Priyank Hirani, who is studying for a master’s at Imperial College London on aJubilee Scholarship, writes about visiting Number 10 Downing Street. The scholarship allows young Indians to study in the UK for a one-year master’s degree in management, manufacturing, science and technology.
A sunny day would be enough reason for a smile on a Londoner’s face. But for me, it was more than just a sunny day. It’s not every day that you are invited to tour 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence and office in the UK. Like nearly everyone else, I had only stood on one side of those black bars at the security entrance before, but the feel of being on the other side was, to put it plainly, absolutely incredible! The visit, organized by the British Council for the Indian Jubilee Scholars, came in after a couple of days of David Cameron urging Indian students to come to ‘welcoming’ Britain. Needless to say, we were excited to be the privileged few to get access to such an important place.
One cannot help but feel special (read: lucky) when one’s tour guide for the day is Conrad Bird, the director of the GREAT campaign. After a warm welcome from him, we entered the house that can be considered one of the most important decision-making places in the UK, and with little doubt throughout the world as well. The furniture has been well-maintained since centuries, each room is carefully and specially designed – some have a lot of symmetry, some glowing with golden shades, some extremely artistic – each with an elegance I have never seen before. There are conference rooms, dining halls and offices, but the one room that gives me goose-bumps is the cabinet meeting room. Come to think of it, this room has seen the likes of Winston Churchill take some of the most important decisions in world history, among many other historic decisions over centuries. I could certainly smell an air of power there.
Mr. Bird introduced us to Larry, the cat (apparently it was Larry’s birthday and I wondered if we were invited to celebrate that), showed us the mementos from the heads of various countries, the silverware, the collection of art works including paintings and wooden sculptures, and fascinatingly enough let us sit on those chairs, each valued at THOUSANDS of pounds – yes, you read that right! We learnt about British history, and finally how each Prime Minister gets his picture on the walls upon leaving office. The tour ended with a few pictures outside 10 Downing Street, and we thanked Mr. Bird and the British Council staff before going back to our busy university lives.
It is true that weekdays can get quite hectic with lectures (from some of the best professors in the world), labs and submissions looming over your head, but I try to take out time on weekends to go around London; after all it has so much to offer – from museums to palaces, to parks, to the London Eye, and so much more. Having enjoyed a traditional Christmas celebration with a British family in the Lake District, I feel I have experienced not just ‘Knowledge is GREAT Britain’ but also ‘Countryside is GREAT Britain’.
I have learnt a lot in these past few months from friends and classmates, from situations and experiences set in a truly multicultural environment and I have a wealth of knowledge to take back home.
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