Friday, December 31, 2010

2010/11 Incredible India Adventure - Part IV

04 December 2010 – Saturday - Guest House, Delhi, India
It’s H’s birthday today.
I’m embarrassed because I never got her anything to acknowledge it.
And to make things even worse, The Little One fell off the bed – clunk – right on her head this morning. She’s completely OK after her tumble – no lumps or bruises or anything like that at all - and she really cried for only a couple of seconds till H picked her up and soothed her. So that was a blessing. But it really didn’t really help set the celebratory mood of the day at all. The Little One also appears to have caught cold. I suppose there are a million ways she could have caught the cold here in India, but I blame the asshole who sat next to us on the plane. If you want to make someone really sick, then sit a nearly dead guy, swollen with the sick and pumping out about a billion germs a second with each diseased breath, next to them for 12 freakin’ hours on a plane. That’s a sure-fire recipe for how to make anyone sick as a dog in one easy step.
So H, The Little One and I went to the Jama Masjid Market this morning to try and change money on the black market and get, what H assured me, would be the best exchange rates available. I don’t know if you know anything about the Jama Masjid Market, but take it from me that the place is a fucking madhouse! The Jama Masjid is the biggest mosque in all of India. It’s also very old – being built back in the 1600s. So when you have a mosque that’s been around for nearly 400 years, the market area surrounding it is going to be pretty ancient as well.
And it was.
It’s pretty much as I would have imagined it was 2 or 300 years ago – minus the auto-rickshaws and cars crammed into the narrow little streets, of course, but everything else would have been identical – small, crowded and cramped little streets, swarming with people selling and buying everything under the sun, deafeningly loud, dusty, dirty and virtually ageless.
Our driver took us through some unknown back alley to find parking and right into the middle of this kind of camping/living area for the poor people who live and work in the market. There were tents and makeshift shacks surrounding us. We parked right beside two ragged and dirty little children, naked from the waist down, squatting and pissing in the red dirt. Just in front of them was a squatting sari-clad woman trying to get a smoky pile of garbage and sticks lit into a cooking fire. Thick plumes of choking white smoke were billowing out, adding to the low-lying fog that enshrouded everything and everyone around us. I noticed that all around us, the same kinds of fires were lit by the same kinds of people as life in this little makeshift cantonment area was gearing up for the day ahead.

The big white Mitsubishi car we travelled in was so completely and achingly out of place there, standing out like a sparkling diamond in a box full of dirty rocks, just like we were.
Looking around I noticed that absolutely everyone within sight had stopped what they were doing and were watching us. I felt suddenly vulnerable and exposed. It was an awful feeling and I don’t know why I was feeling it, but it kept building inside me.
Through the bustling crowds of people we fought our way forward, bumping into people and fighting to avoid the cars and rickshaw walas passing inches away from us. We had just bought a new diaper bag the day before for all the baby stuff we carried everywhere that was pristine white. Everyone I looked at checked out me and then checked out the big white bag that I carried at my side, and then checked me out again. I felt people intentionally brush against it, bicycle rickshaws knocking it with their wheels. I suddenly felt that it had turned into a big white target that everyone we passed was eyeballing and wondering how to separate it from me. My fear grew more intense with each step we took.
When we finally reached a money-changer, a dozen people who had been following us stood around and watched while H spoke to the fellow in the booth. My insanity was bubbling out of me and I didn’t know what to do. I saw H haggling with the guy through the crowd and finally she broke away from the booth and took my arm and started to march back to the car. The crowd of people who had gathered started to follow us as well. She said the minute the money-changer saw me, the exchange rates dropped. We would go and find someone else, she said. I honestly felt we would never make it out of there alive, so I grabbed her arm and dragged her across the busy street, through the metal detectors and up the stone steps to the side entrance of the Jama Masjid. We passed through the huge archway and suddenly we found ourselves standing upon the ancient stone blocks in the magnificent mosque. Compared to the jarring madness outside, the peacefulness inside was startling. So we stayed within the confines of the beautiful old mosque for nearly two hours, while I snapped photographs. It was such a relief.
It was not a great birthday for H, but it got better and better as the day went on.

