A Whiff of India
“What does India smell like?” someone I talked to before my trip wondered out loud. He had always wanted to go and envied me the opportunity. Travelers to India had tried to tell him about the smell, but the task had apparently been beyond their descriptive abilities.
On Christmas Eve I smelled India for the first time and my advice to him or to anyone who’s curious about it is to go and smell it for yourself. I was prepared as you can possibly be, just as an infant in the birth canal is as prepared as he or she can be for life as a human. I’ve seen movies, I’ve read books, I’ve listened to many people who’d been there before me but it was still a shock. It’s a lot different than Kauai. For one thing there are a lot more people, about 20,000 times as many, actually.
As I stepped out of the airport the assault on my state of mind began with the taxi drivers. I was “prepared” for them, of course. By that I mean someone had told me about them. They surrounded me with pushy desire, catching sight of a chance for easy money in my dazed vulnerability. And so the confusion began. There were blue taxies, black taxies auto-rickshaws, and a crowd of drivers shouting at me each with his own particular agenda. I entered what seemed to be the right vehicle and gave what seemed to be the right instructions to the driver and off we went.
The ride to my hotel was almost an hour long and every single street we drove down was lined with people. I had been traveling for days and when I arrived at the hotel all I wanted to do was take refuge in my room. I gave the bel-hop what I later realized was an obscenely huge tip and went to sleep. Some amount of time later knocking on my door woke me. It was my brother-in-law, having just arrived on a 15-hour flight from New York. “Merry Christmas!” I managed sleepily even though neither of us really cares about the holiday. I was very glad to see him. Our rendezvous on the other side of the world had come off without a hitch.