It is pronounced Nam-astay, with the inflection you use when you say ‘Princess Ann.’ You can tell I had a ball bringing my hands together like this 🙏🏽 and bowing slightly. Namaste. There is no exclamation mark, like hello! or ekaro! They don’t shout.
The airport is impressive. The culture is different, a rich kind of different. People don’t seem to make eye contact, robbing you of the opportunity to smile. I suppose there is no forced politeness here. Maybe they don’t make eye contact with strangers. Maybe they are giving our eyes a chance to get used to the dimly lit room, a chance to fall in love before they start getting personal. It’s not like we blend in, even though there are skintones as dark as ours, our hair quite simply cannot disguise the fact that we are visitors from another continent.
I need the loo. They didn’t feel the need to hire an artist to generate world accepted symbols of the two genders. No. The gents loo is depicted by a large colourful picture of a turbaned male, and the ladies, of a bejeweled, bollywoodesque woman. There’s a queue. People seem to take awfully long which increases my reluctance to remain in the queue. It’s not that I can’t wait, it’s just that my fear of the collective number ones becoming number twos is directly proportional to the time it takes for each cubicle to be exited. I leave the queue as my imagination reaches new heights. We arrive at immigration and strut to the diplomatic counter. We hope the crowd can see us, that yes we are different, but not in a demeaning way. Our line has two people and not hundreds like the common majority. We spot our contact, I jump for joy. We reach the counter to receive our special treatment, for we know people in high places, you see. Then the record screeches to a halt. I hate that sound- along with metal cutlery scratching porcelain and pieces of polystyrene being rubbed together. Since we have e-visas we can’t use the diplomatic exit. We must go through the e-visa line. They are very sorry. Egos deflating, we walk to the line for commoners.
Nearly an hour later we emerge on the other side, hug our family member and go grab our 14 pieces of luggage sans the orange and black one. Once established that it did not contain our precious edible cargo, we fill in multiple lost-luggage forms and exit the impressive Delhi airport. That’s when it all starts to feel surreal. I am suspended between two worlds. Europe, which I know I left behind- the door closed softly behind me- and Asia, which though physically present in, my mind is yet to make its entrance. So it feels weird. We spot an old-fashioned car that reminds me of part daddy’s purple volga, (circa 1981) and part 1970s political movie. We are in India. The air is foggy and we meet the acquaintance of Johnny, assigned driver. ‘He speaks so well’ I think to myself as I tick for the second time in as many weeks the ‘White British’ box. The drive home invites us to draw comparisons with Africa. The shops on the sides of the road. Untarred roads. Beggars. Guys, culture is a powerful thing. There are what look like beggars looking regal as they sit turbaned in the central reservation in- please dig this- the lotus pose. We go past a large school with tons of school buses parked outside. I ask an obvious question, ‘is that a school?’- because I feel the need to speak but my brain is busy absorbing the beauty of this new culture. The billboards show a disproportionate number of military-related ads. Boeing, weapons, references to power.
‘The military is a major part of the country’s infrastructure, right?‘ I’m not even sure that my question makes sense but it’s 4am in the morning.
Yes, it is.
Interesting. How come?
Because of our enemies.
Cue ‘something scary is about to happen‘ music.
Who are your enemies?
China and Pakistan.
OK, people, I knew that. The whole world knows but I have never lived in a country where it’s citizens are acutely aware of their enemies. There was something about the way he said it that made Suzy and I nudge each other at the same time. The last time I heard a human make casual reference to enemy territory was when my boys played Call of Duty on the Xbox. The UK map does not have its perimeter dotted with threats of war. Yes, there is the threat of terrorism, but it does not sit on the border of Coventry and Birmingham or Skegness and Sutton on Sea. The French are rude, is the extent of our threat. They jump queues and eat too much bread. ‘The rail network is the pits!’ Is another one, or ‘This weather! I can’t believe it’s 10 degrees in December’. Those are the threats we have as Brits. We. Do. Not. Have threats that involve boeings, guns or other weaponry. Suzy and I condense an entire service complete with praise and worship into two minutes; thankfulness that we live in a safe country, request for forgiveness for not daily acknowledging it.
After clarifying with Johnny that Kashmir is nowhere near Delhi and we are not minutes away from the Pakistani border, our conversation segues into the more palatable topic of fruit and vegetable exportation.
I will not, cannot, describe our home for 10 days. Let’s just say my mind remains blown as I write this. We are blessed to be reunited, the family under the same roof, all in excellent health for the first time in a long while. In two days we’ll be visiting some sights, Taj Mahal included. I’ll be sure to share some pictures.