2010/11 Incredible India Adventure - Part III

03 December 2010 – Guest House, Delhi, India – 2:30pm I’m telling you, it pays to have family in the Government.
H’s brother-in-law has some high-up position with the Indian Government in Delhi, so he essentially has the power of a flightless Superman. He was able to arrange for us to stay in a Guesthouse, not only here in Delhi, but in Bombay and Kolkata, too.
And what is a Guesthouse, you ask?
Well, it’s kind of like a ritzy hotel, only without the snobby doorman, the fancy lobby, the self-important Reception clerks, or the super expensive restaurant.
It’s basically just a great room with a great bed, a huge flat-screen TV, and one of the greatest duvets I’ve ever slept beneath.
And man, did I sleep well – only I’m catching a cold. And speaking of cold, as soon as the sun goes down, it gets cold as hell here in Delhi. I’m not kidding. I never would have thought I’d be worrying about the cold in India, of all places, especially when the last time we were in Delhi it was +48C! It is such a strange feeling to be wondering, when selecting something to wear in the morning, if it’s going to be warm enough later on in the day.
All I can say is that I’m glad I brought my warm jacket from Toronto.
H’s brother-in-law was also able to arrange for us a car and a driver – which is kind of like having a personal chauffeur available 24/7 at our beck and call. That means that on this particular part of out trip here in Delhi, we don’t have to travel by taxi or auto-rickshaw, which has always been the bane of getting around in India. And with The Little One travelling with us this time, it makes everything so much easier.
Right now I’m totally knackered.
We spent the entire morning running around Connaught Place searching for an electrical adapter as the one I brought kind of went tits up the last time I was in India two years ago and I wasn’t even aware of it. It wasn’t until I tried to plug it in here at the Guesthouse that I discovered that the backside of the adapter had completely melted – obviously from some magnificent power surge that would have exploded whatever it was that I had plugged into it if it weren’t for the surge protecting device built into the adapter. I was lucky this time. It could have been a lot worse. And I need an adapter because I’ve got sooooooo much electronic crap that needs to be recharged – phone, computer, cameras, iPod storage device – stuff you wouldn’t even think needed to be charged, needs to be charged. My pillow even needs to be charged!
But we eventually found one at Croma – the Indian version of Future Shop - and it was a darn nice one, too. It’s a hundred times better than the old Samsonite one I had and so much more versatile. The old one that melted was big and heavy and ugly as shit and oh-so-cumbersome. Trust a place like India to come up with sleek and ultra-modern little devices you would never see in North America. Back there, the people running the show seem to be afraid to introduce new high-tech gadgets for fear that the American people will feel overwhelmed by all the new technology and run and hide under the bed and wait for things to go back to the way they were before.
So now I can charge everything as much as I possibly want, till my heart’s content.
On a personal note, I think we should have stayed at home and rested and readjusted to India time for a day or two instead of running around like mad people on the first day we arrived.
That would have been the smart thing to do.
But we didn’t do that.
So now, we each passing second, I am feeling more and more sickly.
I think it’s obvious that whatever that idiot who sat beside us had on the flight over, I’m getting a little piece of it.
Can I sue Air India for making me sick?
Can I at least punch the miserable fuck who squeezed that diseased bastard in at the last minute next to us?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010/11 Incredible India Adventure - Part II

