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LONDON - 3(Concluded)

In the last two posts I talked mostly about the positives of London – in this one I talk about the negatives. However, I would like to put in a disclaimer that none of these negatives imply that London is not a good city. London is indeed a great city to live in – these are just some of the things that can be improved.

First and foremost – London is dirty as compared to (some) other European cities. In some parts it is as dirty as Bombay and given the population load (which though is large, is lesser than Bombay) this isn't an expected trait! In fact, before coming to London one of my expectations from the ‘London experience’ was to live in a clean city – to my disappointment my expectation hasn’t been met. [I grew up in Bhopal which was much cleaner than Bombay if not spot clean!]

The next is the reliability of transport network; while London might have one of the best public transport networks – the reliability of this network is pretty poor - frequent disruptions, unplanned delays on tube networks, and traffic jams on highways.

While I would discount road traffic problems considering that London is an old city, the unreliability of the train network is unpardonable. This is one area where London needs to learn from Bombay. The train transport in Bombay is crowded, the network is not so dense (actually being a ‘linear’ island city Bombay does not need a ‘dense network’), but is extremely reliable.

In London, almost everyday at least one of the lines is experiencing significant delays due to signal failures or some other problems. Compare that to Bombay which had trains running within a few hours of experiencing five bomb blasts on the rails! While delays and disruptions are properly communicated to people through a plethora of channels, that cannot be an excuse. Considering that London Transport is a expensive (compared even to say Geneva), the trains ought to be more reliable than what they are!

A related point is that London as a city is a bit unprepared for emergencies & disruptions; not just the trains or transport but more so the people are not so resilient – especially in comparison to Bombay :-).

Another woe is that maintenance of infrastructure isn't very great. The infrastructure itself is excellent, but being built over past so many years, it requires a lot of maintenance especially given population load. This is another area which the city authorities need to work upon.

Also, the infrastructure is old – some tubes coaches date back to 1974 – unlike India where most newly built infra of the same standards would be fresh. As Arul put it the other day, the philosophy in India is to replace old with new, here it is more to incrementally upgrade. Clearly India enjoys some benefits being a developing economy with a huge population (hence high consumption and demand in markets).

The next point I make might look a bit ironical. London is a big city, which makes it slightly uncomfortable as compared to other western cities like Geneva. Long distances mean long travelling hours; large population means crowded trains/ buses (sometimes the tubes are as crowded as Mumbai local trains).

But on the other hand, in some senses London is more like a small city. When you talk about scale – I would rather relate it to Bombay (or even better Delhi) than London. I think the high population in India makes the planners mostly plan their projects on a very large scale – while here in London (I feel) growth is more incremental – step by step; guess that works better for London!

Finally, the one rant that every Indian/ Asian would have! Cultural issues which mostly means – Food! One might also experience subdued racial behaviour in some cases, but that should rather be considered an exception than a rule. But when you talk of food – for Asians there is no better place than homeland.

Having said that, London is probably better than any other city outside Asia in terms of Asian food most supermarkets are stuffed with raw material used for Asian cuisine, a lot of packaged and semi-processed Asian/Indian food is also available – Maggi, Dosa Mix, Gulabjamun mix … the list goes on. Yet, the Indian food here lacks the authentic taste of India – the vegetables aren’t as tasty as back home, neither are the masalas (spices).

To close out I must repeat that London has been a great experience; it’s been a wonderful 6 months. In terms of work, I learnt a lot, the work life balance has been great - I could spend a lot of time reading books, blogs and watching TV documentaries. This blog has seen me becoming much regular and frequent (I wonder whether I can continue this pace or attention once in India). But the best part has been interacting with so many diverse people and getting exposed to so many new things.

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