One hears about lot many individuals, objects, monuments and institutions every now and then. A certain positive and optimistic bent of mind leads to finding or grabbing an opportunity to have an actual interface. As a result, one's joy knows no bounds. One is in refreshing/buoyant mood ,thereafter, recalling conversations, visits or events.
Each time Wimbledon happens or the Indian Cricket team visits England, I am vividly reminded of my three visits and one touchdown of London. As such, you cannot have enough of London, epicenter of world, once upon a time. It has a definite unbreakable link with India. UK as a whole has allowed growth of many cultures and more than anything else, the country tolerates a sizeable percentage of Asian and African immigrants despite many ifs and buts and setbacks, at times.
Very recently when Sunil Gavaskar had a narrow escape travelling in a high speed car in London, I was reminded of Vijay, the Indian Taxi driver who used to take us daily from the Hotel Washington to East India Docks Area with an equally fast speed during the WTM, London in Nov.2004. He would be over confident of his newly installed GPS in the large Station wagon and take us with ease to the famous tourist spots, such as, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, etc. He would come out with interesting and spicy anecdotes pertaining to his arrival in London from probably Rajasthan and the way Indians behaved in alien settings, the gossips relating to the Westminster Palace or the British Parliament located beautifully on the banks of Thames, etc. (Apart from a soothing walk in the vicinity, a man sitting on a strike for years altogether, in support of freedom of speech, were not to be missed).
One day, it so happened that our leader gave a suggestion to break the monotony of visiting the Exhibition complex and attempt a sojourn, instead to Oxford University, in view of its glorious past and the way it impressed and inspired the Indian Universities, intellectuals and a few reputed politicians. Needless to say, a few, after passing from here were making a mark/dent on the Indian political scene. Though I agreed to visit this famous historical place located in the outskirts of London reluctantly, I do not regret my decision. Following lines may perhaps justify.
To begin from the beginning, the date of setting up of the Oxford University (OU) is not known but as we gathered from our tall and handsome guide, sporting an impressive hat, teaching is reported to have begun as far back as 1096. In the formative years, the University had no competitor. It was only in 1209 that Cambridge University was established by the former faculty of Oxford once they were compelled to leave the place due to disputes between the students and town dwellers. It was strange to hear that untill 1820's no new universities were permitted to be set up in England, thus, in a way, ensuring the duopoly of OU and Cambridge. In other European countries, scenario was altogether different. Gradually, some more spice was added by the Guide to the tales of traditional rivalry between the OU and Cambridge, apart from the annual boat race, a keenly contested and much awaited event.
It was a correct decision to visit this beautiful place which was supposed to facilitate understanding and analysis. It was a centre to bolster substance and style. A stroll here and there indicated that positive energy was likely to come. As such, beforehand, it was indicated that OU can be best explored on foot. Weather, too was on our side.
Various buildings, mostly of yellow colour, built in Gothic style looked gigantic from the Broad Street. With a view to optimally utilise the time, we were taken first to Christ Church College. Many of the notable scenes of Harry Potter series of films were shot over here. The great dining hall with an unusual high ceiling & large portraits and the 16th Century stair case prominently shown in the movie turned out to be the masterpieces. One assumed that these must have provided the right kind of background. Walking in the Quadrangle was equally exhilarating.
The OU has 38 constituent colleges, the famous being, Trinity, Christ Church and Somerville. We were informed that the last named college was the first women's college established in 1879.The University was reported to have the largest University press in the world. A very vast Library system with 11 million volumes, was another jewel in its crown. The Rhodes Scholarship awarded in OU is considered to be the world's most prestigious scholarship.
Coming to debating skills and activities, the Oxford Union was reported to be famous for its Weekly debates and high profile speakers. The University Students Union, in the same way, was considered to be a good source of fine tuning public speaking abilities, In the past many Indians had the privilege to be associated with it. Some of them are still firing shots.
What we missed witnessing were the Library,70 acre area University Park, class rooms in session, and the interaction between the students and the Faculty. In two to three hours, idea was to get a feel of the place and plan another visit, if possible.
A few Colleges and Departments were, therefore, looked at from outside. Each one had a tale to tell. One could also see some clean eating joints. The visit to University Souvenir shop was memorable. I desired to carry something notable for posterity from this remarkable University. I settled for a bottle green coloured, comfortable jacket with a prominent OU logo for Ankoor, my son.(maybe, if found eligible, he would have made it to OU some day, I thought). One or two tiny items were also added subsequently.
After having an apology to a Lunch, we decided to leave the famous University. Traffic to the city by now had become dense and clumsy. It was interesting to see boards declaring-" Breakfast available from morning to evening".
By 4 pm, we were back to the hustle and bustle of the city. In view of the fact that the British Museum was scheduled to be shut soon and majority of us were keen to get acquainted to its attractive exhibits, they were dropped first. I, on the contrary, decided to report back to “Excel”, since the visit to OU had energized me sufficiently. Rush of tourism stake holders by this time had registered a rise. Feeling of bonhomie with the back up of music was seen at many stalls.
Post-sunset, I decided to take some time off for shopping. A Britisher guided me to a lively middle class market. To my astonishment, I noticed that the shopping avenue too was named after Oxford. But in sum and substance, Oxford University and Oxford Street turned out to be two distinct entities. Both left an imprint, nonetheless.