Well. This has been a weird trip so far.
I’m staring up at the ceiling fan. It’s furiously spinning like a turbine engine and I’m wondering, not for the first time since arriving in India, if it’s going to crash down and decapitate me. India feels like a place in which you would be decapitated by a ceiling fan in a hotel room and no one would even blink an eye.
Honestly, considering the conditions, I find it amazing that people live here and don’t contract dysentery or cholera or syphilis or malaria and die. Everything about this place is an absolute disaster – beyond my means of comprehension – and yet somehow people live functional, organized, ritualized lives.
In the beginning, India made me smile. Every confirmed stereotype became an inside joke with myself: yes, everyone stares at you; yes, it smells like warm earthy spices and also human urine sometimes; yes, there is a warmth about the people that Thailand didn’t have; yes, the women are berobbed in luxurious, brightly colored, shimmering silk saris; yes, there are people everywhere.
The people, the people, I’m lost in all the people. There are just so. many. souls. So many souls plodding along…
Eventually, I stopped smiling.
I’m approached by locals incessantly, without pause, but they are only moments. And they always, always have ulterior motives.
I spent three hours in the Delhi airport lunching with a wealthy Indian businessman named Anand and a famous Indian comedian who happened to be sitting at the table next to ours.
I sipped my tea at the overpriced airport cafe and observed wide-eyed as Anand and the comedian conversed in Hindi like old friends.
Passerby approached every few minutes to take camera phone shots of themselves alongside the comedian. Their eyes met mine questioningly: who is this small white girl he’s lunching with? It was the first time since I arrived that I was not the center of the camera-phone-wielders attention.
Anand invited me to Bahrain with him. He motioned as if to hop out of his seat and over to the ticket counter to buy me a ticket.
“Come on, you can be my guest for a week, all expenses covered.”
It was tempting and I considered his offer for about five seconds, but graciously declined and let him buy me a Delhi metro ticket out of the airport and into the city instead. Bahrain might be nice and lord knows I could use some luxury (hot shower, anyone?) but I’ll be no one’s concubine, not even for free stuff.
How did I even get myself in this position in the first place? Alone, in the Delhi airport, lunching with this generous and slightly pervy old man…? It all started in Kolkata about six days ago…
I met Jordan in Kolkata and we spent 3 or so good days wandering, sweating, eating, and laughing before booking a train to Varanasi. I think we booked second class sleeper, top bunks.
We stumbled into Howrah Station in Kolkata speechlessly, trying to find a way to comprehend the scene now enfolding us: people everywhere. Families standing, squatting, trudging forward, in scarves and saris with bags balanced on their heads and metal containers of home cooked food for the journey and babies on hips and nose rings and jingly anklets and everyone speaking different languages. The place itself, a massive steely enclosure, must not have been touched in the last century. I told Jordan in the only words I managed to get out that I felt like we were traveling refugees in the 1800’s. He said, “or maybe this is Bondi Junction in 100 years. Some warped dystopic futureland. The Brave New World.” Exactly.
Jordan’s entire backpack was stolen within our first hour on the train, probably while we he was distracted leading me through an abbreviated history of house music facilitated by his iPhone’s music collection.
We took turns searching our carriage for the missing backpack but to no avail. I retreated to my bunk and watched from above as the police got involved and began interrogating every single passenger in a fruitless attempt to bring the culprit to justice.
A scene was forming at the base of our bunks as other Indian passengers on our carriage decided to involve themselves.
I could see from my perch that Jordan was growing disheartened, frustrated, and physically ill, but I couldn’t help my giggles; there was something a bit hysterical about the hysterics brought on by Jordan’s stolen property (he retained the important stuff: passport, iphone, wallet, and the clothes on his back).
I was still laughing when the policeman requested a sketch of the missing item; Jordan penciled the outline of a backpack on the back of a receipt with only the slightest touch of sarcasm before pushing through the crowds to the train window, where he proceeded to hang out his head and vomit onto the tracks.
My laughter turned to concern-face. Oh no, what an awful time to suffer the symptoms of food poisoning…Oh, poor Jordan…
The crowd followed Jordan to the “Indian style” toilets, where he continued to vomit under their collective gaze.
I slept on top of my bag that night.
I awoke to the calls of the chai-wallahs passing through on their morning rounds. Jordan said he was sick all night and suspected he now had a fever.
Well, at least we made it to Varanasi. I, too, became ill almost immediately upon our arrival. Lucky for me, my food poisoning manifested as only severe diarrhea and a night of feverish sweating. Jordan’s bout seemed to be worse, and more debilitating. We essentially spent three days in bed, afraid to eat anything except mashed potatoes from the restaurant on the roof of our hotel.
We dozed in our room, cooled by the air con in between power outtages.
I ventured out alone to explore the city on one of the better days. I returned to find Jordan despondent in bed.
“Okay, whats up? Talk to me.” I sat down on the bed facing him. He pulled earphones out of his ears.
“I hate it. I hate this place. It’s disgusting, uncivilized, and everyone is just trying to rip us off. I’m sick and I only own a pair of shoes, shorts, and half a tank top.”
I laughed – he was, of course, referring to the only shirt he still had, a maroon singlet that exposed his nipples.
“Okay. I understand. So what do you want to do? What are our options? We don’t have to stay here.”
We sorted through the possibilities, but what it came down to was that Jordan wanted to go home. I told him to go if he wanted to go. I told him I understand and wasn’t crazy about the place either.
“You have no idea what a relief it is to hear that you don’t like it either. I was afraid you were gonna say you loved it and was feeling all spiritual and connected and that you wished I would stay. My only concern is leaving you. I don’t want to leave you alone here.”
“Well I don’t want you to stay somewhere where you’re miserable because of me. I’ve traveled alone before, I can do it again.”
The following day, at 3:30pm, after six days in India and with only the clothes on his back and a money pouch around his waist, Jordan left for the airport. He was gone, I was alone in India. No one but myself and a whole lot of options.
I’ll skip the whole five-days-in-Delhi-alone-trying-to-make-decisions part (this was when I was invited to Bahrain, to put things in their chronological place), and just tell you: I was supposed to travel with Jordan in India for five weeks, but now I’m traveling alone in Europe for five weeks instead. I’m pretty pleased with the tradeoff.