Once upon a time, more than four decades ago, our prelapsarian adolescent days were spent anticipating nights that marked sleep-overs, which were still uncommon back then.
Our sleepovers were spent poring through Linda Goodman & our weekends —displaying culinary skills with the forlorn tunes of Bollywood playing in the background. The common wall still stands mute witness to shared secrets, the shirts & stoles that flew past our compound wall & the books that exchanged hands. Then, marriage & the seven seas separated us, albeit emails & eventually WhatsApp kept us bound, not to mention our reunion during my friend’s annual trip to India.
So, my recent trip to the UK found Cambridge added to my itinerary. How could I not meet my childhood pal? We hoped to relive our heyday & meet with our families. Life had been interesting but we did miss each other. A tight schedule decided that we meet over lunch. So, a stay-over plan went off-kilter. Nevertheless, we wanted to make the most of that one day. So, post-lunch, we decided to go sight-seeing & punting.
It was a quiet, chilly afternoon & the sunny weather served as a timely salve.
With the River Cam at her feet reflecting many of her halls of ivy, the city of Cambridge stood staid & splendid; imposing & esoteric, with stately bridges bridging the gap between the past & the present.
Wending through the labyrinthine streets, we chanced upon the city’s baronial edifices that annually throw open their gates to cherry-picked candidates, whose enviable erudite wisdom is further polished to take on the world.
Cambridge City Centre was the locus, where edifices of baroque phrontisteries lay scattered.
Our eyes were glued skyward, for so magnificent were the structures.
And not once did we have to mind our way, for the streets were clean & the sidewalks —neat & even.
Natives & students hobnobbed together & yet the merry milieu did not seem uproarious. It was as if we had stepped into a time-warp!
Each structure was chiseled to become a unique masterpiece.
I wondered what secrets they beheld, what mysteries they kept under wraps; about the elitist of alumni churned out, the summa cum laude graduates & their didactic preceptors.
Christ’s College, Cambridge
Great St. Mary’s University Church, Cambridge
Among the many architectural wonders, was the Corpus Clock encased in glass. Its burnished gold disk bearing a grotesque grasshopper, lent it another name —The Grasshopper Clock.
It seems this chef-d’oeuvre was featured in the Hindi film Pa (unable to recall that) & ever since, has become a hub for Indian tourists.
Surely, punting in River Cam is another drawcard in Cambridge.
Rowing our boat was this fair, light-eyed, auburn-haired man with a pony-tail & flowing beard. There was an unmissable Indianness that was hard to ignore, although his white skin & British accent belied his patent race.
Clare College Bridge
Our curiosity was quelled when James Timothy Bright Aiyya Thuraisingham Subramanian, our punter, recognizing our Indianness, broke the ice & introduced himself. 🙂 Of mixed parentage —Indian (Tamilian from Singapore & European), Subramanian was indeed a winsome young lad.
Adroitly rowing the canoe, he regaled us with historical facts that the town was famed for; about the University of Cambridge, its various illuminati, its past heroes, the present highbrows & the royalty that forms the crème de la crème of alumni.
When he paused his narrative, it was only the swashing of water that was audible.
We passed by the many hoary facades lined up on the banks.
We sailed along willowy banks & bridges, soaking in the ambiance of many an ivy-swathed facade & attempting to revisit a bygone past.
Bridge of Sighs
Named after its Venetian counterpart, which derived this strange name from the sighs of prisoners, the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge is rumoured to have been christened by weary students, who often let out a sigh before their exams! 😉
Anything that’s ancient, often lacks facts to corroborate its status & the myths surrounding this bridge is no different.
My suggestion-take a local guide along & you’ll get to the facts.
This strange name came to stay, as this was the bridge used to transport victuals to students. The New Court Building did not have a kitchen back then.
This quaint little town was so enchanting, with its old-world charm. People seemed to have time to smell their coffee!
We found the townsfolk bimbling around merrily, while some paused for an intimate causerie.
A few stole the opportunity to lie back & woolgather.
Where the campuses ended, the blue space took over. The distant whistling of a lone gull & the churning of water were the only sounds & we sailed along, lost in thought.
We had a lot to catch up on but were loath to shatter the sanative silence.
Our punting round came to an end & as a closing ave, we exchanged emails with James Timothy Subramaniam.
We were famished & were yearning for homecooked & familiar taste. My friend took us to this authentic South Indian restaurant, which is known for its distinct Tamil flavour.
The Tiffin Truck with its sure-enough Tamil vibe & aromatic filter coffee, dancing dolls (Talai aatu bommais) & traditional wooden statuettes (Marapaacchis) as remembrances, seemed like a chip off the old block.
Slowly, the day came to a close & along with it —our reunion. Sadly, we had to return to London. Yet, we had fond memories of a day well spent. Surely, Cambridge may not be your standalone trip but a sojourn is highly recommended.
‘What’s so exceptional about the cityscape?’, you’d ask. Nothing really. Yet, the vibe of the place is certainly magical.
Dedicated to my childhood friend of 40+ years..