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Reading History in London

March 25, 2007

When Matin set foot in London, (his first time, not counting various transits), he felt a rush of excitement he had never felt earlier in a new city. He had visited various major cosmopolitans before, but there was something about London, or perhaps Heathrow Airport that made Matin feel at home. But these moments in Matin’s life were not limited to merely new places and new cities. They happened with people too. In these moments, it was almost as if a Matin would hear a click in his head.

A couple of hours after landing, Matin stood before the gates of what would become his home for the year. It was an international student dormitory. Having studied in the US earlier, he was used to the term “international student” being applied to non-Americans. But here, in London, half the crowd assembled before the gate, awaiting the security guard, were clearly American. He didn’t expect to run into Cargo shorts and flipflops so soon.

A friendly South Asian looking face turned and said hi. His name, Iqbal Ghalib. Matin introduced himself. As they chatted, the doors to Paul Robeson House swung open and in front lay a spacious courtyard. Matin turned towards Iqbal. He thought he saw Iqbal’s eyes become a glowing red. Without ado, they walked inside and headed straight past a big sign that said, “Room Assignments for Incoming Students.”

That night, as Matin lay in his bed, in a sparse room, he imagined his room was a jail cell. Matin had never gone to jail. There was no reason for him to. The closest he came to breaking the law was through speeding. As he looked around the room, the word, “Spartan” came to his head. And that reminded him of the movie, “300.” Racist, Orientalist, full of negative stereotypes of “Easterners,” the movie was a great let-down. So he tried to think pleasant things. He couldn’t wait for school to start the next day. He prayed his two alarms wouldn’t let him down. It was right as he was falling asleep, that wisps of particularly foul smelling leather tingled his nostrils. But he fell asleep anyway, dreaming of bagpipes,  Braveheart and Eurostyle.

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