Originally written 4 November 2011.
The smoggy haze of Delhi air hangs heavily, reachingeven the enclosed airport, the not-unpleasant fragrance of fire and smoke, though nothing is burning. To my friend it smells of the woods; it pricks my senses with the memory of pothole tar simmering in summer heat. It’s strange that one place, one scent, can remind two people of completely unrelated childhoods.
It’s reassuring to see palm trees through the window-glass, arching against the sky in thick sprays of exuberant green, and white blooms bursting from slightly smaller shrubs between the palms. The warmth and vitality are soothing, seeping into my bones to drive the deepening Canadian cold away. Finally, some civilised vegetation, I remark half-jokingly, in a snuffy British accent; I grew up with subtropical plants, and Winnipeg lacks nearly all of the florals and greenery that I love.
We entered India through a long organised queue of people, smushing up to customs officers at the international arrival counters. An exasperated clerk requested the crowd, in a mixture of Hindi and English, to form an orderly double line instead of crowding the officials all at once. His listless speech suggested that he knew the command was useless, and indeed, a few people shuffled over as if to suggest obedience, then returned to the directionless crush after he looked away. Though I was tired and wanted to sit down, I still chuckled to see that a queue lacking clear direction could be jumped; a woman with an infant in her arms went to the front of the crowd and went through.
I’m sitting now in the Delhi airport visitors’ lounge, with 8.5 hours to go until departing for Kathmandu, and falling into a warm, contented drowse. There are people everywhere, mostly families, and nearly everyone quite dressed up; beautiful silk sarees swish past me, the women wearing them like ethereal flowers in their brightness. A loud rush of sound accompanies the scene, a blend of conversations in multiple languages and the shuffle of feet on the dusty tile floors. Even the birds outside seem to sail with calm abandon in the high air. Only the officers seem out of place; they slouch on chairs and against walls, posted at every entrance with machine guns on their hips and arms.
I feel as if I should have really moving, revelatory things to say, that this should be the first day of stunning observations which eventually land a “Westerner finds enlightenment in Asia” book deal. But, like the folks waiting at International Arrivals, I’ve never been good at staying in the standard lines. Why start now?
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