India: the road into Old Delhi
When I think back on that first taxi ride in India, it seemed to me, from the time it took, that Indira Gandhi Airport must have been about fifty miles from Old Delhi where the hotel was. Unless I was so jet-lagged and disorientated by the sub-continent that I had lost all sense of time, and I don’t think I had, then all I can conclude is that the driver took us a very long way round… all the better for his friend up front to give us some old chat.
After riding shotgun in our taxi for an extended period, the uninvited passenger gathered that not only was the taxi prepaid, so was our hotel. Although he gave every indication of being utterly convinced of his powers of persuasion, even he baulked at attempting to make some dumb tourists pay for another hotel, with no hope of refund from the one that was booked and paid for. The car stopped and he got out by the side of the road. I did not see how he indicated to the driver that enough was enough; perhaps the driver figured it out.
Shortly after his sudden departure, the front passenger door flew open. We stopped to close it. The driver banged it shut hard. Then he stood poking it with an expression of concern. My travelling companion took the opportunity to take up position in the front seat, alongside the driver. I suddenly felt conspicuous on my own in the back: a white memsahib lodged in solitary splendour on tiger-striped velour upholstery. I was told later that the front seat gave a good view of the road – from the gaping hole in the foot well.
Like magic, once the hard salesman was gone, we were into Delhi properly. Perhaps we had just been driven around and around the paddy fields and water buffalo until we caved in. If so, we had passed the first test. We reached another busy intersection and stop. I stared out of the windows. In front, a man was slowly rolling a ten foot concrete post across the crossroads, apparently unperturbed amidst the flow of other vehicles. The horn chorus has reached a pitch of communication frenzy and I guess a good proportion is directed at the man rolling the post. Behind us, the taxi has a bunch of plastic purple grapes dangling where the air freshener normally hangs. Traffic was being nominally directed by a traffic policeman in brown uniform. These officials do not object when our taxi dives past slower traffic, like rickshaws, by steering a path round them, directly into oncoming traffic. Myself, I am not so keen.