City of Djinns

The crazy story so far…..

Got to the airport with plenty of time to spare to find that the flight was cancelled! What a great start!!! They put me on an earlier flight….that was delayed by 1.5 hours! Waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad and now begins my 13 months away from the United Kingdom….

Arrived in Frankfurt at about the same time the Delhi flight was supposed to take off. Before I knew it I was on the Delhi bound plane and had completely forgotten to even look out the window in Germany, a country I have never been to before and probably the first country I have been to where I have not spent more than 15 minutes in.

The flight from Frankfurt to Delhi feels like it took an absolute age (actually it did)! They played an Indian film that I had been partly watching/subtitle reading, something about a guy with 5 sons that he would do anything for, but when it comes to him needing something they all turn him away……..I was beside myself with emotion at the end. I was sitting on an isle seat in the middle of the plane. There were three people to the right of me, a couple and a girl of my age on her own. After four hours of sitting in silence I attempted to make polite conversation with the girl, she didn’t seem very interested in talking. The man in the couple went to the toilet and collapsed outside it! A 10,000ft drama was unfolding…. He seemed to be okay after a while, him and his wife got a free upgrade to business class. Maybe I will fake a similar problem on the 9 hour flight to Australia. The girl that didn’t want to talk to me was then told that her luggage was not on board. I felt a bit sorry for her, I asked if she would be ok when she arrived, she now seemed more happy to talk. It always feels better to talk to somebody in circumstances like this.

Work were kind enough to get me a MP3 player as a leaving present. Unfortunetly the laptop I have has a ridge above the USB port and so I cannot plug it in! I am thinking of ‘modifiying’ the laptop, or prehaps I will just shop around in India for an USB extender.

I have heard terrible things about the airport, namely the hassel in getting a taxi and the extremely high risk of being conned or taken to the wrong hotel. There is a vulnerability about arriving in airports, especially if its somewhere you may never have been before. Delhi Airport was much as I had expected. The customs officer checked my passport and stamped it, muttered a few things to me, in which my response each time was “Sorry?”, after a while I just gave up trying to understand what he was saying and just smiled politely. After I got through customs, I got 100USD changed into rupees (you cannot bring rupees into the country) and made my way into the arrivals area. It seemed all very relaxed, there was no shouting as I had expected and the man from the hotel with the sign was there to meet me! We walked to the car down lots of little passages and through car parks where people just seemed to stand around. I could see mosquitoes in the air and wondered if I would get the fatal malrious bite minutes after being in the country, like what happened to a collegue at work. The taxi driver was very nice, I asked him a few questions, which his answers were mostly “yes”. For example, Question: “Where are all these trucks going?” Answer: “Yes”. I soon decided my best course of action was to ask questions I already knew the answer for and were definetly “Yes”.

I arrived at the hotel safely, a 10 minute journey from the airport. The first thing I find amazing about India is the amount of staff the hotel has. There is a guy playing the piano most of the day in the lobby, a man who’s sole job it is it to look after the swimming pool. The men that stand at the gates that take pride in their uniforms and the women that stand outside the toilets dressed in purple uniform. The complete opposite of England where you are lucky to find a member of staff anywhere and when you do they are normally unhelpful or impolite. It is the opposite here. The second thing I have noticed about India is their obsession with Cricket! A man in Saket asked me where I was from. After telling him I was from England he went on to tell me how much he would love to meet Ian Bothan. The Hindustan Times has a ‘Geoff Boycott on Cricket’ cartoon in the sports section –

I was really looking forward to going bowling in this hotel. As supposedly it had a 5 lane bowling alley, there’s pictures of it on the Raddisson Delhi website. I had big plans to get a lot of bowling in, maybe even reaching a semi-professional level before leaving. After about 30 minutes of searching I realised there was no bowling alley! Gone is the possibility of drinking white russians and bowling every evening for the next 30 nights as well as that killer line to the ladies – “Wanna come back to my hotel?…It’s got a bowling alley”.

