Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Note to End the Year

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now–As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It, by Craig Taylor.
I will pick up any book that begins with a quote from Invisible Cities.

The perfect autobiography of a modern city narrated by its residents, of all manner and persuasion. This book is such a delight to read. All the sounds and the voices, all the commotion and the activity of a city have been captured in a book. In the tradition of oral histories, men, women, immigrants and natives talk about their lives– they rant and they praise. The one thing central to their stories is London. The cast of characters and the narrative that swells with each new chapter is a good representation of the ever changing and ever chaotic nature of modern cities– the reason for 'their instant magnetism' (in Jean Baudrillard's words).

But what makes the book riveting, and pertinent for even those who do not reside in London, is that it is a book about people. They may appear to the world as the street sweeper, the investment banker, the taxi driver, the manicurist, the teacher, the mother or simply the voice on the Underground (subway train) but behind each of these impersonal categories lies a human being. Each and every one of them has a unique experience of life, and they have opinions and ideas too. Something that a world so caught up in defining and refining the differences between "us" and "them" often chooses to disregard. People don't fit or stay within neatly demarcated categories and neither is any one person representative of anything other than herself (or himself).

Every city should have such a book dedicated to it. But for that every city would need someone like Craig Taylor, someone who can make people from such diverse walks of life open up and talk. More importantly someone who is willing to listen. If we too would sometimes stop and listen to people, and not judge them by our preconceived notions or hold them hostages to the job they do, maybe we wouldn't need to "learn to be empathetic". It is a notion worth considering.

I had decided to save the best for last. This book, the people in it and the thoughts that stay with you even months after you have read it are a blueprint (if not the blueprint) for finding a way out of the miasma generated by the shrill noise and harshness that surrounds us. A world where differences of ideas, opinions, and even belief is no longer a matter for debate, but worthy of final judgements– often the judgement being that the one who differs from us has a lesser (or no) right to exist.*

Perhaps we all need to take a deep breath and repeat once a day, “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.**” A calming, humbling and inspiring note to end the year.

An interesting question posed by the book is who is a Londoner? For how long does one need to live in a place to feel one belongs there? Craig Taylor himself is a Canadian living in London. I'd say if you are able to name the Tube lines represented by the colour bands on the cover then you are a Londoner, no matter where you maybe living now.

Afterthoughts on Book: Part 17
*Acknowledging that 6 billion people will not think and feel the same way about everything on this earth doesn't mean every little thing is up for debate. But it is worth considering that we choose not to engage with people with differing opinions and dismiss large populations as ignorant and intolerant. But what does that make us?
**Carl Sagan, Cosmos

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