I arrived at the Delhi domestic terminal after a breezy flight from Bangalore. I had to wait over an hour for my friend the Maharaja SriHarsh to arrive. Waiting on a bench looking over the baggage claim I experienced India’s pageantry.
The first plane arrived from Kashmir, I saw men and women with heavy winter blankets tossed over their shoulders, rustic Muslim breads and veils warming their faces. Their clothing was clean, but stained from a lifetime of bucket washing. The people looked bewildered with the airports commotion. Their luggage was canvas bags wrapped with cords or suitcases from the 1970s. Kashmir is a disputed region with China and Pakistan occupying territory claimed by India. Kashmir was the site of a long jihad that has relatively recently quieted to a furious murmur.
The next plane arrived from Amritsar, the home of the turban wearing Sikhs. The sikh men who popped off the plane struck me as unusually tall for Indians. I guess their turban adds a few inches. For men even just a few inches can make a world of difference.
The third plane came from Mumbai. The people didn’t have time for me to inspect them. The moment they landed the emergency exits popped off from the pressure of the overcrowded cabin. The people crammed all their bodies through the doors at once, lit up their mobile phones, turned on their electronic cigarettes and were gone from the airport in a flash. Couldn’t be bothered to wait for their luggage.
Finally, the flight from Bihar arrived. Bihar is the most corrupt state in India. Biharis are also the most corrupt people. I have, until this day, never seen an airplane that carried a live elephant strapped to the bottom. Once the plane landed and the landing gear was recoiled back into the plane, the elephant’s legs were employed to promptly take the plane to the gate. Carried out of the cabin on a golden palanquin, I greeted my friend the Maharaja Sri Sriharsh.
Sriharsh and I gave each other a big ole’ American super-sized hug when we met. Sriharsh had been my fraternity brother and housemate. Harsh and I connected because his overly wise advice and analysis of the world can be very convincing. I learned that Harsh’s charisma was much more powerful in India. During high school in Delhi he orchestrated a seamless beating of a hated bully. An achievement which won him his entire school’s praise.
Sriharsh and I exited the airport and entered into the care of his driver Pataji. Delhi had a heavy coat of fog on that day. Sriharsh took me to a barbecue place where he had been a regular during high school. Most importantly, he introduced me to his ex-girlfriend and now super best friend. During university, the Maharaja had kept his personal life a vaulted secret. He never spoke about it to anyone, but then suddenly I realized that she must have been one of the many phone calls he took from India throughout the week. She was a marvelous young woman, a rough cut of diamond just like him.
The three of us ate an all-you-could-eat, high quality meat buffet. It was the meatiest meal I had eaten since Mumbai.
After the meal the Maharaja clapped his hands and the restaurant vanished into thin air. Pataji drove us to visit a man who was developing large plots of land into luxury homes. The developer asked me to look over his designs. The homes were very beautiful and they all had atrium style gardens. I couldn’t wrap my head around why some of the rooms didn’t open into other rooms, but had to be accessed from a special outside door. My brain slowly realized that those were the servant’s quarters; a feature that American architects rarely include in their home designs.
The next morning Maharaja Singh and I went to Delhi’s opulent malls. We bought books and drank coffee. We ate Chinese food and then departed for Agra. On our way to Agra I got a phone call from Rebecca, who was also in Delhi at the time, she wanted to join us to Agra. So the Maharaja Singh and I picked her up from her hostel and the three of us went to Delhi.
On the way to Delhi, we sped at 100 mph along an empty highway. The new highway was totally excellent and totally abandoned. I guess the tolls for the road are too expensive. The road was spectacular. It was so smooth that Pataji cruised right up to 100 miles an hour while swerving, honking, laughing, and making hand gestures. After a bunch of anxious squirming, I put my life into his well-practiced hands. Zoom.
The high way had a few special characters. Although the highway was protected by barbed wire, some how a shepherd led his unruly flock into the dividing grass for a mousy. A few people parked in highway having lunch. The most remarkable was a man who was using the high way as a fitness track to do push-ups and jumping jacks.
The highway led us to a stretch of civil road that was ghastly. The people living there were far more wretched and suffering than anything I have seen. I felt guilty about feeling better when I wasn’t looking out the window at their unthinkable lives.
Then the Maharaja clapped his hands, the three of us were transported into the sublime realm of the Hare Krishna Temple. The temple was full of joyous singing and dancing. The place was wild with music and chanting. I really enjoyed seeing the Hare Krishna temple so alive and colorful, just ten minutes down the road from a place so dead and colorless.
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
In the morning we rode a camel cart to the Taj Mahal. We hired a professional liar to pose as a tour guide. We accepted his fantasies with eager ooos and ahhhs, took pictures, and had a great time. After mining Facebook gold with our cameras, we ended the afternoon with drinks at the Oberoi Taj Mahal Hotel. Pataji went to the Mahal by himself. I felt sorry that he had to see the thing alone. I guess that loneliness is part of his line of work.
We returned to the capitol by nightfall and had dinner with the Maharaja’s friends. They took us to an illegal restaurant. What is an illegal restaurant? One walks up to a billboard and knocks. Then a door in the back of the billboard opens. Inside the billboard is a narrow room with a single burner on a table with the few bags of ingredients. The power for the restaurant is being sourced from the billboard’s lights. You order your food through the door and then wait in your car. The men bring you Aloo Kebabs to your car. The operation of a food vendor out of a billboard, rent and utilities free is a very novel idea. After the illegal restaurant and a heartier meal at one of the Malls the Maharaja clapped his hands together and suddenly we were sleeping in our respective beds.
The next morning the Maharaja and I took Rebecca to the airport. After she left we went back to the mall. The mall was so large that we got lost. We got so lost that we had to exit the mall and walk around it to find our Pataji. I have never seen a mall anything the size of the malls in Delhi.
The Maharaja and I walked around another hyper-sized outdoor mall. We separated for one hour and then came back together to have dinner and Paan. Paan is an after dinner sweet leaf rolled by a tobacconist. Then we were back in bed and off to the airport in the morning.
In Delhi the most important thing I saw was my friend Sriharsh. I got to see another side of him. A side of him that made sense. A place were he fit in. A place where many people knew him and missed him. It was so nice to see that side of his life. To realize how much more there is to his life than the very little I saw in Boston.
Delhi was a wonderful experience. I have been in India for two months and I have two more months to go. I feel like the time will fly, just as suddenly as the Maharaja claps his hands.