I went down for dinner at ‘Cafe NYC’ which bares little resemblance to anything you would find in the New York, which to be honest, is probably a good thing. The waiter opened the menu in front of me and stood next to me waiting for an order. I looked at the menu infront of me it read – ‘Whiskey’ ‘Gin’ with a list of different brands. I turned the page, ‘Tequila’, ‘Vodka’, the list went on, I said “ummmm, can I just have a tea?” the waiter looked a bit shocked, took the spirit menu off of me and walked off. When I finally got the food menu I decided to go for something local, so I ordered an ‘Aloo Bukhara Kofta Curry’ it was very nice, the first of many I imagine!!

Day two, Saturday and I am all set to meet Ilke, my friend of a friend from the Netherlands who is teaching out here. In the morning I sat by the pool, although its 30 degrees centigrade it is not a moist heat, it is not too bad. I bought a fruit danish pastry for the equivalent of 27pence. It was beautiful. I also ordered a Iced Tea, and then realised I had been warmed not to drink anything with ice. Getting it replaced for a normal tea was a real issue for the guy, persistance and staying cool is the key here.

I got into a taxi to take me to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, to meet my new friend Ilke. It was great to meet her and her friends. I drank tea out of a funny tin and ate sponge cake. We walked around the grounds of the Ashram and had a look at the primary school in which they teached. Some of the class rooms were outside, it was all very different to how I remember primary school. I had a look in Cornes’ room and played some Smashing Pumpkins on his guitar (I so wish I had mine, there’s only so much air guitar I can do), he had a room all to him self, where the girls have to share a room between 6, I couldn’t find out for sure because boys are fobidden in the girls area and the same vice-versa!! We walked past a man that invited us to see his turtles. He showed Ilke and myself about 4 in total before we said goodbye and thank you to the turtle man. I felt I should have invited Ilke and her friends to stay at my place as the room is about 5 times bigger than it needs to be and mosquito free, unlike their Ashram!!! I gave Ilke the salty liqourice that I had promised her. I tried one and it was absolutely disgusting!!!! Must be a Netherlands only thing. Hopefully I have persauded them to come to my place next weekend. I told them all about the pancakes and syrup for breakfast and the swimming pool etc.. I hope that will make them want to come! We rode an Autorickshaw (this three wheel device that operates a lot like a go-kart) we got hit by a water ballon thrown at us from the street (it is Holi Festival this weekend, but there was no paint thank goodness) to Saket, an area with a western style shopping mall where we went to Pizza Hut. The gap between rich and poor here is so huge that it is very strange. We could have been in Pizza Hut Piccadilly London, but a look out the window and there’s people begging and living in makeshit box houses outside, actually a lot like Piccadilly London….. I was not too hungry after eating pancakes and pastry in the hotel earlier and the fact they had opened the upstairs for us and it was not initially air conditioned so was like a sauna! After dinner and a lot of good chat I got an Autorickshaw back to the hotel for 70 rupees (about 88 pence) a 20 minute journey, we had to stop at a newsagent to ask for directions on the way back as that driver clearly had no idea where the hotel was (I suddenly wished I had taken the advice in England to hire a car with a driver for the afternoon) I actually thought I’d never make it back, we skidded to a halt twice and got hit (apparently, I didn’t notice it was such a bumpy ride) by an Ambassador car behind us, which ended in a 5 minute argument between the two drivers in the middle of an intersection. I spent half of the journey actually off the seat as we hit huge bumps and holes in the road. At one stage a bus was edging out of a side street infront of us, the driver or my vehicle didn’t seem to be slowing down, just more furiously using the horn as we steadly speeded towards the side of the bus, I shut my eyes at this stage. All I can tell you is that the roads are crazy, although not quite as insane as Cairo (they use their lights at night here), so thank goodness it was not too much of a shock although cows walk around aimlessly and lay down in the middle of the road! Drivers just go around them. I gave the Autorickshaw man a US dollar that I found in my wallet as a tip for getting me back alive. I may have made his afternoon giving it to him as he tooted the horn and waved at me as he sped off into the night, but he gave me a journey on his little moving tin machine I will never forget!

Gary Brewer

Gary Brewer