In effect, this is what our London friends had said at the start of the year: “We’re not available.” Family in Ol’ Blighty took to ducking calls and went underground, failing to respond to emails, conspicuously absent from Facebook, and no longer on Skype. “Never mind,” said my determined wife, “there’s enough people I know in New Delhi who have apartments in London” — and even though they’d set camp there for longer than usual this summer, they seemed just as disinclined to entertain the natives, whether acquaintances or cousins.
Looking mournfully at her 10-year visa in between watching Kate Middleton and her sister Pippa attending Wimbledon on television, upset about her absence from the marquee, critical about the homegrown strawberries and runny cream, my wife decided she had to be in London for at least the Olympics, though her attempts to secure accommodation had not succeeded this far. Not that she confessed to an interest in the games. “A circus,” she’d shuddered, when associates reported they were likely to be there for the Olympics fortnight, “it’ll be awful, dear,” appropriating a demeanour that might have been suitable for the Queen, but bordered on the ridiculous for a middle-aged housewife in Delhi.
She’d leafed through her address book and knocked on every third cousin’s door, but London’s denizenry remained unmoved. They’d rather not have visitors, period, but during the Olympics they were even more staunchly resistant. There was no room – not at the family inn, nor at the friendly neighbour’s – and neither rehearsed parochialism nor induced nostalgia was going to change anything. With work on my mind, the ugly inevitable – a meeting in London during the maelstrom of the games – seemed particularly ill-omened and, in the interest of peace at home, was quietly cancelled in favour of a conference-call.
But if she couldn’t find complimentary board and lodging, my wife said, she’d pay her way, but go she would. I checked for airline tickets, but even when a seat did become available, it was clearly unaffordable. Hotel prices had shot through the roof, pensiones were fully booked up, and when the travel agent shared the rental for a service apartment with her, my wife rudely suggested she was looking to hire, not buy, a piece of London real-estate.
In the face of increasing evidence that she’d probably end up viewing the Olympics – just as she had Wimbledon – on television, my wife let it nevertheless be known that she was “definitely” headed for London. If the children or I thought to ask, we were checked by her formidable disposition — far better to keep our silence and stew in our curiosity than be told to mind our business. She asked about the weather, shook out bags, aired her wardrobe and even bought some new clothes, all in preparation for her London “visit”. She cribbed about the prices in London, checked on the exchange rate, asked around for best places for an English high-tea, appearing every bit the outbound traveller. Only we knew she had neither flight nor hotel booking.
Hoping to unravel the mystery and seizing the opportunity on a morning when she appeared in a rare, benign mood, I immediately caused an upset again. “If I can’t be in London,” she shouted, “London will come to me” — a puzzle that was explained when it turned out that, for the duration of the games, she was fleeing the city for her friends to assume she was in salubrious London when, in reality, she was holing up with her cousins in hellish Rajasthan.