India can be exasperating but it is never boring. It rarely fails to challenge one’s preconceptions . The monsoons are not the most comfortable time to travel there. Delhi in August can be stiflingly hot and humid. A sucker for punishment I found myself visiting a friend there in 2013 during that very time. Soon it was time to leave.

Rajiv’s chauffeur dropped us off at the Indira Gandhi airport. We were uncharacteristically early and having checked in and got our boarding passes we decided to grab a drink as the boarding time for our flight to Varanasi was 7p.m., a good forty five minutes away. Rajiv was keen to impress me with India’s progress and insisted we have a beer.

“Uncle, we too are modern now,” he declared proudly. All around were pretensions to modernity with American style burger bars, gleaming coffee shops with hissing  Barrista  coffee machines and uniformed staff in baseball caps…….cafes with aspirational names like Baker Street Café and Lite Bite.  There was even a pub. But behind the façade lay the old India.  A woman on the neighbouring table secretly reached into her bag to bring out spoons-full of curry and rice and swiftly put them in her mouth hoping nobody would notice. I could see why; we paid a staggering 395 rupees (almost $6.5) for a warm beer. Prices were exorbitant.

“So Uncle, do you think we will be a superpower soon?” It really was a rhetorical question. He went on, “ Of course, we  are . We have a space programme.  We  are a nuclear power too. The West is carping about sending us aid …well, we aren’t asking for it. They can keep it! We’re fully aware that their total aid budget is a tiny fraction of what they spend on dog food. Aid comes with strings, makes the donor feel good about himself and perpetuates dependency.”…and on and on and on he banged. I nodded trying to look attentive while attempting to observe the amazing  goings-on around us. Time just slipped by until I sneaked a glance at my watch. It was 2 minutes to 7. I said, “Think we’d better get going, Rajiv”. At this point we heard a voice on the public address system: “ This is the last call for Mr D’Souza and Mr Patel on flight SA105 to Banares. Please proceed to gate 6 immediately!”. That was us they were calling!

We looked at each other in amazement, grabbed our things and dashed for the gate. The uniformed  Sikh man in an immaculate white turban at the gate shouted :  “ Come on, come on,  hurry up Sirs. Come on!” He was like a teacher urging reluctant boys on a wet cross-country run.

“That was never the last call for us. It was the only one…besides, our tickets say the boarding time is 7p.m. and it’s just gone 7!” protested Rajiv.

“This is why we are being calling, Sir. Please don’t argument, Sir….you are holding up plane!” he shouted, feigning anger.

When we got on to the plane, everyone else was seated. We were the last on board. Panting, we dropped into our seats and strapped in. Doors were shut, the flight staff prepared for take-off and then the chief stewardess announced: “ Ladies and Gentlemen, SpiceAir is happy to announce yet another early departure! Have an enjoyable flight.”

We looked at each other, astonished. Did we hear that correctly? Early departure? I looked around; nobody else seemed amused, perturbed or bemused at this announcement.

We then waited strapped in this aircraft, without air conditioning in the stifling Delhi heat for the next forty five minutes. The plane eventually took off at the scheduled time!

As we pierced the clouds I wiped my brow, turned to Rajiv and said: “You know what, Rajiv? India will definitely be a superpower soon.”

He read my ironic smile and we killed ourselves laughing for what seemed like an interminable minute.



*’Uncle’ is a term of respect and endearment in India

*Names, places, times have been changed to protect the identity of people involved.

About Des

Being on the wrong side of 60, I've recently become more conscious than ever that I'm closer to the end than the beginning. I don't mean this in a macabre way. Our presence here, as far as I can discern, is transient, ephemeral - as fleeting like a passing cloud. It occurs to me too that we each have a unique take on our time on the planet and it would be a shame not to put it down for posterity. When I try to think about what my grand parents, leave alone my great-grand parents, did, what their aspirations, fears, joys, loves etc were, I have no answer. It's a blank. Call it vain-glory, if you like, but driven by this thought I feel I should put something down on paper so that should my grand children ever ask, "I wonder what Grandpa did in the olden days of the 20th and 21st centuries?" some record of it exists. Memoir seems the way to do it.
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  1. terrysmith says:

    I liked this story. It had humour and it had the subtleties of what was going on around you. The lady quietly pulling out her curried rice from her bag and yet all the modern American things around you such a contrast. The laughter shared between you and your uncle on India becoming a super power. Well done.

  2. Jude says:

    This is a great Indian airport story with the right amount of description to set the scene and the climax of the early departure. I enjoyed the subtle super power reference. Glad I wasn’t on the Tarmac for that length of time. An enjoyable read. Well done.

  3. Hana says:

    What a great story and very well told. I think you nailed that difficult technique of showing not telling. I was with you the whole way. Nicely done!

    • Des says:

      To all my fellow course colleagues: thanks for your comments and for your genuine words of encouragement. However, I’m also conscious that we get no feedback in terms of a proper critique from our teacher. Given this and the cliched advice to novice writers that one must learn to ‘murder one’s babies’ and that I still don’t have the skills to look at my work objectively I would like to invite you all to really critique my writing, offering constructive criticism where possible (without being nasty, of course); feel free to take a scalpel to the work. You can write directly to me if you’d rather not display your criticism (in the original sense of the word) on this blog. I’d really appreciate it; we are, after all, here to learn our craft. Thanks.

  4. moonwriter says:

    i enjoyed this very much…the humor, the woman sneaking her food..very definitely painted a clear picture of what you experienced! i really want to travel to India one day..I will keep that heat in mind!

  5. milestones says:

    You really set the scene. I could picture it and almost feel it, even getting a whiff of the rice and curry from that woman’s attempts to eat unnoticed. The ‘early start’ resulting in sweltering heat was a laugh – and that’s just what you shared.

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