(sequel to London Diary 4)
Next day early morning, we reach Kings Cross Pancreas International Railway station in London. While standing near a fresh organic smoothie counter I watch that they are also selling a special tea, ‘Mumbai Railway Chai’. I lean my red suitcase against the pram and go to the counter to buy one, Hermione is standing behind me and she taps my shoulder politely and explains that she is in a hurry and if she could skip the line, her Hogwart Express is leaving from platform 9 3/4 in just ten minutes. I let her in and watch her spiral hair almost touching my face, she buys three Mumbai Chais and rushes balancing them magically in the air (as a muggle am I allowed to see this?)
Srijit and Arul have gone ahead to check our platform number for our train to Paris. So, I take the pram and reach the entrance while sipping my masala chai. I had no clue that even in an international train station, there would be a security check-in where you have to remove your belt and shoes, exactly the same way as in an airport! Everything passes by except my red suitcase! A Chinese security officer is speaking to someone over a phone, “I have seen only one red suitcase, and I am going through it now”, he is reluctantly opening it, and going through my clothes, water colour boxes. I inform him my train is leaving in just 10 minutes, and ask him why my suitcase? He says, “Random checking” “Random?” I am furious! We rush upstairs, tug in our suitcases as the train leaves from London to PARIS in just 2 mins.
It’s a roughly three hours journey. When the train crosses the English Channel, it is dark outside and I can’t help wondering, the waves and sea animals lurking outside the tunnel. In another hour we reach Paris and take the metro to Gare de Lyon—a huge station, next to which is our hotel. After dumping our suitcases and freshening up on our 11th floor room, we relax and walk around the city and sit in a local cafeteria for a crepe (French dosa) and a coffee.
Next morning, we visit Eiffel Tower, a wonder built during 1889’s World Expo. It is 324 m high and when it was built, Gustav Eiffel had to bear a lot of criticism for it, particularly from the artists and writers of Paris, they called the Eiffel Tower useless and ugly. I sit there for a while with my sketchbook and pencil, sketching the landmark as both kids are busy eating ice creams and running around.
No, not a sign of any of the four men. Perhaps they too are in Paris in search of Van Gogh’s sunflower painting for his brother Theo, but they must be in one of the museums. I have to catch a train in a while, so there is absolutely no chance of bumping into them again. I have seen Louvre and Musee d’Orsay before and don’t plan to visit them this time. I shudder at the thought of Holmes’ cold eyes and his strong grip. We will take the TGV train back to Zurich in an hour and then travel to ITALY. Finally I have got rid of them.
London Diary 4
(sequel to diary 3)
After our early dinner at ‘Masala’, I am too spiced up and need a rest, so we take the metro and return back to our hotel. My mind cannot rest. Next day’s forecast is rain again, so we have planned to visit the National Gallery of Art at Leicester Square, am I becoming part of an investigation or perhaps a mystery trail?
Why did Poirrot and Haddock travel from Brussels to London? I heard that Mamta Banerjee is also in London now! Any link with Feluda’s visit?
Next morning, wearing a new plastic shoe so that I don’t have to walk barefoot again, we take the bus and reach Leicester Square. Arul is posing next to the huge lion’s monument, his father had posed for a photo in a similar spot when he was Arul’s age. We are doing a sequel and then we enter the famous National Gallery of Art from a backdoor entrance so that we can take the pram along.
After seeing several beautiful paintings, like Rembrandt’s portraits, Turner’s landscapes, infact 2500 paintings inside the gallery, we reach the much coveted Room nr. 45 where original Impressionist paintings are on display. Jeet is asleep in the pram, so, Arul and Srijit turn towards the cafeteria later, and suddenly I feel free with enough time to really enjoy the gallery.
When I reach the middle of room nr. 45, I feel I have entered a unique garden where people are behaving like honey bees, swarming in a room full of paintings of flowers, particularly buzzing with their phones and taking selfies around a particular one. Like a Spanish bull I make my way into the crowd and stand transfixed as I reach the yellow painting—in front of Van Gogh’s original Sunflower Painting, with its whitish yellow petals twirling round the canvas like an octopus trying to snare me and drag me into the canvas.
I feel choked and extract myself from the crowd. I am feeling overwhelmed. My eyes fall on the next painting, a pacifying huge canvas with a lily pond, Monet’s famous series. And then I see for a fleeting second, Paul Gaugin’s famous Tahiti women. I remember reading once that Van Gogh had created a series of Sunflower paintings, few of them were to decorate Paul Gaugin’s home in Paris.
“Excuse me, Miss”, someone holding a pipe is tapping my shoulder.
I turn back and see Sherlock Holmes looking at me with curious eyes. As if his eyes have an x-ray device.
“We meet again, let me get this straight, are you following me?”
