Sunday, August 15, 2010

The passage to India

It's quarter to four in the morning, and Delhi is pitch black and empty. The monsoon is falling on the torn-up concrete path outside the hotel in torrential bursts, while the sweat drips down my cheek and makes my glasses steam. I'm half dead with exhaustion after a plane flight so uncomfortable that every time I fell into sleep, the very act of it jolted me awake again. And that's not the half of it.

A staccato stream of Hindi is being rapidly exchanged and the deep brown eyes of Mohammed Nazim, who is studying for his MBA in Executive Management when not moonlighting as an airport connection meeter-and-greeter, are flicking back and forth between me, who is in increasing agitation, and the driver, who has his hands up in defence.

I swear up and down and sideways to those brown eyes that I had TWO bags with me at the airport. My backpack, with all my clothes and toiletries, is sitting on the ground in front of me here at the abandoned reception desk of the hotel - but my Adidas sports bag, with my Canon 50-D camera, and my HP Netbook, and all my travel documents (including details of my travel insurance) is nowhere to be seen.

I *knew* I put it on the trolley. I *knew* it came to the car with me. But somehow the driver, who was fast asleep and had to be woken, has missed it. It was dark in the carpark - they are turning the lights off to save electricity ahead of the Games in October - so I can perfectly understand how it could happen, in the fog and haze of half-awakeness at three-fifteen in the morning.

My heart sinks. There's no chance of finding it now, I know. An hour later? In the middle of the night? With all of that stuff inside? I'm sure it's a lost cause. Mr Mohammed is terribly distressed and there's nothing for it - we decide to go back, just in case. If it's not there, at least we have tried.

The reverse trip is silent, except for murmurs of Hindi in which I can make out the words trolley, bag, and Adidas. There is much pensive shaking of heads in traditional Indian head-wobble way, and the inflection of the driver's voice is more and more disbelieving.

Dozing with exhaustion in the back of the car I have visions of spending the next three days in queues, making insurance claims. Trying to contact Intrepid in Melbourne with no internet access, no phone - my international roaming hasn't come on yet (thanks Telstra) - and no policy details. Having to outlay cash for a new camera because I'm damned if I'm going to Rajasthan without one. I fall asleep.

Forty minutes later, I'm in a demountable office in the base of the half-finished carpark at the new Indira Gandhi airport, surrounded by concrete blocks and mesh wiring, and twelve concerned Indian men are clustered around me, clucking with concern and worry and head-wobbling like their necks are made out of slinky springs. There isn't a great deal of hope in the room with us. An hour passes.

Then suddenly, the Supervisor Boss appears, puffed up with power and glory, and a cry goes up against the men and just like that the room is transformed and uniformed military officers with high-powered rifles are crowding in too and then like a bolt out of the blue, I see it, my Adidas bag, being carried aloft like a rock star crowdsurfing his fans, and it's passed and shuttled along to me on a wave of happy hands above their heads and I catch it as it falls into my lap.

And everything is there inside it. Every single thing. A young security guard has found it and submitted it, entire, to the wrong department. He's new, and the men are clapping him on the back, and the Supervisor Boss gives him a stern lecture about what to do next time something like this happens, with a gruff bit of praise for his actions, and the young man ducks his eyes and nods and the clothes hang off his narrow hips and shoulders like he's a ghost.

My faith in humanity is restored, and I can't believe how lucky I am, and the brown eyes of Mohammed Nazim fill with a genuine and overwhelming relief. The customer is safe, and happy, and has her things, and he's done his job and put to rights something that could have been altogether terrible.

The honour of India is intact. I see myself reflected.


Di said...

What a great post! But I bet you wish you'd never had the experience in the first place. I'm so glad for you, and almost let out a cheer myself at the end! Have a wonderful holiday now ... off you go!

Jay @ Finki said...

Hey Miss Flick, what an amazing post and it's only day one of the trip.
I laughed at the thought of being surrounded by the slinky like bobble heads, and the adidas bag that crowd surfed it's way safely back into your arms.
My God.
You are such a fabulous story teller. I can't wait to hear more.
Jay xx
p.s so glad you got your camera back...I would have cried..

Jennie said...

Phew! May nothing else during your holiday generate so much adrenalin.

Isabella Golightly said...

OMG! Fantastic, amazing, incredible India. What's next?

Margaret @ Konstant Kaos said...

You had me holding my breath! India is on my "to visit" list, hopefully in this lifetime. Looking forward to reading more adventures!

Jill said...

GREAT POST!! You have such a lovely style of writing! I'm so glad your trip started well - ok, sort of well!!!

Lauren said...

Stunning post! Incredibly evocative, and now that I know you got the bag back I can say that I am glad that happened just so I got to read this post! Beautiful!