Thursday, 10 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 22: Bringing the bright lights home

I shook dreams from my hair around 6.30am and stared out of the window as we rolled towards H Nizamuddin train station, watching as daylight slowly broke through the night. By the time we were in New Delhi the sun was in full control of the blue ‘good-bye’ sky which would cover our final day. We went back to the New King DX Hotel, where we’d left a bag with the owner Sunni a week and a half prior, and checked into our dark dingy room. My throat felt more ripped than a body builder’s bicep so I left Sarah to lie on the bed whilst I went out in search of nourishment, returning with two teas, some water and three samosa’s that I’d brought from a street vendor. I ate two and drank my tea whilst lying on the bed watching Seinfeld, set my alarm for 11am and then caught some zzzz’s.
We awoke and showered in the dark, the ‘light’ was the most hilarious electrical installation I’d ever witnessed, two wires going onto a bulb that was hanging out of a broken hole in the wall. Shocking! I paid my tailor a visit to check out the suits I’d had made to measure and all three pieces of each suit had been crafted to perfection and fit like a dream. I crossed the Sikh shop-keeper’s palm with the remainder of the £115 total which I had outstanding, thanked him kindly, then happily skipped back to my room to drop them off.

Sarah and I bought a pretty little princess dress for my three year old sister, and agreed a price with some young guys to replace the henna on her hands which had long since faded since I’d arrived, before ascending a never-ending staircase to have lunch and look down on the town, voyeurs on a farewell tour of the streets we’d seen the most. The last unsatisfactory lunch over and done with, I went off in search of a music shop, leaving Sarah to have her hands turned into works of art, although I’d argue that the artistry in the palms of her parents’ finest creation is already perfection in itself. I followed a sign up some stairs and found myself surrounded by sitars and all manner of fun things to play. I told the chirpy proprietor I was in search of a small gift for a friend, and within five minutes I was on the verge of buying a full sized sitar for myself. I sat messing around as he gave me a brief lesson, then showed me how the pros do it, enticing me furthermore with the allure that the strings bring. I picked out two small, stringed instruments and a flute made with a coconut in the middle that I liked the sound of, fighting back the urge to return to my lover with another massive load to carry, and made it out of their unscathed.

I saw a store which sold my favourite sherwani tunic shirts and went in to see what they had on offer. The seller pulled out numerous boxes to show me, and I found one that I wanted to try on which he said I could. His manager seemed a bit put out by this, so I asked him if he had a problem with me trying it, which he denied. I said “Don’t worry, I just had a shower” with a laugh, but he didn’t seem too amused. I liked the shirt, but the price the manager gave me was three times what I’d paid for a near exact one when I first arrived in Delhi, so I gave him the price I’d paid, which he deemed impossible. He wouldn’t budge, so I told him not to worry. He started going into one, having a go at me for trying it on and not buying it, saying no other shops would allow someone to try it on (they do) and how I shouldn’t have tried it if I didn’t want to buy it (I did). I told him he was being an unreasonable prick, whilst his co-worker strangely stood alongside me with a calculator trying to give me a better ‘best price’. I walked away saying “I wouldn’t buy it from him if it was 10 rupees”, before looking back at the shouting aggressor with a farewell “Fuck you”, which he kindly returned. I walked on with a wry smile on my face, and a guy a few doors down said “Namaste” and told me I looked happy. I told him that I’d just had an argument and he laughed, wishing me a good day.
I met back with Sarah who was now unable to use her hands, so I fed her some water and we went off for some more excessive gift shopping, everything is so cheap and so cool that your list of people to buy for seems to grow as you go. After finding furnishings for a thousand friends flats for five pounds fifty-five we headed back to pack and shower again, squeezing everything I’d acquired into my once empty backpack and near filling the holdall that I’d bought earlier that day. We smoked a joint of our remaining hashish and lay together a while, in the hot haze of our ending days, semi-silent and still.

