the airport was amazing. brand new. plush red paisley carpet lined wide, seductively-lit hallway after hallway, and the walls were decorated with fantastic and very modern art in creative, often multi-dimensional media. at the end of these passages, i emerged into a brightly lit immigration area. i filed into a line and worried that i didn’t have my friend tilda’s address to put on the form. the agent gave me a sour look. “just put the city,” he instructed, before stamping and returning my documents to me with a dismissive wave. so far so good. now i worried over how difficult it would be to find tilda, if she was even there, in such a large airport. i retrieved my bag and discovered that it wasn’t difficult at all.
exiting an airport in india is like stepping out onto a stage to greet your fans. there is a retaining rail, twenty or thirty odd feet from the exit, behind which all receiving parties wait, facing the exit doors. you emerge, feel the immediate change in climate from cool and dry to sultry and damp, and, if you’re lucky enough to be me, your (comparatively) very white friend pops up into the air waving to you from behind a wall of very brown people. welcome to india!
the cab ride to the hotel was brief, but the short night-time journey had a familiar feel. the handmade feel of poverty–much the same as one sees in honduras or mexico or jamaica–as opposed to the slickly manufactured feel of most places american. the mumbai holiday inn, though, was comparatively posh. after a mini-christmas for tilda (kraft mac & cheese, starbuck’s coffee, clothes, and some mardi gras swag) and the explanation of her brother chris’s dramatic bout with the law (briefly: three stray bullets in his bag had made him an arms dealer stripped of his passport and tossed into [the notoriously awful] arthur road jail; he had been in india for weeks trying to clear his name and be granted leave of the country), we all turned in. i slept a little but woke up early, as if it were christmas morning, which, for me, it kind of was: my first day in india had arrived!