I am too flabbergasted to respond, but exactly then someone comes to my rescue. Feluda is talking in Bangla over phone, standing behind Holmes, probably thinking that no one can understand him, “Hain, Hain, Paris jacchi, the last Sunflower Painting which Van Gogh painted in 1888 for his brother Theo, must be in Paris, we have some clue already”.
Holmes grabs hold of my hand, like a formal handshake not to arouse people’s curiosity and turns back towards Feluda, trying to stop him. I take that opportunity, jerk my hand free from his clasps and RUN.
I am running at full speed towards the cafeteria, pushing the pram and asking Srijit and Arul to follow. It is easier to convince, since this is an art gallery and Srijit is quite happy to leave.
Next morning we are leaving for Paris from Kings Cross Railway station, yes, our platform is next to Harry Potter’s platform with Hogwart Express. But we are heading for Paris and nowhere else. The metro comes, I look back, none of ‘them’ are there, the door closes, with a notice “mind the gap” and speeds out of the metro station.
London Diary 2
CONTD. (part 2)
The Cab driver is smiling as I am dragging in the half wet, RED suitcase from the bus stop into the black cab. Not lost - what luck! He dropped me back to the hotel. People in London are friendly and helpful. I remember the BUS DRIVER who drove us from Zurich to Brussels.
HE had a heavy French accent and reminded me of Captain Haddock (from Tin-Tin)—black matted beard, an oval face and a white cap. But that was in Brussels, where he dropped us (to take a different bus to London) and then disappeared in the early morning misty city of Brussels.
Our holiday in London has just started.
Srijit and I are a bit confused over our first touristic stop, ‘London Bridge’ or ‘Tower Bridge’? The receptionist at the hotel informs us with a fixed smile that ‘Tower Bridge’ is the famous one—which probably we want to visit. We take the metro, dragging the pram like a ‘palki’ and follow the red and green tubes and arrive at Tower Bridge. I hear a little girl singing “London Bridge is falling down, falling down….”, somewhere inside me and simultaneously playing ‘L-O-N-D-O-N Statue!’ with the metro commuters.
The enormous Tower Bridge built btwn. 1886-1894 is a bascule and suspension bridge. It stands next to the famous Tower which houses the jewels including the Indian “KOHINOOR”. The history of the Kohinoor goes back in history to more than 5000 years ago. The current name of the diamond, Koh-i-noor is in Persian and means “Mountain of Light”. The diamond was handed to Queen Victoria in July 1850. In 1852 the Queen decided to reshape the diamond and it was taken to a Dutch jeweller, Mr Cantor who cut it to 108.93 carats. Queen Victoria wore the diamond occasionally afterwards. She left in her will that the Koh-i-noor should only be worn by a female queen. If the head of state was a man, his wife would have to carry the diamond. After Queen Victoria’s death, the Kohinoor became part of the Crown Jewels. There is an old legend around this famous diamond:
“He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
I briefly look at the Tower guarding the jewel and turn my gaze back at Thames and the beautiful boulevard. For me that is the real jewel. Walking amidst tourists is like driving a car in a traffic jam, so we decide to take a ship cruise in the Thames.
From the ship, I can see SHAKESPEARE'S Globe theatre, built in 1599, and feel thrilled. I can’t help thinking about the Kohinoor next door and the drama Shakespeare could have written. The ship sways a bit to the right and that’s when I see HIM. A man—wearing a beige jacket, with black matted beard and a white cap—our eyes meet briefly.
A whisper escapes from my lips, a strange feeling mixed with de-ja-vu and a gut-feeling that it is not a mere coincidence, “Captain Haddock! Didn’t we leave you in Brussels?”
London Diary 1
RED booth. RED Bus. RED SUITCASE. Where is it now?
Arrived in London after crossing the English channel by bus and then by train. London was like a watercolour. Washed in water, pouring non-stop!
Pram, suitcase, dragging it up and down like a ‘palki’ through the metro, Srijit is muttering what have you taken in that red suitcase, cant you travel light? I tell him, I am a conditioned 'sherpa'.
Few Bangladeshis help us find the exit outside the metro, but where is the hotel? A black cab comes to our rescue. Dripping from head to toe, we realise all of us are in the cab, except the the RED suitcase! We arrive at the hotel, and then the cab driver and I immediately start for the bus stop, he tells me once he had lost his suitcase in a Sicilian bus stop during a holiday, but he got it back. He is trying to pacify me. I am calculating in my mind, what did I pack in the red suitcase? Fancy tops and skirts none of which I can wear in this dripping weather (alas!) and painting copies and colour boxes (I dare not tell my husband that I was carrying all this ‘nonsense’ stuff), the other suitcase which safely reached hotel was basically half full of pampers. I see something red, something bulky, but there are some people in the bus stop, my heart is fluttering, will I lose it? Or shall I paint the town red? Oh my red suitcase!
To be continued.
