India: Adventures Till The Very End [en]

I’m sitting at my gate here in Delhi airport. In a few hours I’ll be in the air, in less than a day I’ll be home. Leaving India is always surreal and inevitably makes me very sad. I think it sends me back to my first “leaving India”, and also, maybe more than other places I go, it’s somewhere I feel strangely at home, despite how alien and removed from my “normal life” it is here. I already noted a few years ago that when in India, Switzerland disappears (and vice-versa). I look forward to seeing my cat, but right now, honestly, I don’t want to go home. I know things will be different once I’m actually back, and I’ll be happy to see my friends, be in my flat, live a familiar life. But I think there is something about how different these two “ways of being” are that unsettles me. In addition to that, this time around, although I think I managed to make good of it, my trip had a rocky start. And I miss not having had the two weeks with my friend that I was so looking forward to.

Two adventures today. The first, getting to the airport. There is very heavy smog in Delhi right now. So bad that it’s in the international papers. So bad that people are advised to stay indoors if they can. So bad that diesel vehicles are banned from entering Delhi, we are told. I heard something about a 40k INR fine. Ouch. So, we had to find a petrol car to drive me to Delhi. Actually, the same driver who took me to Rajasthan. This had me a bit wary as I had very nearly said something to him on that trip given how pushy I found he was about getting ahead of any car in front of him and squeezing into any gap in the traffic. But there wasn’t that much traffic on the way to Rajasthan. Delhi airport is another story. I’ve seen my fair share of Indian roads and driving, but let me tell you I was a little tense – and intervened to mention there was no emergency and we had plenty of time to get me to the airport. The pace calmed down a little, but still, I was almost surprised to reach the airport without us touching anybody on the road. It wasn’t disastrous, but still, I’ve been treated to less nerve-wracking driving in India and I know it’s possible.

The second, at the airport. I had dinner before coming, but discovered Delhi airport has a huge food court (in addition to a large selection of luxurious stores). I wandered around, and figured that it might be wise to grab a little snack before getting on the plane, as I was almost starting to feel a little peckish, and I wasn’t certain when we would be fed on the plane (departure 1.45am). Browing the various food stalls, I see mention of a Kolkata chicken andha roll. Yum! There we go. I pay with my card, but am surprised to discover I have been charged 330 INR instead of the 260 written on the board. Worried that there might be a misunderstanding with my order (I really wanted that chicken roll), I enquired, and got a rather unsatisfactory answer. I started wondering if this was another of these situations where a quick buck can be made from a presumably clueless visitor (it happens).

A man next to me in the queue asked me what the problem was. I explained, he enquired (more efficiently than me), a lot of confusion ensued (with, at one point, my order cancelled and a cash refund on the counter), but in the end things were sorted out and I got my roll with a complimentary masala chai as well as a dinner companion. It turns out the price on the board was wrong. OK, said we, but in that case, you inform the customer before charging a different price… The roll was nice (and huge, I wasn’t expecting so much! I’m definitely not worried about my next meal now) and I had a nice chat with this man from Andhra Pradesh who was on his way back to Chicago where his family lives. Sometimes India serves you with these pleasant, random encounters that leave you with a little extra faith in life and humanity.

Another highlight of my day was attending a danse performance by students of Ashoka University. Different styles, taking us through the rasas of the Natya Shastra. I regretted not having a better understanding of what was going on (I often feel shame at my lack of Indian “culture” for somebody who has studied it) but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and was very impressed by the talent of the students on stage, be it dancing, singing and reciting, or playing music. A very high-quality production!

I head back to Switzerland a little anxious about what the coming week will bring me. Will this break have had the positive effect I expect, even though I’m feeling like a big jumble of emotions right now? Fingers crossed.

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