finchley and East Ham, desi people are wandering around in kurtas, veshtis, salwar kameez, saris and even in dhotis. African people are also in their loose clothes and bright colours. And then there is the overlap between Sylheti and Somalian, where the women are in full burkha, sometimes woollen, even in this heat, walking behind their men who are wearing thin shirts or singlets.

At some point on the high street at East Ham you realize you're not in India but in a micro-version of some secularist fantasy of desh. There on the corner is a huge, gaudy Mahalakshmi temple, once an old bank building perhaps but now complete with gilded windows and temple-like concrete curlicues. Across the road is a mosque, again in an old Edwardian terrace. A few houses down is a Sai Baba establishment and next to it, cheek by jowl, a madrasa. Inserted between all these are establishments that allow you a different kind of worship: Udupi restaurant, Veg Dosa centre, Kerala Cuisine palace, north Indian chaat kiosk and so on. It is Sunday and on the corner between a mosque and temple stands a group of men and women with a guy rocking an electric powered loud-hailer, informing us in a thick Malayali accent that Christ died for our sins. A little further down the bus route, this collection is completed by a family of Orthodox Jews - father, mother and four children of diminishing size - trooping down the road fully covered in black, sweat curving down the ringlets that hang from under the man's hat.

The news tells us that certain kinds of sharks are now being seen for the first time in the seas around Britain, warm-water creatures which normally don't come this far north. In local politics, old and well-known Tory sharks are circling around Theresa May while Jeremy Corbyn is being nibbled at by Labourite piranhas. Madame May is, of course, trapped in the Brexit quicksand, neither in nor out, trying to lie flat so as not to be sucked under before help arrives, though where that help might come from is unclear. Corbyn, despite having a long record of standing up to the openly anti-semitic English fascists, is now being labelled an anti-semite himself. Jezza, as he is affectionately called, hasn't covered himself in the confetti of wisdom, having previously shared stages with Hamas and other jihadi types that want the destruction of Israel, but the new definition of 'anti-semite' being touted is equally unwise and patently absurd, including, as it does, the clause that you can in no way be critical of the State of Israel or its government. Also, despite being offered an open goal by the Tories on Brexit, Comrade Jeremy is unwilling to kick the ball in, unwilling to say he backs a new referendum and a possible 'Breverse' which would keep Britain in the EU. Why? Because JC apparently believes the EU is an anti-worker conspiracy of capitalists and yes, Brexit may actually be a good thing. In the middle of all this, Boris Johnson, possibly the most reviled politician in Britain after Michael Gove, adds tinder sticks to the fire by writing that women who wear the burkha look like "letter-boxes" and "bank robbers".

As the first day of the Lord's Test comes around, so does the HAARP theory - surely this sudden, torrential rain cannot be a coincidence? Play begins on the second day and we all know what happens: Team India are rolled over in just under three days of play, in the shortest completed Test at Lord's since 1888, the whole match taking just 1023 balls and both Indian innings, in total, not lasting beyond 90 overs. This, however, is not the most dismaying news of the week.

Back in the land where the killer buses roam free, Sheikh Hasina decides she's going to barge into the Boys Club of Megalomaniacs and give Messrs Putin, Erdogan, Modi and Duterte a run for their money; she decides that she too can brazenly make critics of her regime vanish. Like the aforementioned gentlemen and Messrs Netanyahu and Orbán, she too decides to show the world she gives a fig for democratic principles and world opinion. What has till now been an amazing summer is now turning bleak despite the quick return of the sunny weather. However, despite all the bad news, there is hope. Outside the Bangladesh High Commission in Kensington, a small crowd of about 30 people gathers to protest the arrest of Shahidul Alam. Two women with beautiful, strong voices start to sing an old protest anthem: " Purba digantey shurjo uthechhey, rakta lal, rakta lal, rakta lal, Jowaar eshechhey, jana samudrey, rakta lal, rakta lal, rakta lal..."