London and Me: A Mini Memoir
By utnvher, on 4 March 2019
Soumya Vats, India (Literary London, UCL Summer School 2018)
“In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar;
the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging;
brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high
singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of
June.” — Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
My decision to study at the UCL Summer School was a well-informed one. I put a
month’s worth of research about faculty, curriculum and location in and made what was
perhaps my best academic decision so far. Months later, I can safely state that it is
an investment that never stopped giving.
The cosmopolitanism of London and the program itself didn’t hit me until I was in a
team with students from Chile, India, Hong Kong and Australia, competing in a quiz on
the British culture. As the young representatives of these great cultures huddled
together to figure out whether Fish n Chips or Kebabs was the preferred British junk
food, we sparked connections where we least expected them, and more importantly won
a colour-changing mug. It remains, to this day, a treasured souvenir.
There is an undeniable air of endless possibility that hangs above every new interaction in this city
of dreams. In a way, you want to decipher the story behind each person, identify what
led them to the same place and see if maybe there is a similarity in your journeys there.
London, for me, was defined by the people it so graciously introduced me to. For every
confusion-filled ride in the tube, there was a street musician making the journey more
melodious, each deadline was accompanied by support from the instructors and
midnight cravings for ice cream were shared with other ravenous souls from the dorm. A
quest to the grocery store would ensue in the latter. It’s in these little adventures that
nestled into our routine for three weeks that we tasted the true essence of studying
abroad. As a person who has only ever lived (and studied) in one part of the world, living
alone came with more independence than inconvenience. A usually socially anxious
creature, I expected to mould myself to fit in with the crowd. Fortunately, this summer
taught me to appreciate the individuals in the crowd, and become one I could openly
cherish as well.
I’d like to think of my trip as a memoir of a million micro trips. Months later, I
remember the steps from my accommodation to class, daily walks around Tavistock
Square with newly found friends and class trips where we traced the lines of literature
through architecture. Swift and Blake whispered the deep, dark secrets of London’s
streets in our ears as Keats and Hardy redefined its history and Doyle added a pinch of
mystery to this delightfully exotic dish. We experienced the city through the eyes of
some of the greatest literary minds and the more we read, the more we became
characters in one of the several tales the city holds safe.
For there is so much the city offers and not enough time to soak up its opportunities,
just when I had decidedly gotten a hold of how the Oyster card worked, it was time to go
home. In an attempt to organise my thoughts the only way I know how to, I scribbled
them as a Ghazal. This old form of poetry normally used as an ode to love and sorrow
may well encapsulate my short-lived (and yet unforgettable) relationship with the city.
October record stuck on a reminiscent classic
The European Summer, still neat in those memories
Bloomsbury, look fondly upon your foster child
She hides a map of every street in those memories
They called me caramel frosted beige
My colour was not just wheat in those memories
Open container laws and cheap beer wrote
An ode about dancing sore feet in those memories
When the tube dissolved into metro
Nostalgia found no option for ‘Repeat’ in those memories
Three weeks couldn’t stretch to three years
But London and I still meet in those memories.
I remember thinking about Virginia Woolf’s London every time I passed the Woolf &
Whistle (her former-home-turned-cafe)- how the city overwhelmed her and pushed her
comfort zone to the extremes, and yet became so much a part of her being that when
away, she always found her way back, if not physically then through her words. Now,
when I look back to my little time there, I can’t deny, I understand how.
For information on the 2019 UCL Summer School please visit our website.
For more information on the Literary London please visit the module page.