When I first came to Cambridge three years ago, my first thought was “How do people even live here?” A quaint little town, it seemed to be stuck in time. It was as if I had stepped back into history.
So the buildings were mostly really old, as I saw from the bus taking me into the town centre. Although that’s true for many parts of London as well. But that wasn’t it. It just seemed to be a very different way of life here. The people seemed different. There were nicer. For a while, I was really puzzled as everyone greeted and thanked the bus driver as they got on and off the bus. Now who does that in London? You don’t even acknowledge the bus driver as you quickly swipe your Oyster card and walk past. Does everyone in town know the bus driver personally, I wondered.
But as I figured out, that’s how it is here. People are really friendly to everybody, even complete strangers. I was even more confused when an elderly couple walking past us smiled and greeted us as if they knew us. This is an alien concept not only back in Karachi but also in London. To be honest, in my first few visits here, I found this sense of familiarity almost cloying. Like you couldn’t be just another person in the crowd, the way you are in big cities.
And there was the River Cam. I had heard it was one of the best parts about the town. So when I got off the bus on Bridge Street and saw a neher-like something flowing below, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. For starters, even the Thames had seemed like a disappointment when I first saw it. And the Cam was wayyy tinier!
So when I moved here a couple of years later, I kept comparing Cambridge to London endlessly. Not a sensible comparison in any way, since both places are amazing in their own, very different ways. The only places I had lived in before were Karachi and London, and a small town just did not cut it for me (more like tiny, it’s smaller than Gulshan-e-Iqbal!).
The lack of options was frustrating. You have to go to the town centre for everything (not that it’s far though). There’s just one of most stores, and it was boring shopping in the same place all the time. Plus the shops closed at 5 in winters. And how many times can you even go and walk by the river, however beautiful it is? I wanted variety. I craved the city life.
But the town grew on me very quickly. I began to appreciate the simplicity of things. The same sense of familiarity which I had found stifling earlier became preferable to the fast-paced life I had left behind. I couldn’t help getting overwhelmed, on an everyday basis, by the sense of history, the breathtaking beauty of this town. More so now that it’s almost time to leave.
Some things I have gotten used to which will be really, really missed…