25 Sep

After 20 hours of travel and no sleep, we arrive at Delhi Airport around 11pm. It’s hot. We wait 30 minutes for our luggage on the slowly moving carousel before realising our bags are in a pile in the corner of the dusty arrivals hall. Pass taxi drivers telling us that buses have stopped, buses are dangerous, the concept of “bus” is a falsity, a non-entity, then to the courteous and helpful cops in their vintage 60’s sedan, just wait here, bus is only 50 rupees, and would you like a map of Delhi? On the bus, stenciled sign: “Please check for bomb under seat – report for a reward”. On the bus, it’s still hot.

It’s hot, dirty, brash, audacious, pushy – everything we were expecting, but Delhi is filled with small revelations that created constant shifts in my feelings for the city and the country. Walking through New Delhi station even at midnight – especially at midnight was a kaleidoscopic mass of bodies, each face featurig a glint of gold, a daube of red or deep blue, a flash of dark eyes veiled by a translucent sari which shines and shimmers, fold on fold. Bundles of rags become kohl-eyed babies. The deeply tanned faces break into smiles of blinding white, darkly glowing metal or the rich red-brown of betel nut. But these men don’t smile at me. At me it’s definitely more a leer, or else I am invisible, to be trod on, cut off, pushed in front of. But among themselves, each individual takes up only the minimum amount of space, and then the next, and then the next.

But there is quiet, just around the corner. A young boy (so neat!) stirs milk for his grandmother. Albino carriage horses are returned to gleaming white in cool alcoves away from the dust. Young children play in any corner, perfectly at home – and so they should be…


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