London Diary 3
Next stop was ours, so we left the ship at Westminster stop and I lost sight of Captain Haddock. Walking alongside Thames, we viewed Big Ben as the clock struck 11:30 and kept walking towards Buckingham Palace in the highly crowded street. By stroke of luck, although we were late we were just on time for the last ‘change of guards’ in front of Buckingham Palace. From there, we kept walking, crossed Hyde Park and reached Oxford Street by foot. My new shoes were pinching so much, that I decide to walk bare foot in Oxford Street, in total bohemian style. We crossed East India tea shop, HMV, Hamleys toy shop, GAP and then after consulting ‘Lonely Planet’, took an inside turn and reached the famous SOHO area with petite houses and cafeterias and finally found what we were looking for—an Indian Restaurant ‘Masala’. After ordering our food, on my way back from the wash room, I noticed a shaded area in the corner where a beige jacket and a white cap was hanging from a chair. Out of curiosity I walked softly around that corner and what I saw made my jaws drop—Haddock was sitting with Sherlock Holmes, Hercules Poirrot and Prodosh Chandra Mitra urf Feluda and Feluda was trying to explain the Indian menu card to them! I went closer and dropped down to adjust my shoes buckle (I was no longer barefoot) and heard Holmes say in a soft voice to the group, “Tomorrow, National Gallery, where Van Gogh’s original Sunflower painting is hanging, next to it…”
“Madam, can I help you?” A waitress came right at that moment and stood next to me, looking concerned. 'They' stop talking immediately and from the corner of my eyes, I saw Holmes turning his head towards me.
Gripped with an uncomfortable feeling, I quickly stood up, nodded towards the waitress and rushed towards where Srijit and the kids were sitting, limping slightly in my tight shoes...
(Sequel to London, Paris diary, LAST in the series)
After a week of sun, beach, pizza, antipasti and gelati in Italy we finally reached home today.
I met Him in Trieste.
In the border of Slovenia and Adriatic Sea there is this beautiful sea port called Trieste. While walking along the port, we (Srijit, kids and me) reached Habsburg palace and that is where I decided to sit down and flip through the book which I was carrying in my bag ‘36 hours in different cities’. I turned to the page describing the city Trieste and started reading.
Srijit and both kids decided to go for an ice cream.
Suddenly, a shadow covered the page I was reading, for a moment I felt relieved in that shade. Then I looked up with a fright.
It was Holmes and Feluda, standing infront of me.
“So you were reading about Trieste?”, Holmes said calmly.
“Yes, but how come you are here? How did you know I would come here? I thought I left you in London, or was it Paris?”, I said in a dry voice, wishing I too had gone for an icecream.
Holmes sat down next to me in the bench and smiled. It was a warm smile. Surprisingly.
“Did you know James Joyce lived in this beautiful city of Trieste? Yes, the famous Irish writer who wrote Ullysses. Mr. Mitra and I were just walking down from his museum and while crossing the Piazza saw you, sitting in this bench reading the red book, naturally we couldn’t help coming and saying hello to you, bella.”
I smiled. Somehow I was understanding that they are perhaps a shadow, perhaps their origin is my own mind, my own fantasy, my own imagination. How else could I explain what was happening ?
Holmes said, “Yes, Brinda, it is your RED suitcase which you lost in the London bus stop, that is where our story started……. it was left unattended for 15 minutes and that is when, We four entered the suitcase and booked our rooms inside this very red book in four pages, this book which you were carrying in the red suitcase”.
“You see, Poirrot, Feluda, Haddock and I, all four of us are retired now, we have enough time, so we hop from one reader’s suitcase to another's and backpack in different cities. Thanks to you, we have now visited London, Paris, Zurich, Jesolo and Trieste, all in just two weeks”.
“And I must apologise, because of US, your red suitcase got an alert at Kings Cross station security check, the machine had perhaps picked up some trails of us” and Holmes smiled apologetically.
He was looking more and more human. Was I hallucinating?
Again his clear voice broke the silence, as he said, “Do take us with you, to Zurich, where James Joyce spent several years. I promise, we will find another red suitcase and another interesting artist or writer’s mystery to work on!”
I smiled and closed my book.
Today morning, I carefully packed the book inside my red suitcase and while checking out of the hotel in Italy, I took extra care to load the suitcase into our car first. Afterall, four dignitaries were sitting inside.
After almost eight hours of drive through Italy and beautiful Switzerland, we finally reached home today.
Srijit, me, kids and Sherlock Holmes, Feluda, Poirrot and Haddock.
We had a lovely trip across five countries in two weeks.
Adieu, Poslovite, Bye, Ciao, Au revoir my dear readers, thank you for reading my series !
This fiction was written as a travelogue when I was on vacation with my family in London, Paris and Italy in the Summer of 2015. Partly based on real events.
It was written as '1 post' each day in Facebook.