Vartanama, Jul '17
Four taxi and two private car trips, five bus trips, as many train rides (above and below ground) and six flights – in all I undertook 22 point-to-point journeys on a recent work and holiday trip to UK – all this in 11 days.
The start and end points being Kolkata, the stops en route were Delhi, London, Loughborough, London again, Edinburgh, Dundee and then again Edinburgh, London and Mumbai on the way back. This is not to count all the walking around and moving on escalators and travellators in airports, railway stations and outdoors; or for that matter more journeys by car, bus and train for local conveyance to work and sightseeing. If this makes you a tad dizzy, I wouldn’t be surprised.
This was possibly the longest trip I ever undertook for work, love, friendship, family visits and sightseeing. On the up journey, it possibly was also the heaviest trip going by my own weight and of the three luggage items I had. No more math for now, but there’s a reason why they call it ‘luggage’ – you realize it when you have to lug it around across time zones (physically, and also mentally when you are in a flight and wondering if the luggage will also arrive with you).
As I half-tripped and stumbled across tall and pacy escalators while managing the luggage in London, I also discovered (or reconfirmed?) my candidature for vertigo. But there were also the options of elevators and stairs every time (well, almost every time) I found the prospect of an escalator too daunting. On the whole though, for the amount of journeying I did (averaging two trips a day, if I can relapse into the math), it was super. There was the occasional ‘look’ and hint of a brusque response I got which foreigners might receive. I also lost my way twice briefly during the trip, but then it was all about keeping calm, asking around, worshipping the Wi-Fi, and carrying on.
All credit to my hosts – the Loughborough University, who invited me to a social research conference on behalf of Varta Trust (to explore the possibilities of digital media-based sexual health promotion and other ideas). Big thanks to my colleagues, old and new friends, including Billi, the cat, and relatives for the hearty meals and a place to stay and rest. And then the warmest hugs to my partner as he motivated me to stay the course to the ‘far north’ and back.
View of a street in Dundee with wheelchair access facilities.
About the research, there will hopefully be future articles on this webzine. About the time spent with all the people I met, on the places I visited, and on the sights I drunk in with my eyes, I have been steadily flooding the Facebook and Instagram feeds. But there were two other key words that were special to this journey – ‘access’ and ‘history’.
Access can mean many things, but in the context of this writing on travel and movement, I mean the ease of access to spaces and freedom of mobility. The accompanying photographs are just two examples (one from Dundee and another from St. Andrews) of the thought and attention to care for the disabled, the aged and, in fact, the principle of universal design for anyone who uses the facilities shown. In London, one can find out in advance which stations of the Underground (their metro railway) have wheelchair access.
I saw more of the same thoughtfulness when I visited an old relative in a retirement home in London. There would have been some personal expenses involved in using the facility, but the major responsibility was that of the local council – not just in merely providing various services for the elderly, but also in attention to detail and quality standards. The matter of separate floors in the home for whites and others I could not find out more about. But with the struggles around the new disability rights legislation in India in mind, what seemed stark to me was the need for commitment to dignity of life, especially by the State. Lack of resources can’t be an excuse for lack of political and social will.
View of a golf course in St. Andrews with easy access pathways. St. Andrews is reputed for its golfing tradition,
university, medieval castles preserved as museums, and sandy beaches along the North Sea coast.
On the matter of history, a visit to the highest point in Dundee, the Law, was special. The Law (which means ‘hill’ in Scots language) is essentially a 500-feet high mound formed by an extinct volcano, and has a war memorial on the top. Not only were the evening view from the Law and the strong cool wind breathtaking (see main photograph), the conversation that followed with my hosts would remain memorable for a long time.
Here I learnt that Dundee was the largest jute manufacturing centre in the world till the early 20th century, largely dependent on raw jute supplied by Bengal. It was later overtaken by Calcutta in jute manufacturing, but even till the 1970s, most of the jute mills in Bengal were supposed to have been overseen and managed by people from Dundee. Jute, in fact, was one of the three J’s that Dundee used to be famous for, the other two being jam and journalism (which also happen to be personal likes).
With this historical connect, it was both funny and strange that here were three people from Bengal chatting away (in Bengali and English) and scripting a micro history of their own on top of the Law. Of the three, one would have been just born when the Dundee-Bengal connection withered away, and two would be born decades later. Today, one of them, researching in life sciences in Dundee since three years; another, a recent arrival and also a life sciences researcher; and the third, a traveller in (re)search of that moment in time when he would have checked in for good.
About the main photo: An evening view of Dundee city in Scotland from the Law, a hill formed by an extinct volcano and also the highest point of the city. In the background is the estuary formed by Tay River, across which can be seen the Tay Road Bridge connecting Dundee to Fife on the far side (all photo credits: Pawan Dhall).