Another night in an airport, coffee fuelled, insomniac, my head restless upon rucksack, awaiting the first metro. The hours crawl upon the functional sterility of the concourse; all night coffee shops offering comfortable chairs for the price of a cup, and, beyond, the gun guarded exits. A dystopian doorway, an airlock between worlds, (the organic city and this artificial place upon its edge); another step upon the way back to Varanasi. Here, under the passing gazes and occasional smiles of security, the slow night passes. Outside, winter hangs upon the concrete, forms mists upon the rising breath of each temporary congregation, waiting, as taxis shuffle between the airport and the city.
Eventually my alarm buzzes, the night remains, only a diffusion of artificial light shimmers through the cold glass, time to go. Through the taxi stance, offers of transport and accommodation; it’s colder than I expected, caught out once again by a combination of geography and a lack of preparation. More security, soldiers await as I head down to the metro, x-ray machines and scanners, I remove my shoes. As my gear comes through there’s a curiosity at the shape of my guitar, “What is this?” “It’s my guitar.” “Can you play me something?” I grin, play a quick tune, finish to smiles and handshakes,”Welcome to India!” “It’s good to be back.” .
Back in Delhi, morning cold under a coverlet of fog where a dilution of the winter sun struggles in the distance. Glad of my fleece and hat but wishing that I had gloves, I stop at a puri stall, spiced heat rising into the chill of the air. Holding the plate warms my hands as I find my place amongst a group of locals shawled and jacketed against the day. Small conversations and jokes punctuate the air as we each take succour from our small glasses of warmth as watery shadows drizzle upon the street. Soon enough it’s time to go to the ticket office and look for a train out.
It’s an unexpected success, I find a ticket on an overnight train to Varanasi Junction, leaving late this afternoon and arriving tomorrow at 0230. I smile at the familiarity of it, another night in a train station waiting for the dawn, too early to head down to Vishnu in the hope of a bed. “Don’t worry,” I hear, “It’s always late, maybe arriving at four or five o’clock.” I nod, “Indian railways have always run on non standard time.” I say laughing. He smiles and offers me an unexpected kindness, I’m invited to try to find some sleep upon the chairs in the office until, the morning fully woken, my snoring becomes a disturbance. The clock tells me that I have six hours to fill. I remember that I’ve forgotten my padlock, that I need a chain for the railways, take a walk out into Paharganj looking for replacements. I find coffee and WiFi, a charging point, spend a couple of hours in distraction and then head back towards the station for an attempt to find some space to rest in the waiting room.
Crossing the road I’m met with a friendly wave, a man walks over and shakes my hand, asks some questions and makes some offers. He waves to another, his cousin he says, who comes to join us, hands are shaken, similar questions asked. “Where are you from? First time in India? First time in Delhi? Where are you going?” This second time, “Where are you going?” raises a frown. I’m informed by the cousin, offering a brief glimpse of some government id, or a copy, that no foreigners are allowed to travel this way. I don’t mention my ticket. He tells me that the railway is closed, because of a big crash, many casualties and blocked roads. Then that the roads east are also blocked because of riots and high security. But he can help, he has another cousin who has a travel office, maybe he can find me a way out of town. It’s a classic Delhi scam. He gestures that I should follow him, tells me that it’s not far. I decline. He gets annoyed that I don’t seem to trust him, I smile and walk back towards the station, business as usual then, the escape from Delhi…