British people love summer. All through the damp chilliness of autumn, the cold, dark winters, and the vagaries of spring - which can range from frequent showers to the odd hailstorm (and with the advent of climate change, even one or two flash-floods) - they long for summer with an intensity that borders on the obsessive. In truth, summer is associated with all things delightful - family barbecues, holidays, strawberries, picnics, parties and lawn tennis at Wimbledon!
By contrast, we Bangalis have a rather less worshipful relationship to sunshine - partly because we take it for granted, and partly because we associate it with heat and humidity. After living in Europe, I have learned to appreciate the sun much more than I did in Bangladesh. So like the sun-deprived locals, I too joyfully greet the arrival of summer…
But I have to admit, that even with a far greater appreciation of how wonderful sunshine is, my capacity to remain enthralled by the European summer remains severely limited. After the first couple of days, when the heat (and occasionally, humidity) really kicks in - without the benefit of in-house air-conditioners! - I quickly become disenchanted. Until recently, I thought that this "summer-weariness" was peculiar to me, though I should clarify that this weariness mainly refers to the heat. The increased sunlight continues to thrill me after what has invariably been a dark and depressing winter - because unlike Europeans, I do not have a high tolerance threshold for cold or snow!
Interestingly, however, I have also come to realise that the Brits' relationship to summer is not as straightforward as I had thought. The revelation came to me to during a bus-ride. It was mid-morning, and true to London's multicultural reputation, the bus was two-thirds full of people of every colour imaginable! Initially, I sat down in front of an older Indian woman, wearing a shalwar kameez, who smiled at me pleasantly. After a couple of stops, a much younger woman got up to leave the bus. To my surprise, she turned to the Indian woman and said, in a harsh tone, "The next time you walk past someone, you have to say "excuse me"! You didn't say that to me when you went past me." I realised that she was referring to an earlier encounter of some kind. The woman continued, "You are very rude! This is England, this is a civilised country! This is not India - you can't behave like that here!"
To be quite honest, I was shocked by her behaviour. The Indian woman, meanwhile also appeared taken aback, and had already apologised a couple of times saying, "Sorry, sorry." I couldn't understand why the fact that she had not said "excuse me" to this other woman was a cause for such drama, and toyed briefly with the idea of saying to this warm and that, contrary to her assertion, it did not seem to be a particularly civilised country, since people like her were making pointless scenes on buses!
However, good sense (for a change) prevailing, I stayed quiet. I did however look across at the Indian woman, and say to her, "You should just ignore her. She was very rude!" To my surprise, the rather strict-looking Arab woman wearing hijab, who had been sitting next to me silently for some time, suddenly spoke up as well, "Yes, you did the right thing to ignore her! She is a stupid woman - big cow!" By that time, the object of our remarks was long-gone, but the Indian lady looked grateful to have received this much-needed affirmation.
Nor was that the only altercation. Within 10 minutes, the bus driver got into an argument with a young woman who had come on board carrying some rather heavy- looking bags. A good five minutes after she had sat down, at the next bus stop, the driver suddenly asked her to show him her bus ticket. The young woman became quite aggravated, "What were you doing all this time? I showed you my bus ticket when I got on - at the last stop! If you have a problem with my ticket, why didn't you ask me to show you then? No, I am not going to get up now!" And with that, she sat firm.
The driver was no less stubborn. He switched off the engine and waited. The rest of us, as innocent bystanders, became agitated about the possibility of a further delay. A few of the passengers tried to reason with the driver, but he was firm in his refusal to take the bus another inch without verifying that the lady's ticket was valid. Some of the other passengers beseeched the lady to show the bus driver her ticket. No, she insisted, she was not going to get up and show him the ticket again!
We appeared to have reached a deadlock, and I was starting to have déjà vu of Bangladeshi intransigence. Then one bright spark among the passengers suddenly said to the lady, "Give me your ticket and I will take it and show the bus driver." Fortunately, her self-respect remained intact at the prospect, and she let him take the ticket. He then walked the length of the bus to the bus driver, and showed him the ticket to verify that it was indeed valid. And then, to everyone's immense relief, the bus started again.
But just as we settled down to enjoy the rest of our ride in much-anticipated peace and quiet, another squabble reared its ugly head. This time it was the turn of the elderly Caribbean gentleman sitting in front, who began muttering rudely about the driver's professional abilities. Unfortunately, whether as a result of alcohol, deafness or truculence, his "muttering" was at a rather loud volume! Unsurprisingly, the Hispanic bus-driver became quite annoyed, and told him to be quiet. This did not go down well with the elderly gentleman who got up and started to wave his walking stick around menacingly.
By this time, most other passengers were struck dumb with horror at the prospect of yet another argument, and given the preponderance of mad people on this bus I was trying to figure out how I could look sufficiently crazy to ensure that no one would want to sit next to me. Fortunately, the bus driver had the sense to say, "I am going to show respect to your age, and not engage in this ridiculous argument with you", to which the elderly gentleman weaved his cane around even more menacingly and said, "No, you had better not! I know what to do!" A tense silence prevailed among the passengers, while the elderly gentleman continued to mutter to himself, albeit at a marginally lower volume…
A collective sigh of relief emerged at the elderly gentleman's departure, two stops later. Meanwhile, I could not help thinking to myself that perhaps despite the universal and loud exclamations of joy that had greeted the arrival of a hot summer, Brits were no less prone to hotheadedness as a result of rising temperatures than their notoriously excitable Bangladeshi counterparts!
(R) thedailystar.net 2005