My plane touched the ground of Indira Gandhi tarmac a few hours past sunset. I arrived an hour behind schedule due to bad weather in Chicago. The airport was ordinary until I walked out the exit, then it became unusual. The structure was decent, but as soon as I passed the metal barricade I was transported back to the 1970’s. My retina was layered with a sepia filter, everything turned two-tones of beige and brown. A few meters down the walkway was the sudden stop of modern civilization and the abrupt beginning of last century’s dirt road. I lugged my luggage across the open field of rough surface for fifteen minutes before we reached the car.
My impression of the first fifteen minutes of handshake with Delhi: it’s a city full of piss and spit. The first thing you smell from the tarmac was the strong urine stench as if the whole city just finished the performance of a synchronized pissing concerto. There was no shyness, inhibition, reservation, doubt or shame of being caught during the pissing act by public eyes. Pissing seems to be as common, as acceptable, as ordinary as whistling. At times I must admit, these two weren’t mutually exclusive either. In the first fifteen minutes of intro to Delhi 101, I counted three pissers and five spitters decorating the half-ruined wall of Indira Gandhi International Airport of Delhi, the modern capital of India.
I couldn’t really tell whether the illuminated street lamps were covered by winter fog or surrounded by smoke. The heavy air I inhaled hinted me towards the later. I sneaked into the car willingly as my head was still spinning from being airborne for fourteen consecutive hours.
The ride to the guest house, Amarya Garden, was an hour and a half long from the airport, as if the thirty hour journey was not enough. Traffic in Delhi was severely congested even at eleven o’clock in the evening. Drivers were honking every two seconds and I wonder if now the sound of a horn ever sends any effective message anymore, such as “please move to the side” or “your taillight is off” or “you are on the wrong side of the road” or “piss off, you wanker!!!”. There were too many to notice, to care and to be reactive. Traffic was going two-ways on one-way roads. Red lights meant nothing, neither to stop nor to slow down, they were purely decorative. Lane dividers were unnoticeable, people simply drove over them doing a balancing acrobatic act, trying not to fall to either side and consequently, heaven forbids, have to drive within the lines.
Trucks are forbidden to drive through the city between five in the morning and nine in the evening, which means Delhi traffic goes in cycle with no downtime. The honking seems worse during the graveyard shift because regular cars are at risk being at the truckers’ blind spot and honking is the only mean to be noticed, or to be exact, to attempt to be noticed among one thousand and one other horns.
I was welcomed with the fresh jasmine garland in my room at Amarya Garden, which felt like a soothing breath of fresh air to my tired and aching body. It was almost midnight and I was exhausted from staying up for almost forty hours since I left my doorstep. I crashed and slept for the next twelve hours to compensate for the non-existing of sleep since six in the morning the day before.