85. Second Impressions

Second Impressions: The first time I landed in India, when Amy and I visited in January, I have a distinct memory of staring through the airplane window on our midnight descent into Delhi. As the pilot announced that we’d be “landing in Delhi in about 20 minutes,” Amy said something like, “Are we going to the wrong airport? I thought it was supposed to be New Delhi?” but I couldn’t respond. I was gripped with wild imagination and uncertainty. The city lights below twinkled like lights in New York, the freeway traffic jerked and weaved like California, but this was India. When we touched down and I, for the first time, noticed that 98 percent of the passengers on the plane were Indian, my heart was thoroughly lodged in my throat.

Five months later, I landed in Delhi for the second time. Though there was no fear or uncertainty and I was swimming in this country’s atmosphere long before we landed. These Indian plane trips themselves are fascinating studies in culture. On this flight, there were several feuding families acting out a Bollywood drama that began somewhere, somehow in the Bangkok airport. Switching seats, ruining meals, disgracing elders, it was all whizzing back and forth between them and within an hour of takeoff, everyone on the plane who could speak Hindi was following the plot with rapt attention. That is to say, everyone was involved but me. By the time we landed, it was all forgotten, probably in light of the pilot’s announcement that at 9:28pm, the ground temperature in Delhi was 41 degrees Celsius. That’s 106 to you.

The searing heat and suffocating pollution hit me like a prizefighter and I stumbled through the last steps down to the tarmac. It’s so hot in the North that trains have been arriving at their destinations carrying a dozen or more corpses, mostly elderly and frail who’ve died from heat stroke and dehydration in un-air conditioned coaches. The same is likely happening in the ramshackle shantytowns of the big cities, though there are fewer officials noticing the disappearance of these invisible poor, so we don’t hear of it. Grisly. This is the kind of dry heat that makes a breeze unwelcome. Think convection oven. Speed bake.

So I made my time in Delhi short, a weekend and two days more. Enough time to revisit the sweltering, beautiful chaos of Old Delhi and find that it still captivated me but without the dizzying disorientation. Enough time to remember to eat (and greet) only with my right hand and wipe with my left. Crude but necessary. And I spent just enough time in Delhi to decide on West Bengal’s capitol, Kolkata (Calcutta), as my next stop. I had to choose between a 26-hour train ride across the boiling Eastern lowlands or a 2 hour flight with options for a veg or non-veg meal and several varieties of after-mints. I took the flight.


  1. Kevin says:

    Sloan: Hurricane season began twelve days ago. Think I could put your parents’ house in Tampa down on my evacuation plan form?

  2. S says:

    Are you rethinking that whole “job in paradise,” thing? Tampa’s a good plan, it hasn’t had a major hit since 1921. Either way, I’d suggest getting in touch with my dad immediately – he maintains an excellent annual tracking chart of Florida hurricanes. You know, for fun.

  3. furey says:

    Taking the flight, wise choice.

    What’s the haps in Belfast?