02 December 2010 – Delhi Guesthouse, Delhi, India Ok, so we made it to India safe and sound aboard Air India Flight 188. It was an absolutely direct flight from Pearson International to the brand spanking new Indira Ghandi International Airport in Delhi. The flight path took us north-east from Toronto, across northern Ontario, up over Greenland, over Scandinavia and over western Russia, too. We cruised down over the barren wasteland of God-forsaken Afghanistan (who in their right mind would want to live there), over Pakistan and the Punjab and finally, down into Delhi. It turned out to be (thank God!) a 12-hour flight instead of a 14-hour ass-kill, as we originally thought it was going to be and what we mentally steeled ourselves for. (Well actually, as we were promised by our fuck-wad Travel Agent who, incidentally, was the same moron who told us we were going to be sitting in one of the prized and precious bulkhead seats because we had a little baby travelling with us, and who knew bloody well that the seats she booked for us were so far from the bulkhead seats that you’d have a hard time hitting one of them with a stone if you threw it from where she stuck us).
But wait, there’s more. As we complained bitterly at the check-in counter about not getting the seats we had our hearts set on, the woman behind the counter listened compassionately and sympathetically to our pleas – which was nice because it’s always nice to have your concerns acknowledged. But then she did something unexpected. She suddenly stood up and told us to hold on as she ran over to speak with her supervisor. Coming back with a big smile on her face, she told us that, because we didn’t get the bulkhead seats as we were initially promised, (it seemed there were nearly more infants on board this flight than regular sized people), she was going to block the third seat next to us to give us a little more room with The Little One.
“Wow,” we both said, “that’s awfully nice.”
We thanked her and thanked her and waved good-bye in a warm and friendly manner – like she was an old, dear friend - as we walked towards the security check-in, forgetting, of course, that this was Air India, where strange and mysterious things happen, as if by magic, nearly all the time.
We passed through a second security and baggage check at our assigned gate and then had to wait patiently for almost 45 min for what appeared to be a traffic jam of nearly 30 wheelchair bound elderly folk as they jostled for position at the gate entrance to see who would be first on board. We even saw the same kind woman from the check-in counter who got us the extra seat for the baby and chatted in an open and friendly manner with her, like she was an even older and dearer friend.
As the wheel chair traffic thinned out around the gate entrance, the announcer called all families with small children to board next (which happens to be one of the greatest perks about becoming parents and travelling with your kids) and so we grabbed all our stuff and bolted into line. Naturally we had to wait a while in the line because, I imagine, with all the old wheelchair people needing assistance to their seats aboard the craft, that it might take longer than anyone previously thought. So again we waited and when everyone was ready, we made our way through the on-board screening process, walked down the long corridor to the plane, found our assigned seats (smack dab over the wing, of course) and sat down.
Everything seemed to going perfectly as everyone who had bought their tickets and were going to join us on the long flight to India had finally boarded, stored their luggage in the overhead bins, and sat down in a somewhat orderly fashion. The traffic up and down the isles on both sides of the aircraft had thinned and that precious seat next to us remained blissfully empty!
Totally and completely empty.
I’m starting to get excited about the flight, but I’m keeping my eye on the entrance to the plane, just in case.
And then I saw it.
I knew what it was even before I really knew what it was.
At the very front of the plane, just moments before the big doors to the craft are swung closed for the duration, sealing us all inside for the fight, I watched as one final passenger enters the craft. In my minds eye, I see this lone and desperate fellow bolting through the terminal, rushing past all the crowds of happy travellers, leaping over people here and there who have stopped or bent down to check their luggage or child, as the “last call for Air India Flight 188” echoes for the final time over the terminal loudspeakers and, just as the tube connecting the plane to the terminal is pulling apart, this fellow jumps the gap and lands in a sweaty, out of breath heap at the feet of the smiling hostess who greets all the boarding passengers. She ever so gently lifts his panting frame and checks his boarding pass, carefully wipes the streaks of sweat from the sides of his face, and points to the aisle furthest from the door - our aisle. I watched it all unfold in horrifying, slow motion technicolour, and I know long before it actually happens, where this latecomer is going to sit.
“Sit! Sit! SIT!!!!” I scream at him in my head as I watch him pass each and every row and seat ahead of us. “Sit, you sonofabitch! Take one of those seats! Take ANY seat! Just sit before you reach us”
But where does he stop?
You don’t need to be a Rocket Surgeon to figure that one out. You don’t even need telepathic powers or a crystal ball, or friggin’ Tarot cards, for god’s sake. You just need a twisted sense of irony and a rather sardonic sense of humour.
Of course he stopped in the aisle right beside seat 25C; that last virginal seat on the entire aircraft, the last remaining unclaimed seat on the plane – at least that was according to the stewardess whom we screeched at in protest approximately 4 minutes later.
I watch him with disbelieving eyes as he checks his boarding pass, turns to look at the seats behind him, checks the pass again, squints his eyes and brings his face closer the bottom edge of the overhead bins and the little seating diagram screwed on there, check his boarding pass again, and then proceeds to drop his coat in the empty seat beside us and place his things in the gaping overhead bin directly above his seat.
So much for the blocked seat beside us. So much for the magnificent promise of our cheerful check-in friend. So much for the little extra room for the baby. So much for a little breathing space for the next 12 hours. So much for nothing, fuck you very much!
But here is the really fucked up part: the guy is as sick as it’s possible to be before one is hospitalized and put in palliative care, awaiting Death’s gnarled knuckles to escort him to Hades by the throat.
He’s so sick and delirious that he can hardly sit upright.
He’s so far down on the sick scale that dying isn’t even an option down that far.
He’s so sick that all the in-flight stewardesses avoid him like… like… like he’s got the plague or something…
Hey wait a sec… Does he have the plague? He certainly does look like he could! I mean, all he does is sit there all sweaty and hunched over, looking forlorn and miserable like he has a bad case of something that could easily take his life before we reach Hudson’s Bay.
How perfect is this?
At one point during the flight I came back from the toilet to find his seat empty. “Great” I thought, as I attempt to squeeze myself back into my window seat. “Maybe they took him to the sick bay or even tossed him off the craft.” But that’s when I step right on his legs and discover that he’s actually lying on the floor in the foot space between our three seats and the three seats ahead of us!!!
How the fuck does a rather large human being do that? I’m sure a six or seven year old could contort themselves enough to do it, but a grown man? And with all those metal poky things down there attaching the seats to the floor of the plane? Not only would it be cramped and claustrophobic, but it would be painful as hell, too! And why the hell did he have to be wearing black, of all colours, so you couldn’t see him lying there, even if you had great eyesight or a seeing-eye dog? Who would even think that lying down there was a good idea?
At one point I swore I could feel his deadly germs crawling over the seat between us and slowly creep up my arms. I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell sick.
And boy, was I right.

