A Walk In The Market

A view of Big Ben via the riverside route
A view of Big Ben via the riverside routeIllustration: Nitin Chaudhary

A bunch of young kids flipped their skateboards in front of me; their roller blades screaming against the already scratched concrete pillars of an empty lot. It was an early morning when I stood watching them, wondering what kept them going despite falling multiple times. I eyed them equally with admiration and jealousy. Behind me the Thames glided gently—its dark waters shimmering with reflections of the lights from the buildings across. Far off on the horizon, the London Eye spun softly.

I was in London again after four years. To the casual observer, London may present itself as a capital past its prime, a city still wedded to its long-gone significance on the global stage. To me though, it comes across as a city in flux, always. On one end is a city rooted in perplexing institutions, while on the other is a city constantly reimagining itself, take food, art or even business. This perennial knotting of old and new is what keeps bringing me back to London again.

With familiar cities, one keeps going back to the well-loved spots again and again, seeking the cherished memories that reside there. This time I decided to walk around the city carefully, avoiding all the routine landmarks in search of sights and experiences unseen before. That’s how, one early morning, I stood in front of the skateboarders.

As the city slowly woke up around me, the kids, up all night and exhausted now, packed their skateboards, and left. I decided to walk along the river aimlessly, first taking the route stretching from Tower Bridge to the London Bridge—a touristy walk, but also an iconic one. Once there, I looked around, spotting the Shard. Its pyramidical top, by design, seems incomplete and ostensibly chipping off. Not having explored this side of the Thames, I decided to walk towards it.

Strolling through the innards of the streets, I passed by fancy cafés tucked in the corners of sidewalk lined with Jaguars and Teslas. I came across a tennis court where Chinese couples were busy practicing their forehands with patient coaches flinging balls at them to hit. Closer, the Shard looked less impressive than it appeared from the distance. I decided against taking an elevator all the way up and seeing the whole city laid out, having previously done that at London Eye.

Without consulting the map, I allowed a bit of serendipity to seep in, landing at Borough Market for the first time in all my years of visiting the city. The market, locked deep in tradition, is one of the beating hearts of London, with an integral trading community. A foodie’s paradise, it is tucked in a sprawling thatched stretch with hundreds of stalls to explore. Overwhelming yet absorbing, it reminded me of the food markets I used to frequent with my mother as a kid and served as a template of how such markets should be—small kiosks set up by individual owners selling every food item, including chocolates, meat, vegetables, and bread, all under one roof.

I later learnt that Borough Market, active since the 12th century, played a pivotal part in the regeneration of the area around London Bridge. Its vendors are carefully selected to ensure both quality and variety. While there were many options to choose from, I settled on a slice of sourdough bread and a cup of hot chocolate from a local baker.

While I was sipping my drink, I looked around and thought of what makes a good market. Building social interaction while buying and selling stuff is what highlights the foundation of most successful markets, and here was one in front of me. Around me, the trade was not transactionally carried on an app and delivered conveniently to your doorstep. Instead, here it happened in person, with smiles exchanged and, at times, followed by a stretched conversation to underline that both the buyer and the vendor have perhaps known each other for a long time.

As I stepped out to continue my walk again, I thought of London and how this city has managed to keep its centuries-old traditions alive.

While the city keeps reinventing itself, for once, I was grateful that it is steadfastly holding on to the old traditions as well.

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