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Day out of Days

Hyderabad, August 15, 2001

At 0100 in the morning airports' conveyer belts look the same. In Hyderabad/India things are different. The walls in the arrival hall haven't seen any paint in a long time. The clothes people are wearing are a mix of dirty laundry, beautiful silks and shreds.

Temperature is in the lower steam levels. It will take an hour before all luggage has been spat out of the raggit hole in the wall. So I have time to adjust myself to this environment. The luggage is all done by hand and it is done with some concern. Most of the concern has to do with the conveyer belt. It is not well built. And old. Suitcases keep getting stuck or just fall off the thing the moment they come through. One man stops the belt. Again and again. During the breaks the other seven look at each other to find out which of them will do the honours next. It seems they have been doing this a long time and it also seems they may not go home for a while.

Although most people are local and must be tired, their backs are straight. Theirs. At least half of them carry a smile and very little is necessary to make it shine. It must be part of a secret. The secret that belongs to Indian people.

I must admit I'm losing mine after the belt comes to its final stop. No luggage. There are seven other people with a similar problem. All talking at the same time to the one lady who's handling these matters. It takes another hour to get through the language barrier, the paperwork and through customs.

0200 a.m.

A drizzle coming down. Very few billboards are lit. Mostly, the citystreets are lit by their traffic. There is quite a bit of it. Older cars. People on vespas. A mum, a dad, a three-year old and a toddler squeezed in-between. At this hour. Mopeds. Straydogs. People in three-wheeler taxis. On bicycles. On foot. Smoke. Smog. Most engines are four-stroke. Honking is part of a driver's skill. Never heard such a distinction in honking. Truckloads of trucks. This road moves.

I'm watching this late-night show from the backseat of an obscure sedan with shabby shocks. Not to worry. The average speed on the highway is around 20/30 mph. Because it is darker, there isn't much to distinguish other than headlights that appear in strange places. Half of them don't work anyway. Cows don't need headlights. They roam the highway with an attitude. 'We're holier than thou'. I seem to remember, in this country they're closer to god, or at least related. This doesn't mean they get more room in the traffic. A few inches from each side-mirror. But it appears they know. Stalled cars will just sit. No matter where they land.

My driver is about 5.1. His head is just above the steering wheel. He's quiet, kind and considerate. His English is a bit doubtful.

"Fifty" he said after I had asked him how long. English is supposed to be the second language. Not his though. "Miles", he meant, and we arrive at my "new" home at daybreak, two hours later.

0500 a.m.

The bed is hard and pillow so full of foam it could stop a tank. It's the hotel's best room. Freshly decorated. The smell of mothballs fighting the blasts of AC.

After the first bite into curry the next day my stomach too takes me for a ride.

The next day I can pick up one of my suitcases. Fresh clothes. Mmm...

Two days later the other suitcase has showed up at the airport. I'm hoping it is on its way now. It has vitamines in it and a medicine 4 the noisy belly. And my cameras. But customs are still holding it. Because of the cameras. More talks. Paperwork.

The stories about India that I've either seen, heard or read, never mentioned this.


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