I’m sitting in the back of a cab amidst the thirty minute drive from Indira Gandhi International Airport to the Double Tree Hilton in New Delhi and I am pretty sure I’m about to die.
I know this because my liaison has seen fit to have me collected by a lunatic cabbie who is currently cutting in front of rickshaws, dodging cattle and darting between the parade of heavy vehicles going Ganesh knows where in such abundance on a Sunday night.
As my life flashes sepia across my eyes, Tahrir, the cabbie, inquires as to whether I am American, married and happy in my profession, quite unaware that his queries take on a sinister hue as the incessant Hindi music transforms his gregariousness into the grotesque.
When I finally come to terms with the fact that Tahrir is fighting an accomplished and winning battle against the complete chaos that is New Delhi traffic, I gradually begin to relax and take in my surroundings.
Though I cannot see the stars in the sky or any of the buildings the city is famous for, New Delhi takes on a bustling beauty that I am sure will soon steal my heart.
Slowly I begin to see that in and amidst the madness there is a racing rhythm.
Its notes resound in the discord of an auto-rickshaw all but crashing into a Tata Indica on the left while the tail of a beautiful woman’s bright pink sari flies high into the sky as she envelopes a motorcyclist deftly weaving his way in between massive trucks, humble bicycles and silent sedans.
Suddenly it is a harmonious cacophony and though I have been gripping my bag and silently beseeching my creator, I eventually feel so safe that I give in to the hours spent flying nervously over Africa and across the Red Sea and wake only when we pull up in front of the Hilton.
At this point is hard for me to distinguish between dreams and reality because though a glance in the reflective surface assures me that I am myself, everyone seems to be bowing and smiling as if I am well known and highly regarded.
This strange behaviour continues as I check in, as I stagger into the elevator and as I carefully close my door on a bellboy whose ceaseless beaming is doing much to exacerbate my mounting migraine.
This is the start of my great Indian adventure and as my time there stretches into hours and days, I come to know that the outlandish, grinning hospitality I feel self-conscious enough to pay 200 rupees for at the Hilton is simply an omnipresent manifestation of the Indian idea that ‘a guest is God.’
Things remain just as godly when I venture out to go shopping and I find that the practice involves being led in off the street and seated on the most comfortable chair in the building while a salesman brings me clothes and cloths in every colour and creation I can fathom.
The same is true when I find myself braving the New Delhi Metro and I am all but melting in a stew of ten thousand men, many of whom inquire as to my well-being after I forego ridding someone of their seat.
This is the way of things.
Though people warned me that skin as dark as my own may be subject to ridicule in a country that has practiced the caste system, the feeling of welcome and indeed some kind of worship is almost uncomfortable in its abundance.
In-between this deluge of decorum, I visit India Gate, the Taj Mahal, Chandni Chowk, Delhi Haat and Connaught Place.
And when my plane finally returns to African soil and I am greeted by a sleepy clerk at the international transfer desk who never cracks a smile and does his utmost to make me feel like a fugitive of the law my thoughts are simply this…
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