Sunday, April 19, 2009

Travels with a voice recorder, Pt 1

Half past ten on a Friday night in Delhi. Just finished two helpings of soup – I was sick as a kitten in the afternoon – and crawled into bed atop a pile of pillows. I’ve been upgraded to a room in the corner, which means windows on two sides, and these two sides are like two different worlds. The front looks out on Sansad Marg, Parliament Street, and there’s a buzz and rumble of traffic on that side all through the day and most of the night. When I last parted the curtains the building opposite was lit up even at half past nine, floor after floor of neon-lit desks visible through the glass like those cut-away doll houses in museums. Must be either news or IT.

The other window … in the afternoon when I checked in, the sky was bronze turning to silver in the heat, the trees were washed-out skeletons in the glare and a group of kites wheeled in tight circles high high above the NDMC building, almost in a different dimension. When I woke from a healing sleep the fading sunlight struck through the branches of the jacaranda outside, creating an orange picture-frame on the wall above the bed. The lawns of the Jantar Mantar turned an unreal dark thirst-quenching green as the headlights came on in the traffic below. Now, late at night, the floodlit Samrat Yantra looks like a huge red shoe, the one where the old woman lived in the nursery rhyme.

A mile beyond the pool of light, a group of buildings stands against the night sky, transplanted from the Krypton landscape. All it needs is a hologram of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. The stairwells are lit up like fluorescent spines, but the huge neon sign on top of Le Meridien just reads “Le MeI”. Correction, if I tilt my head to the left I can see “Le Mer”. The sea? In THIS city? The building that blocks out the rest of the sign is also the darkest, so the illusion is (if not complete) pretty good. But the view palls after a while, especially when Al Pacino and Johnny Depp are waiting for me (you know which movie that was?). Good night.

* * *

I wake for a while around 3 a.m. and can’t see the lights any more, Le Meridien has switched off the neon sign, the buildings are a mass of Ice Giants against the night sky. A surreal moment when the blinking lights of an international flight glide down the sky and … vanish behind the dark mass. Sleep-fuddled, I count ONE thou-sand, TWO thou-sand, THREE thou, all the way up to seven before the lights appear again, closer to the tree-line, maybe only a minute from touch-down.

The dawn comes surprisingly early. Padding around in my bare feet (the hotel’s bathroom slippers are really slippery on the wooden floor), making coffee, popping things into the suitcase as I go to and fro, I haven’t really noticed when the sodium vapour lamps perched 60 feet high have faded. But morning has broken well before 6 and I can see a strong breeze bending the tree-tops. All except one tree that’s still bare like a candelabra, rooks’ nests in its armpits as it pushes out the first green shoots of the year. Stupid tree to wait till April when it’s pushing 40 Celsius, all your shoots of spring will soon turn from salad to crispy noodles. I can see more of the Jantar Mantar now, and a lanky man doing contortions on the grass.

Suddenly a flight of pigeons erupts like a puff of gunsmoke across my line of sight. Drawn to the window, I can see an avian promenade at eye-level. Even the kites from yesterday are stretching and doing warm-up flights below my window, making those ridiculous mewing sounds that no self-respecting bird of prey should admit to. Lazy bums, too. I saw a pair of seagulls in Barcelona make a light snack of a fat pigeon, and here these kites are like ineffectual traffic policemen elbowed aside by the bumbling streams of pigeons that all but crash into the mass of the NDMC building. I try for some shots of the fatties in flight, but of course they must choose this moment to sit on my window ledge and look smug. Well, I have news for you – I have a train to catch and you aren’t Aamir Khan, I can get shots of a zillion other pigeons. Time to call the front desk to have my bill ready.


Phantasmagoria said...

Welcome back. You were missed. :)

Gamesmaster G9 said...

Where were you, kind sir? We worried that you had been dooced.

m'mita said...

Finally! Why the sudden change of mind? Anyway, thanks.

Lazyani said...

Welcome back sir. Was missing your paint brush.

S said...

welcome back!

tami said...

This is beautiful writing. :)

and oh! I have been to Parliament Street!

Renovatio said...

If I saw Aamir Khan I'd be tempted to shoot. To kill.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Thank you, kind gentles.

Ani, I take good care not to give cause for dooce-ment. (Not that I can always restrain myself, but still and all ...)

Reno, you'd prolly have to get into the prone position to shoot A Khan. Otherwise it would be like shooting downhill, which is notoriously difficult.


Opaline said...

You could see a flight almost touch down from Central Delhi? I can see planes touchdown from about the fifth floor of a building and I'm so close to the airport that early morning aeroplanes rattle my window panes. How high up was your hotel room?