A City Run by Machines
London is a Mecca for non–resident Indians. I was returning from a night club Hippodrome in Piccadilly, on a Sunday morning in October, at 3:30 AM. I boarded a bus for Finchley Central to go to Fitzalan Road. After getting off the bus, I had to walk about half a kilometer. One side of Fitzalan Road was lined with bungalows and on the opposite side, there was a huge open ground covered with green grass. I used to walk home along a footpath situated on this huge field. I was scared that night. Th e moment I took a step, a bulb of a roadside lamp lit up. I was alarmed and started running. But the automatic switching off and on of the lamp posts continued. Whichever lamp post I neared, its lamp would light up and the moment I passed it by, it would switch off and the next lamp would light up. I was sweating profusely even in the cold.
Hiding my face between my knees I sat behind a roadside bench. In the morning, around six o’clock, when I saw a milkman, I called him and requested him to accompany me to my home. He used to deliver bottled milk to our home. When he heard the incident, he was in stitches. He told me that those lamp posts were automated. When a shadow fell on them, the bulbs lit up for a set time limit and they switched off again once the shadow was gone. London is a city of such automated things, automated society and automated people. Once, at midnight, I was hungry and went down to the kitchen to look for something to eat, when a security alarm went off. Within fifteen minutes, Scotland Yard had surrounded my house. In London, if you turn on a switch and someone moves anywhere in your house except in the bedrooms, your house address flashes on the screen of the nearest police station and the alarm starts ringing. This switch is positioned outside the master bedroom. People switch it on before going to bed and switch it off in the morning. If anyone tries to break into the house, the police are automatically informed. Such is the city situated on the banks of the Thames.
Tourists and non–resident Indians have such experiences quite frequently. Such incidents benefit some and harm the others. Another time, when I was in London, plague was rampant in Surat, India. All the British airline companies had cancelled their flights to India. I was walking towards Piccadilly Road from Hotel Savoy. I was late for an appointment. The Aeroflot headquarters was on my way. I heard someone calling, ‘Sundeep! Aren’t you Sundeep?’ Turning around, I saw the editors of a Kolkata newspaper Jan Sansaar, Geetesh Sharma and Kusum Jain. We were delighted to have bumped into each other, so far away from home. Geetesh looked anxious. His flight to Kolkata had been cancelled and they weren’t certain when the next flight would be scheduled. The Aeroflot employees were unable to help them. The only solution the manager gave was that Geetesh could wait there till the air services resumed or take a flight to Bangkok or Kathmandu. But Geetesh didn’t agree with any of these options and there was no other way out. I left for my appointment. Geetesh was hurt because I hadn’t offered to take him out for tea. But I couldn’t help it. Besides, I had to reach in time for the appointment. Nevertheless, I gave him my contact number.