‘And Madam up your backside only, is a tissue paper, and a water on your leg. Did you know the Claridges Hotel has but nine restaurants…’.
And no, I hadn’t gone to the loo in my trousers and accidentally walked away with half a roll of lavatory paper hanging out the back of my jeans (much as I’ve always felt perplexed at this thought). Rather, I was just off the plane at Indira Gandhi International Airport and whizzing through the traffic towards my hotel with my driver very keen to let me know that there was a box of tissues behind my head, and plenty of bottled water in a console to the left of my leg.
Arriving back in India this morning was like heading into a time warp- the smell of beedies, smoke, smog and humans – nothing had changed in the slightest and the carpet in the airport was still the same colour as I remembered, as were the neon amber signs flashing multiple warnings about loos, Indian residents, a smoking room and where to go if you don’t fit into any of the above categories – the visa queue. I joined the latter and was told ever so casually to ‘do it,’ and when I put my hands up for biometric photographic testing, the most casual of all casuals just repeatedly said ‘do it,’ not that I really had any idea of what ‘it’ was.
We eventually got ‘it’ on file before I heard that satisfying boom of a stamp smashing another page in my passport, and then two of the oldest men I’ve ever clapped eyes on waved me through an empty queue made up of a flimsy bollard towards a room full of people in tears with a sign above the door simply reading ‘deportees room’. They leant back in their chairs and continued to talk while I chose to grab my bag and continued to walk- out the door and into the haze towards a very eager man named Hari who held a sign reading ‘Madam Affleck Virginia’. Just like every good Indian story, there were two men- (not one) Hari was accompanied by Sunny (a Kim Jong Il look alike who spat a lot on the way to the carpark) who was pushed off the curb to go and find the car, while Hari told me he was very important and in charge of the ‘entire fleet of cars for the hotel’. ‘Madam, you will tell management that I was possibly the best fleet manager you ever did meet,’ why yes of course I will, Hari.
Sunny sped through the traffic, talking non stop and I listened, and listened and listened.
We located the Presidents house and then the race course before drawing through the gates at Claridges where we were bomb checked and met with prayer hands and multiple namastes.
I’ve had a driver whizzing me around Delhi this afternoon seeking pajamas and summer items, and I have to say Sanjay (Sunny must have had another gig), is quite the fashionista, leaving me at Connaught Place and then the Khan Market with the ‘simply instruction’ to just call him when I was done.
That I was, almost an hour ago, and now I sit here in the garden listening to Jazz and being waited on hand and foot. I haven’t slept since yesterday and I can feel an early night coming on but as the sun peeks through the smog, and crows circle the garden filled with Indian men drinking odd looking milky cocktails, there is nothing between me and the hazy sky- bar the splashing of the fountain, tuk tuks beeping on the other side of the fence and about ten men in waistcoats calling me Madam – I am just so happy to be amongst all of this again.
India, you never change, you just keep getting better and better.