Delhi Underbelly

01 Oct 2013 ::

Arriving into this teeming metropolis after 4 planes, 6 hours of waiting and 2 days of flying is nothing to say surreal. Somewhere between Dubai and Delhi, there was a distinct time warp. Perhaps it was all the drugs, which I felt it necessary to consume in order to be unconscious for the better part of 17 hours. Mercifully, on this leg of the trip, Fate was kind to us. All around us the cheap seats were thronging with bodies, babies, and bassinets: a veritable Tower of Babel. Flying is now a matter of herding as many poor slobs into cramped quarters, designed mostly by and for midget Orientals.

Ever since the day of Bush’s war on the common people, and the Homeland Insecurity Act, before boarding the great metal bird, there is a charade of many acts, in the name of so-called security. It’s akin to a kind of twisted penal colony; the inmates are us, presumed guilty before charged, our keepers searching for every kind of plane exploding device. I think there is way more havoc wreaked on the flyers than ever was done to a plane.

Laptops are examined for toothpaste marks, no doubt something to do with plastique. Toothpaste is squeezed diligently to determine telltale signs of exploding rabbits, filled with toxic chemicals. And toxic chemicals can probably be found in our shoes or in our belts, which have to be removed. Having shed mine, I comically staggered with trousers half-mast, exposing bony knees, and much more – not a pretty sight. But by then I’m completely stupefied, and this procedure has happened about five zillion times before, and by now I don’t even care if I’m doing the Saint Vitus dance across the conveyor belts. Makes one yearn for Business or First Class, where the drugs are provided free, there is hot and cold running champers, and every decadent whim catered for. I think will upgrade on the way back, damn the torpedoes, even if it costs five lakh rupees (that’s hundreds of thousands by the way)

As the last stragglers board our plane, it became obvious that Fate was with us, as the seat next to ours was luxuriously vacant for the rest of the trip, unless some ET form was to parachute in through the window. I throw caution to the winds, rack up the armrests, and snuggled down with many pillows. Having swallowed more drugs than Hunter S. Thompson on his odyssey Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I am in la-la land for about 10 hours. I wake up to a gorgeous Emirates cabin-crew demanding that I swallow lashings of goat’s eyes or something equally repugnant, as I surface through my drugged haze. Luckily it’s a bit of a mirage, as my appetite is quite subdued by the previous culinary offering. No idea what it was –mounds of semi-edible petroleum by-products, with four tons of leftover waste wrappings. Makes a recycling man like me weep.

Notwithstanding 5000 channels of in-flight entertainment, it was a bit like the Bruce Springsteen song; “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”. Considering the preponderance of Bollywood movies that were doubtless quite entertaining, especially with the sound turned down, I hadn’t brushed up my Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Tagalong and every other language you had never heard of or wanted. A bit like a supermarket with so much fare that you run out screaming, clutching nothing but a can of Heinz Baked beans.

I resisted fighting with the NASA control panel command centre, which continued to direct me to “Pat Boone’s Greatest Hits”. He sounded like the reincarnation of one of India’s greatest mystics Sai Baba doing the watusi; kind of like the Beatles’ “Revolution Number 9”, played backwards at 16 RPM. Probably due to the inferior quality of the Emirates headphones.

In these days of electronic wizardry, everyone in Row 5 is texting manically to those in Row 12, probably ordering takeout pizza with more outlandish Emirates toppings than can possibly be imagined. Meanwhile a nine-month old baby is playing with some kind of demonic “Doom” game, emitting fearsome bleeps (not sure if it’s the machine or the babe) that even frightens me, which is amazing, as I am just barely of this world.