It was now 7pm and we were back on the same streets, which now looked completely different. I love how the night does that. There were a number of things which flashed through the stonedness as I strolled, staring in their direction as they called out through the dirt and flies, compelling me to stop at the shop and admire their neon charms. Within the bright wonders was a glowing picture of Shiva, sat cross-legged with eyes closed, looking peaceful, with a hypnotic rainbow coloured wheel spinning behind him, and a bright blue background. I loved him. Sarah dragged me away, eyes still fixed at the store, but sense told me it was too big to buy, I sighed, stating that if I have to pass it again, I won’t be able to fight its allure.  We walked past a three or four rickshaw drivers, and Sarah sighed afterwards, saying that one of them had blown kisses in her face like a leering pervert, but she wouldn’t tell me which one. We walked back a few minutes later and I blew kisses at each and every driver in the vicinity, kiss attacking back like a confused rent-boy. We found the place that we’d had Masala Dosa’s from before, they’re a south Indian dish so not particularly common in the area, but the small place was heaving, not a spare seat in sight. In the time it took us to decide whether to wait or come back, they had thrown a table and two bench seats from out of the upstairs window and we were sitting out front, looking at menus. Now THAT is what I call service. 
After a hearty meal Sarah took me into an underwear shop, where the seller and his kid spent an age showing her every size and colour they had. There was an ultra-violet strip light at the front of the small store, and all of the little flies from the street were attracted to it, so as we stood there thousands upon thousands were flying into it manically, quickly dying, and their corpses were collecting all over us, the counter, the floor and the products they were showing us. After too long being the final resting place of baby bugs I finally snapped and wigged out, telling Sarah I couldn’t take any more as I shook my way out of the store dancing and brushing my shoulders off. She followed soon after, and we patted each other down before marching homeward.

“What’s that light over there?” I said knowingly, swiftly stepping to my right, towards the light. Nothing could dissuade me, Shiva was coming back to The East Village, our Hackney home. I stuffed the electronic light frame with everything else I’d bought into my bag like I was playing Tetris, we had yet another shower, then sat chatting with Sunny the hotel manager until our taxi arrived. This was the beginning of the final stretch; we were ready to leave India.

The taxi was warm and we both sat silently, even the usually constant horns seemed to be non-existent as we were escorted away from the world of constantly odd and interesting adventures which India had offered us. As we progressed, my head started to ache more and more, going from a mild discomfort to a throbbing migraine by the time we made it to the airport. You needed a printed ticket to enter the airport, which Sarah didn’t have, but I played the stupid English person role well enough to see us past two burly security guards with only a slight bit of a grilling. We worriedly approached the check-in desk with our backpacks, my suits, and our ridiculously large hand-luggage bags hidden beneath the counter. I was overly friendly and affable from the off, in the hope that they wouldn’t give us shit, and we got away with our extra weight and bags through the good graces of our faces. By this point, my head was boiling over and steam was shooting from my ears. I ran into the toilet cubicle and wretched a river of orange bile into the hole on the floor, followed by more heaving and hurling. I washed my face and looked into the mirror, rueing my luck just before a nine hour flight. I bought a few cheap cartons of Marlboro Gold cigarettes from the duty-free shop, then sat holding my head and sweating profusely. I could feel the sickness getting a grip on me from the inside, and it couldn’t remain, so I flew back to a toilet and threw my entire insides all over the place, every bit of food and fluid exploded from my stomach which crunched and grinded until the dry heaving had ceased and I was entirely empty. I felt like death, but less attractive as we made our way towards our far away gate, which was now being opened for boarding, stopping for sustenance at a ridiculously priced Haagen Dazs stall. Still, that ice cream turned out to be essential in my swift return to health, I ate it immediately, then flagged down one of the indoor cars which I noticed was carrying people from our flight, skipping the fifteen minute walk, and by the time I was on-board with a bag of crisps in me, I felt pretty much normal again. Sarah blamed the street food, I blamed the Devil.

We had discussed potentially joining the ‘mile high club’ on this night flight together, but Sarah fell asleep pretty much as soon as we took off, and a lot of people didn’t, so I had to leave that fantasy unchecked until next time. I struggled to sleep all through the flight, especially with Sarah’s sleepy head placing itself everywhere except on its own side, and her legs following suit, but I did doze off for thirty minutes or so at the end of Russell Brand’s ‘Arthur’ re-make, and again during ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, both of which were decent enough flicks, but they couldn’t match the dreams that I was missing out on.

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