2010/11 Incredible India Adventure - Part I

01 December 2010 – Pearson International Airport
Ok, so we actually made it to the airport. It was kind of on time – not exactly, but almost very nearly. We arrived at 8:30am instead of the 8am that we had originally planned on. But it was not bad considering we still had a little packing to do in the morning (we awoke at 4:30am) and had 3 huge suitcases (each practically the size of a small horse) and 2 carry-ons, plus The Little One. With that much stuff, we could easily have flattened all the tires on the cab, got stuck on the Gardiner, and missed the plane completely. That being said, I think we could have made it much closer to the targeted time if the guy who drove us went over 60 km an hour. This guy was the worst, slowest taxi driver I’ve ever had the misfortune to ride with. It was as if he wasn’t really a taxi driver at all, but instead some lost soul who just happened to be heading in the same basic direction as the airport and took us along to keep him company. I swear he must have trained at the Grandma’s School of Painfully Slow Driving, because that’s exactly how he drove. Through the thick, relentless morning rush-hour traffic, he drove like he was trying to find the correct house number for a pickup.
Checking in was easy as hell, too. Mind you, we didn’t get the bulkheads seats (the ones that come with bassinettes for the baby) that we booked 3 months ago and were assured, over the phone two days ago, that those exact seats would be held for us, come hell or high water. It seems that all the people with fast taxi drivers got those seats. We did, however, manage to get some seats somewhere on the correct aircraft, so I suppose that was a good consolation prize, all things considered.
The only thing of concern was the speed at which we passed through the supposedly strict and rigorous airport security one always hears people complaining about on the news. We passed through as if we were smeared with butter. Does everyone pass through that quickly? Do the terrorists and bomb people pass that quickly, too? It makes me a little nervous. So I’m checking everyone out at our gate – Gate 72. I’m walking up and down the rows of people sitting, eyeballing each and every one of them to see if I can spot the terrorist that slipped through. It’s not an easy job, but I’m vigilant.
So we have an hour and a half, supposedly, until lift off. I’m going to stop here for fear my computer’s battery will run out of steam.
More later.

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