If I was the drinking type, I would be insensible by now, but as I’m not, and these days there is rarely much free booze, I have to rely on the prescription drugs my good doctor plied me with. However, for those of the alcoholic persuasion, there is one really fun flight, and that’s with Chinese Southern Airlines. During my last Pacific 22-hour marathon, courtesy of Chinese Southern, it was a non-stop alcoholic binge, the like of which I have not come across since the glory days of that Transatlantic Anglo-Francais détente, The Concorde, many moons ago. The seats were so cramped, even the slender Chinese had to stand up for most of the flight. That’s if the decrepit plane ever takes off. In Beijing there was an unexplained 6-hour wait, while we kept taxiing on the runway in ever decreasing circles, perhaps due to the one wing missing, artfully bolted on later when nobody was looking.

But, I digress. Back to the enchanting delights of dazzling Delhi. However, not so dazzling at 3 AM. Typically Indian, the smiling customs control man is in love with Karen’s new multi-hued Canadian passport. And page-by-page, he asks in a puzzled way the meaning of brave men in serge, mounted on horses, and many other pages of Canadiana. I try to explain that there really is no medicinal value to maple syrup, just pure sweetener. That’s what $180 buys you these days: a ten-year passport with a maple leaf emblazoned on every page, just in case you’re a confused Indian customs man, and are clueless to the holders origin.

We all laughed, us a bit nervously, me more hysterically, and shuffled our way down to the toilets. Except that there were none. At least none that were working. Room upon room of Western type toilets beckoned invitingly, all being cleaned simultaneously; classic Indian efficiency run amok. In the end, Karen barged through a no-go sign, scattering skivvies with mops in hand, and probably peed on the floor. I didn’t dare watch. Many other female types seem to be jettisoned out at the same time. Sometimes in India is just best not to ask any questions.

After the toilet fiasco, there was the money-changing fiasco, a SIM-card fiasco, and a prepaid-taxi fiasco. By this time, everything appeared to be in a bad Fellini movie – you know, the type that seems to have the last reel played first, and really no idea how it all ends. As I lurched from one booth to another, mind racing in blind panic, I left my passport lying on the counter. A potentially fatal error when traveling in a foreign country. Mercifully, an obliging Indo-Canadian, recognizing my plight, returned it smilingly. Luckily all did not end in tears, although by now I nearly was.

The next challenge was finding “Basil the Residency”. This actually was meant to be our hotel, but the whole thing was looking more and more like a Fawlty Towers farce minute by minute. The decrepit taxi had an awful similarity to Basil’s wretched vehicle. I almost wanted to hit it with a branch like he did in one of those classic episodes. The vehicle was a mechanical ruin, held together by rubber bands and many prayers to one of India’s millions of deities. It’s really good to be so out of your mind that you can’t take anything in, when traveling on Indian roads. Our saving grace is that it’s now about 5 AM, so there wasn’t too much traffic on the road. Naturally our driver went through all the red lights, drove on the wrong side of the highway, mounted a few roundabouts, all the while hooting his horn. It’s a good thing that Indians have many lives, as they don’t seem to care that much about this one.

My good luck charm is the name and address of Basil written on a scrap of paper like the Holy Grail. Without this, we would still be circling around the nether regions of Delhi. I’m not quite sure if the driver can even read it, but he just keeps steadfastly on, stopping and thrusting the aforementioned piece of paper to mystified policemen, and other innocent bystanders. Mostly they shake their heads and point in completely different directions. Sometimes it takes all of 10 minutes to give a complex set of directions, which usually end us up a dead end street.

Finally there’s a sign to Basil. It kind of points skywards, behind an impenetrable thick brick wall. There is a large chained gate to a nearby highway, mysteriously only open between 2 to 3 AM, which our driver wrestles through, to get more directions. Ultimately he continues around a few more circles, and manages to move a large bus out of the way, as we arrive at our destination. Basil looms welcomingly, even at 5 AM. The doorman is not fazed as we lurch out of the taxi with various bits of luggage and clothing askew. Belt from trousers long gone; shoes jettisoned in some interminable line-up in Timbuktu. But we made it. All in one piece. Aahh. Incredible India.