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Dogs in diapers,
celebs in wax

I had heard of the famed British stiff upper lip but had never seen so many of them bunched and traveling together in absolute silence. They all wore black coats and a grim look, they all had thick newspapers in their hands and furrowed brows; they all looked scrubbed and groomed, not a hair out of place, not a word in edgeways.

The fuss began at the embassy; I was in a hurry to be in London, the visa officer had too much time, too many questions. So why was I leaving my husband behind to be with my childless aunt? Did I intend to come back?

"But my husband and my job are here," I said in exasperation.

That was not enough.

There were more questions.

Questions don't ruffle me, but I am no Job either. I bunched together all the lessons from my catechism classes, looked polite and added gently, "Look, I am trying to be as honest as I can, if you don't believe me, it is all right."

The lanky visa officer, looking awfully jaded and limp in the wood paneled room, stared back and said, "You know most dishonest people talk like this." In a rare show of thorough belligerence I retorted, "I don't really care for the visa, don't give me one" and barged out of the interview room.

Two hours later I walked home with my blue passport loaded with a British visa.

Three weeks later I was at the Heathrow airport, waiting for an absent-minded uncle and an aunt strapped to a wheelchair after her recent surgery.

But before my eye caught theirs, I was distracted. There was a woman - very curvaceous, very sexy girl, I must add - conversing on a phone, her back towards me. Her six-inch - fringes included - denim shorts covered just about three fourth of her chocolate brown posterior. I looked at my crumpled black pea coat, marl mittens, gray scarf and asked the mirror if I was the frumpiest of all. Perhaps.

It was winter, England was gray and gloomy. I was in Southampton for a week - the red berries and the yellow daffodils providing the only color on an otherwise dreary canvas. There was not much to do in that posh village but my room offered an interesting spectacle. Across the macadamized road lived an old lady, who had breakfast with her dog precisely at 8.45 am. She sat with her silverware while the dog wore a bib and slurped on marmalade. Twenty minutes later, the lady would take her dog out for a walk - she with a carved stick, he (the dog) in diapers. I cringed at the thought and the sight but was amazed at the old lady's diligence and poor dog's helplessness. Or, so I thought.

Very soon I got tired of looking at the daffodils, the diapered dog and the unending nights that ate up all evenings and twilight. So, with a friend and a bottle of water in tow, I took the tube to London.

I had heard of the famed British stiff upper lip but had never seen so many of them bunched and traveling together in absolute silence. They all wore black coats and a grim look, they all had thick newspapers in their hands and furrowed brows; they all looked scrubbed and groomed, not a hair out of place, not a word in edgeways. I was itching to talk but even my whispers seemed like loud cries. I too sat in silence, waiting for my station.

The Wax Museum was my first stop. Madame Tussaud's blurred reality with wax, in fact 2400 pounds of wax for 400 celebrities on display. Once inside, I could choose my momentary dates, I could take my pick - a dapper Elvis Presley, a menacing Muhammad Ali, a suave Prince Philip or a bejeweled Elizabeth Taylor. I settled for Shakespeare - too much literature has skewed my amorous tastes. While I remembered the sonnets, the old Chinese man hugged Joanna Lumley. The Absolutely Fabulous star is said to have the most hug appeal in Tussaud's Town, her jacket is the most cleaned piece of clothing in the entire exhibition.

By the time we were done with the Chamber of Horrors and a simulated guillotine, it was lunch time and we walked into the Hard Rock Café at 150, Old Park Lane. It was hip-hop music and loads of chatter and music. Like a startled child, I walked through the cloud of smoke and into the bar. A 1946 Harley Davidson motorcycle made specially for Hard Rock Café hung on the wall and the handsome bartender threw names at me- So, Lady what would you want? A Pińa Colada, Long Island Ice Tea, Shooters, Sex On The Beach or a Absolut Cran-a Kazi…Banzai?

I sat on the barstool, trying to get the facts right. Fuzzy in my math and semantics, I settled for water and looked around for the famed memorabilia - there was Janis Joplin's.black knit shawl that she wore for the cover of 1967 LP Cheap Thrills, U2's Adam Clayton's ivory Fender Telecaster bass guitar, black Gretsch drum kit customized by Mitch Mitchell for Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz's autographed black Gibson Flying V guitar which he had smashed during a performance at Birmingham National Exhibition Centre in 1994.

My friend chomped on pig sandwich and Cobb salad, while I inhaled the music and tapped my black shoes. Soon we were in front of the Buckingham Palace, the official residence of British sovereigns since 1837. The Palace, originally a townhouse, Buckingham House, was bought by George III his queen in 1761. It later served as a full-fledged maternity ward - 14 of his 15 children were born there! But when Queen Victoria took over the reins she thought the house was too small to entertain royalty and built a 122ft long, 60 ft wide and 45 ft high room, then the largest room in London.

Having seen forts, palaces and havelis in India, the Buckingham Palace looked too abstemious, too staid. Too boring, actually! I could imagine a queen in fuschia brocade gown, a shell pink bonnet, powder blue lacy bloomers walking out of the halls, Bible in hand, asking God to forgive all her maverick daughters-in-law and the sons who have strayed too far out of her GPS system. God should really save the Queen.

It was getting dark but my friend insisted that we sit by the Tower Bridge of London, once the only crossing over Thames. Tower Bridge went through a makeover in 1977 - from chocolate brown color to red, white and blue to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee. Perhaps the bridge was the prettiest thing I had seen in London - it took my breath away. They say, when built the Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule (it comes from French for see-saw) bridge in the world, for me it was jaw-dropping beautiful

I looked at the Thames and thought of the fuss at the British embassy in New Delhi. Leaning against the beautiful rails of Tower Bridge, I looked at the moon and forgave the visa officer - that moment it all seemed worth it.

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