Unheard Oxford: Utsav Popat, international student

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The food over here never gets spicy. Note to self: never mention this to the Indian guy selling curries at Gloucester Green. He will remind you of the reason why your mother never added chilli powder to your food. And never get a third helping of the spicy salsa at El Mexicana either. Your tongue will refuse to register any other taste for the next day. Ex­tra beneficial in the case of Hall food – not so beneficial when it comes to G&D’s ice cream. As a Mumbaikar, there’s nothing that gets on my nerves more than a lack of spices, not even government policies about cutting short my visa. I cannot stop grumbling about the lack of variety and spices. In fact, I was given recently a bottle of Nando’s Extra Hot Sauce and chilli flakes just so that dinner could be more peace­ful. But there are a lot of things that I wasn’t prepared for – or had not even considered even in the craziest notions. So here is my list of ‘oh-I-was-never-prepared-for’:

1. Cornmarket Street on a weekend.

I come from a city of 21 million people. I have travelled on local trains where I’ve had to stand on someone else’s feet for space (not really.) It can be said that I have experienced the ‘hustling and bustling and sweltering’ of aamchi Mumbai. But nothing – special emphasis on ‘nothing’ – could have prepared me for the Nightmare on Cornmarket Street. It is impossible, nay inconceivable, to find a path from Broad Street to Starbuck’s. That moving contraption of shop­ping bags manages to grab every square inch of the cobbled street from 9am on Saturdays. Any attempt to break through ensures that you land right on your butt in the middle of Broad Street. Resigned, you pick yourself up, whine about the tourists, and trudge to get instant coffee from Tesco.

2. Tesco hours on Sunday

It’s Sunday. The one day you can get up in the afternoon, next to a half-eaten box of chips and cheese, when you dare to open Netflix and binge-watch in pyjamas. By the time you’re finally bathed and dressed and want to grab some breakfast, Tesco is shut. At 5pm. Not only Tesco – it’s the whole of Oxford. Coming from an environment where Sunday is the one day every shop or restaurant extends its operating hours, the sight of silver shutters on a Sunday still man­ages to confound me.

3. Oxford vocabulary

I can understand five languages but the Oxford dialect is one that will eternally elude me. Starting with battels, sub fusc, matriculation and stretching to the big Latin ones which only Classics students understand, it seems like a new word is always there round the corner just wait­ing to jump at you. 

4. Being confused about home

This was least expected and the most welcome of the lot. Never have I been more confused. I can no longer exclude Oxford when I’m talking about ‘my home’ or ‘my city’. It has, in this very short time punctuated with ridiculously long va­cations, become an integral part of my identity.

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