If you ever want to confirm your place in the world, drive in the jungle that is a Delhi road. I'm in the Capital and en route to Delhi airport. The tree canopy of Shanti Path lulls me when suddenly I feel a herd of lal battis bearing down on our car. We obediently give way, paying obeisance to the lords of the jungle. I watch the entourage of cars whiz by, one - two - three, and wait for the star of the show to pass. Sitting and waiting idly on my posterior, I am reminded of that most quintessential of human experiences--the whizzing of one - two - three farts while waiting for the arrival of the main attraction. The main attraction arrives soon enough and as luck would have it, he's wearing brown.
Delhi drivers have mastered the maneuver that is joining an entourage completely uninvited... soon we are one long trail of self-important farts making Delhi's polluted air ever more pungent.
Delhi drivers have mastered the maneuver that is joining an entourage completely uninvited. My driver is no different and we immediately join the cavalcade. Many others have the same idea and soon we are one long trail of self-important farts making Delhi's polluted air ever more pungent. As a result, I arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare and I spend some leisurely moments marveling at the new IGIA which is now more airport and less hawai adda.
My leisurely reverie is interrupted once again when I hear that most quintessential of Dilli sounds--colourful vernacular curses that mix familial relationships and human anatomy in the most original ways. I look around to find the source of these imaginative declarations. A young man wearing a custom-made suit and polished shoes is spitting fire at a porter. "I told you," he bellows "you [insert matriarchal relationship + human anatomical part], the bag can't touch the ground." The porter and I stare at the wheels of the Louis Vuitton bag in question, and wonder confusedly about the purpose of a wheeled bag that cannot be wheeled.
Check-in is entertaining as I have the distinction of standing behind the Louis Vuitton deity and its dedicated devotee. Throughout the check-in process and the ensuing immigration line, the chequered deity never once touches the ground--its devotee holds it gently aloft, suspending it reverentially in mid-air. The devotee uses his one free hand to hold documents, push carts and sign forms. Caught in a clumsy moment, the documents come cascading down on the deity like puja flower petals. Even as the devotee bends to collect the petals, he holds the chequered deity aloft. Incredible, I think to myself, the bhakti of the Dilliwallah is truly the stuff of legends.
Throughout the check-in process and the ensuing immigration line, the chequered deity never once touches the ground--its devotee holds it gently aloft, suspending it reverentially in mid-air.
It is my turn at the immigration counter and I read the name of the immigration officer--'Pardesi'. I find this amusing but clearly he has heard every conceivable joke about his name and job description. "Dubai visa, please," he says sternly.
Now, like every good Indian traveller, I carry all five of my passports stapled together. In the first of these five booklets, I am a gangly six year old who finds the idea of a passport photo thrilling beyond measure. The smile reduces as the booklets progress until we arrive at my current passport where I look like a grim convict on the run. Pardesi languidly examines each passport until he reaches my current one. He stares at me as if to confirm that I am indeed the proud owner of the eye bags featured in the photograph.
"What do you do?" he asks.
"I am a writer," I declare proudly.
He looks at me doubtfully and then at my Dubai visa. "But here it is written 'housewife'," he says triumphantly. "Must be housewife," he murmurs as though that explains the eye bags.
I hold on to my passport and what remains of my broken dreams as I walk towards security check. Pardesi has hurt me deeply and I need a glass of something to revitalize my spirits. I thank God (and every chequered deity) that I am in Delhi, the land of daytime drinking. I enter the Lounge, a shimmering pool of champagne and solitaires, without a backward glance. After all these are my people.
I enter the Lounge, a shimmering pool of champagne and solitaires, without a backward glance. After all these are my people.
In the buffet line, I meet Aunty and her teenage daughter, Sonali. Aunty is wearing 'the uniform'--coordinated belt, shoes and bag, all Gucci. She seems to be continually dropping things--olives, salad, scalding soup--and I can only attribute this to temporary blindness caused by wearing sunglasses (also Gucci) inside a dimly lit lounge. Our conversation quickly turns to schooling. I brace myself for the inevitable since my education is the only achievement I have to my name. As Pardesi pointed out, the rest of the story has been less than glorious.
Aunty begins the hustle. "Tell na, she insists, "How to do it? Do you have any approach at Harvard?" Before I can reply, Sonali interrupts. "Mumma! I've told you that I can't study in America. There's too much junk food there--I'll get fat." I stare at Sonali's size zero jeans and then at my own plate--I've gone straight for the Black Forest. Forget America's fondness for sugar, India is the only country left that still makes this pastry and I consider it my patriotic duty to eat it. Aunty is perceptive, despite those sunglasses, and she follows my glance. "Sonali beta, you can burn off the calories na," says her mother cajolingly. "How Mumma? By cleaning my bathroom? Are you joking, it'll ruin my nails forever."
Aunty... continues to enthrall "Did you hear that Shweta got engaged? But such a bad match--his family doesn't even have a driver," she says.
Despite their size zeros, I realize that I am no match for these heavyweights. I try to sidle away and look for a place to sit. This is no easy task since most of the chairs are occupied by designer suitcases, cousins of that revered deity which, incidentally, is still being held aloft. I end up back with Aunty who continues to enthrall "Did you hear that Shweta got engaged? But such a bad match--his family doesn't even have a driver," she says.
Our flight is called before I can respond to Shweta's fate in the jungle without a driver. The bag parade begins and three ostriches, a crocodile and several snakes slither past. Aunty, Sonali and I fall into step behind them. It's time to roll, Dilli style--and really get those Louis Vuitton wheels off the ground.
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