No Place As Home
Contact Daniel: noplaceashome at yahoo.co.uk
General Musings (2)
Guide to this site
At home in the world
Not very heroic
Small town West Bengal
An ending approaches
Sights, frights and memories
Everyone's cup of tea
Introduction to Gari
In the hate period
Don't take this too seriously
Making the bag
Things which make me angry
September 08, 2004
Don't take this too seriously
It was already dark as my plane landed in Delhi. The 8pm temperature was 35 degrees.
I boarded a bus for the city centre, and each time we stopped, the evening heat flooded in and left us all uncomfortably sweating. A strongly built young bearded Sikh in front of me whipped a rolled up hankerchief in front of his face for a breeze.
Gari and I had agreed to meet at one "Hotel Ajanta", and the airport bus dropped me at the edge of New Dehli railway station - the hotel's website had said it was diagonally opposite. In the darkness, a few trees, along the road lots of cars and auto-rickshaws (tuk tuks to my eyes) and men on foot and men on bicycle rickshaws. I started walking under the banner announcing the entrance to the station. A cycle-rickshaw dropped someone off, and seeing me, called out. I shook my head, he was unpeturbed, and began cycling beside me at my walking pace, continuously offering me destinations and cheap hotel rates.
I went through a phase on this trip where I couldn't shout at people; I went through a (hopefully now over) phase where I could shout but it would make me angry (and sometimes I'd shout without planning to); the grail is to be able to shout with a smile. I looked at the rickshaw wallah's eyes and smiled: "NO"!! He left me, and for some reason got into a gesticulating, high pitched arguement with his original passenger. I left both of them and continued. None of the uniformed men I spoke to in the station knew where Hotel Ajanta was, but I now suspected I had been dropped at the back of the station, so climbed the steps of the walkway, my rucksack straps starting to grip my shoulders tighter, and hiked over the twelve platforms to the front entrance. Sidestepping offers of a taxi ride, I emerged and looked for my hotel, quickly approaching despair.
Clapped out low three storey buildings offered the possibility of going left, straight on or right, none of which seemed convincing. The buildings were made of peeling paint and worn brick, blanketed with signs and adverts. Ground level was a mess of long distance phone stalls, travel agents with blacked out windows, and open to the air simple diners; the sweating air was a mixture of fumes and cooking. With my bags wetly clinging to me, I tried to decide on a direction, while men on foot and on rickshaw called out to me offering "help" and business cards.
"No, no thank you, no I'm fine, no thanks, NO, NO"!
I settled on turning right, and began walking. I asked in one hotel's reception, they sent me onwards, then asked in another's and was told to take the first left. Hope dawned, and I was quite happy amidst all this, despite the uncertainty. I walked under a bridge, under many hotel signs, past two men arguing intensely over (I think) a stray dog, and saw the smoky glass sign of "Ajanta".
There was internet access - I logged on to find a message from Gari: "Don't ask me how, but I'm staying at a hotel called Red Castle, and coming to the airport to meet you".
The hotel staff found an auto rickshaw driver to take me there [I knew there was no point trying to catch Gari at the airport, I planned to get to his hotel and wait for him to come back], and one man started lugging my rucksack out the door, at the same time as another started asking me for the ten rupees for the internet use. I told the first man to stop as I searched for some cash, I offered the internet man a note, he didn't have change. The first man then resumed carrying my bag out the hotel - I nervously watched it disappear out the door as I racked my pockerts for rupees. Finally with change sorted, I and my bags were squeezed into the narrow space of the rickshaw, and its bilous roaring engine burst forward.
My driver didn't know where the hotel was, and at that stage I realised I had left my notebook, containing all my addresses and rough drafts etc, back in Hotel Ajanta. It is a sign of how far Delhi had got to me that I considered leaving the book and coming back for it the next morning - but my Rough Guide didn't have Red Castle listed, so we had to go back for it. Auto rickshaws, I discovered, have no reverse capacity - my driver stopped, got out and pushed the little vehicle around until it faced the middle of the road so that we could do a U turn.
I finally arrived at Red Castle, and two hours later Gari came back from his fruitless trip to the airport - we were both laughing as we hugged each other. We got to our room, shut the door on India for a little while, and recounted the mishaps that had befallen both our days.
One extra story: Before I had arrived in Delhi, on the plane I had got talking to a Mumbai businessman whose English was ok; he ran a pigment manufacturing plant and did a lot of trade with English firms. He advised me to also go into the Import / Export business, seemingly because he thought my accent was very clear. I talked about my still yet vague plans to find local centres of art work and designs and set up a shop selling them in a Western country (in order to help local people live by their traditional skills). He shook his head dismissively: "Handicrafts! No, you need to work in bulk, something small that everybody needs, best if you have a monopoly". I laughed, "Monopoly - always the business man's solution". He promised to email me tips on a festival coming up in Gujarat.
The plane landed and stopped, a few passengers got up to get their bags from the overhead lockers. A stewardess, who had looked fraught all the journey, stood up and started shouting in a voice ready to crack any second: "Please, sit DOWN until the seatbelt sign is off; PLEASE SIR, SIT DOWN"! Out of nothing we seemed on the verge of emotional crisis.
As the passengers sat down, I exchanged a wry glance with the business man. He had the smile of someone coming home - explaining with his head tilted to the side, "This is always happening in India". I felt as though, looking back on this comment now, that someone or something was telling me: your time in India is going be full of arguements and melodrama and sudden confusions; don't take any of this too seriously.
Daniel, 8 August 2004, Delhi
Posted by Daniel on September 8, 2004 06:05 PM
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