Having had my hair washed and oiled at an overpriced salon in the airport, I proceeded to fly to Delhi via Indigo which was fantastic. Up in the air, I considered buying a samosa for Rs 120 and balked. My shock and awe at the price of things in India will be a continuing theme of this series of posts.
MinCat picked me up and we drove to JNU to pick up a cousin of hers, giggling at the gate at the cloneness of hipsters (black-rimmed glasses, nose-ring, short curly hair, cigarette, kurta).
My first impression of Delhi: it’s Bangalore but bigger. Tree-lined streets with houses but wider, better roads with more organised traffic and bigger houses. Right off I could see that the infrastructure here is better than any other city I have been to in India.
We went to this complete dive bar, where the entirely male clientele paused and stared as we entered (three women, and one 21-year-old long-haired guy) and then proceeded to ignore us. We ate the best butter chicken I have had in my life and some divine kebabs (salivating as I write this) and drank for a negligible sum. I smoked my first cigarette since Feb 2010. V had earlier texted MinCat to request her to not let me smoke. Her response: Not getting into this.
We tottered out of the bar and down the street to buy provisions. I glanced around furtively for ambushers, this being the notorious Delhi and all, but noone seemed perturbed by the sight of three unescorted women prancing down the street. Then we went to MinCat’s flat and got stoned and had huge philosophical conversations and played taboo and conceded defeat to the boys when we had actually won and giggled over their competitiveness. I realised, on my nth cigarette, that I really need to do this every once in a while. This is missing in my life – the intellectualised debauchery.
And also, much as I make fun of hipsters, I am one of them. The difference is that I have some mainstream elements. I can allow myself to relish the Shopaholic series and not take an ironic position. I can take a step back from playing the part. At least, I hope I do.
The next day we drove to Gurgaon to visit a friend. She doesn’t live in Gurgaon proper but I did get a sense of gated communities. She has created a wonderful home with so much character in the midst of what is essentially a nondescript settlement. We reminisced and listened to rock and played with her baby.
On my last day in Delhi, we were tourists. We went to Chandni Chowk and wandered through alleyways attracting curious stares. We stopped at a handmade paper shop where I started bargaining, did a quick conversion and just paid what he had asked for. On the way out, MinCat asked the shopkeeper where we could eat. He looked at me and said: “Ye kya khayenge?” She assured him that I could eat anything off the street, though none of us were quite sure of this. Anyway, we ate kachoris and chole batura and I was fine, thank you very much, Mr Handmade Paper.
Then we proceeded to the Red Fort where I got an audio guide and did my thing, which means listening to every single word of the narrated commentary. I refrained from clicking the numbers for additional information because there was a poor boy accompanying me and sweltering (MinCat had settled herself under a tree with our bags). Everything in the Twentieth Wife series came to life and I wanted more, more more.
So MinCat kindly drove me to India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan and I thought of Paris. Then we went to Hauz Khas village with its trendy stores and galleries and cafes and over a coffee served to us by a firang manager, I confessed to MinCat that this was the only India I could envisage myself in and she asked me when I had ever been part of authentic India anyway and there was no shame in living a slightly ghettoised existence (I flatter myself that MinCat has a vested interest in me moving back to India but I take her point).
I was also very excited to take the metro. It was a surreal experience, a train that looked like the one in Hong Kong but full of only Indian people. While its trappings were foreign, its practice was Indian. People sat shoulders touching, squeezing in where their bottoms fit. I liked the camaraderie of it. We also travelled in the general compartment (almost wrote men’s compartment) where a seat freed up and I offered it to an older guy and he insisted I take it and I sat down. All very civilised.
At the airport on my way back to Bombay, I had only hand luggage to carry. I was surprised when they spotted the scissors and some other metal object in my make-up pouch and asked me to remove it. I opened my suitcase and sent panties flying searching for the offending items. Finally, they took the scissors and let me off without the other thing. Landed in Bombay and took a prepaid cab home myself very smugly.