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Letter from London
Text by Ahlya Rafique Fateh and Illustration by Vinita Chand
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

'I felt as if I was cheating on my beloved London with my new local love, Essex, as I stealthily began to explore the attractions on my doorstep,' says AHLYA RAFIQUE FATEH, a sworn Londoner. And therein lies the twist to her tale...

I am driving to my old home in London, leaving my new one in the suburbs of Essex behind me. I say 'new' but in reality I have lived there for nearly four years. Before, I lived in a top floor apartment in town with views across the rooftops and a short stroll from Regents Park; now I live in a sprawling family house which could contain the floor space of my previous abode several times over.

When I lived in London I walked everywhere, never ventured out of Zone One without a passport and inoculations and dreamed of upgrading from my two bedroom Baker Street flat to a massive wedding cake of pillared splendour in Holland Park 'when I got married'. I will admit that one of the things that impressed me about my future husband was the prominently displayed Kensington & Chelsea parking permit on his windshield, in addition to the fact that he kept saying, "When I lived in Chelsea Harbour…." Hooray I thought, I have found my soulmate - a man who professes to love London as much as I do! In fact London played a vital part in our courtship, an architectural matchmaker, as we explored neighbourhoods, listened to the opera at Holland Park and went for walks along the river. It was easy to fall in love when surrounded by the beauty and majesty of this wonderful city, with a man who was as enamoured of its charms as I have always been.

However, I should have listened more closely as 'when I lived in Chelsea Harbour' turned out to mean 'I now live in Essex'. I had never been further east than the City of London (and even that was on a school trip when I was 11); in fact when I made the trip to Essex for the first time I was amazed at what lay along the route - Canary Wharf - a shining metropolis that I never knew existed. Shiny skyscrapers and even a Nobu…I squealed as excited as the schoolgirl I had once been. Gants Hill with its salt beef bars and bagel bakeries to rival Brick Lane and of course Ilford with its wonderful Indian food stores, restaurants and shops selling everything from paan to shalwar kameezes. How fabulous! Before you could say, 'I do' I was married and packing up my lovely flat to move to the suburbs and preparing to commute into town. It's really not that far, I reasoned, only a tube ride away. I tried to convince my London friends who all assured me that they would brave the District Line to visit on weekends: "But, you'll still come into town, nah?"