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Amrit and Balbir
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Balbir Singh and Amrit Sethi are founders of the popular web portal, www.koramangala.com. Since its inception in December 1998, the website has received global media coverage and was also featured on "Sunday Morning 60 minutes", on the widely viewed CBS News channel.

Recently, the couple went on a 2-week trip to the United Kingdom - Balbir's second, but the first for Amrit, for whom this has been a fabulous experience.

Back to Oh! To be in England

What's Up at Chiswick, Doc?

"Two return tickets to Gunnersbury, please," I said to the ticket clerk behind the glass partition at Paddington Tube Station. He gave me a curious look as he handed me the tickets and change. "What're you going to Gunnersbury for?" he asked. Meeting up with a friend, I told him. "Ah! Dinner, eh?" I nodded, "Yes, that's correct, sir."

Travel Card - The Travel Card, best way to get around London
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I wasn't offended, because I don't think he was being nosy. We had 'tourist' written all over us. And, Chiswick (the 'w' is silent and hence, pronounced 'Chizick') is primarily a residential area in the extensive district of West London, in the London Borough of Hounslow with nothing 'touristy' to it. Hence, the ticket clerk's curiosity was perhaps, justified .

Nigel's email giving directions to his home was pretty clear. I had taken a print-out so that we don't get lost. One experience was sufficient. At Paddington, we boarded the train headed for Richmond on the district line (the green one on the tube map). We got off at Gunnersbury and followed Nigel's direction " ...go up stairs (one set only), go through barrier, turn right; walk down a narrow path for 200 yards..." and in about 10 minutes, we located Nigel's house, his door number prominently displayed on the front door and in the glass of the door too.

Now, I must digress a bit here. In Bangalore, in those days when we provided various delivery services like flowers, gifts, etc, invariably we found door numbers not displayed on the houses. This made it that much difficult - not to mention the waste of time - finding a particular house. I can't understand this; isn't the very idea of a door number to help people find the house. So what's scary about displaying door numbers prominently? Its common sense isn't it?

Nigel was at the door with his inimitable 'hello there' greeting, a beaming smile and a warm handshake. More beaming smiles and handshakes followed as we were introduced to his charming wife, Gill, their three sons, Andrew, Simon and Joe.

In the cozy living room, there was much excitement as the boys tore apart the gift wraps off the presents we had brought them - T-shirts with ethnic Indian designs and motifs. Alas, we were off-mark on the sizes; but then that's because we hadn't seen the three of them. We'd taken a wild guess, I guess. But they freaked out on the Koramangala.com caps. And Gill loved the napkin holders we had bought from CIE in Bangalore .

Joe, Andrew and Simon - wearing Koramangala.com caps
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We drank beer, chit-chatting about various things such as what we did today, where we ate, and our plans for the next 2 weeks. Then little Joe walks up to Mona with his palms closed and tells her, "See what I got in here." It was his tooth; it'd just come off. He grinned to prove his point and true enough, the furniture had been disturbed. So we asked him what he'd do with the tooth. He said he'd keep it under his pillow and when he woke in the morning he hoped that the tooth fairy would leave behind a present.

At half past seven, the boys were reminded they have school next day and that it was time to say good bye to us and to bed. Not surprisingly, there were protests, but after sometime and much coaxing and needling, the boys did as asked, albeit, reluctantly. The very mention of 'school' is a mood-damper; always has and always will be. And school in England is a very early morning affair, especially for those who take the school bus; it's a deadline to be met.

Unlike in India, guests are always a good enough reason for bending rules a bit, give them some 'extra' time. Maybe even skip school next day; after all 'Uncle and Aunty have come from so far.'

A view of Lords Cricket Ground as seen from the Media Centre
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What struck me about the book-shelf stacked with an array of books was this wide assortment of 'Wisden Cricketers Almanacs' considered the bible of cricket. Nigel is an ardent cricket fan - I knew that - but I didn't know that he was so deep into reading all about cricket. No wonder, he'd often reel off statistics of who scored a century at which venue and which year. He was one amongst the thousands of spectators to watch India win the 1983 World Cup at Lords .

I looked for the Almanac covering India's tour of England way back in 1957, and Mona's brother, A.G. Kripal Singh happened to be a member of that Indian team. I showed Nigel the page which made mention of Kripal's name. "I wasn't even born then," said Nigel.

Meanwhile, I noticed Mona feeling a bit uneasy. Was it the beer I asked? Apparently not; but yes, she was feeling a bit uneasy. "Have something to eat and you'll be fine," I said. Nigel announced dinner was served and I carried my beer to the dining table. Mona decided to leave hers unfinished. She got this feeling she might throw up and preferred not to eat much. Good Lord, she definitely was feeling uneasy, because she'd never refuse the type of food that was served. She'd made and eaten chicken roast and boiled vegetable, potatoes at home so often. It wasn't the food; I was sure of that.

The Chicken Roast, Vegetables and the Roast Potato - they were delicious. It certainly was my kind of food and- without sounding gluttonous - I think I hogged. I even emptied the contents from Mona's plate into mine, rather than let it go waste. Nigel wanted to know if I'd like some more. Now, this is a weakness of mine; I've never been good at saying 'no' so I had some more. Dessert was Apple Crumble with Custard. I can't remember when I ate Apple Crumble; in fact, I don't remember ever eating it before. So, I ate like it was soon going out of fashion. Mona watched my antics, but then, she didn't know what she was missing.

One other thing I did - rather didn't do - was smoke in Nigel's house. I had to respect the 'law of the house' - not that there are 'no smoking' signs all over - but somehow I knew. So I refrained from smoking inside.
London's Tube Map - Paddington to Gunnersbury on the District Line (Green Line)
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It wasn't late by our standards - just about half past nine, I think. But both, Gill and Nigel, start the day pretty early what with getting breakfast ready for the kids and sending them off to school. Knowing this, we thought we'd take leave and get back to the hotel. We thanked them both for a wonderful evening - I'm not sure if said 'we ought to do this more often' - and walked back towards Gunnersbury Station, the same route we came. This time a bit slow, so that I could finish one cigarette.

The night was much chiller than it was when we came in earlier. Now I knew what had made Mona uneasy. She hadn't covered her head with a shawl or worn a cap. London is different from Bangalore and being unaccustomed to the weather, it had gotten to her. Secondly, perhaps a bit of left-over jet-lag may have aggravated things as well.

Walking back she wore her cap and I think that helped bring in some warmth. She felt bad she couldn't eat much and hoped that Gill and Nigel hadn't taken all this amiss. I told her to relax.

Nigel's not that kind of guy.

Next: Hammersmith, Here We Come

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