Delhi, India is not really somewhere you want to get stuck. The pollution will turn your snot black; the poverty is pervasive, woven throughout the fabric of the city; the residents are notoriously cold; the traffic horrific. There are just too many people – too many people to have electricity all the time, too many people to take a hot shower for longer than four minutes, too many people to fit in the buses and trains.
In sharp contrast, though, the tourist attractions – at least when I was there – were eerily empty. I lasted only 20 minutes in the Crafts Museum’s dark, cold rooms, checking behind many a cultish object and warrior sword before ultimately fleeing to the similarly cold and dark central courtyard. This time of year, the whole city is like that – all grays and browns and muted tones, with a chill made worse by the fact that there’s no central heating.
And then there’s the fog.
I’ve never had such strong and complicated feelings about a weather pattern. There’s two sides to this debacle, I guess: on the one hand, after booking my tickets and arriving in Delhi, I heard from tons of people that the fog is always awful in January. That you just can’t travel to Delhi that month, didn’t you know?, and you should never, ever book an evening or morning flight.
(I didn’t know. And I exclusively booked evening and morning flights.)
And then there was me: the naive American, sans cell phone, in the midst of it all. The first flight I had booked out of Delhi was a 10:30 p.m. flight to Mumbai on Wednesday, January 20. I picked the time because Amruta was supposed to fly with me after a business meeting in Delhi (subsequently canceled, of course), and I picked the airline, Spicejet, because it sounded cool. Obviously.
By Tuesday, I had wised up – a little, at least – and decided my best bet was to pay the change fee and move my ticket up to the 6:30 p.m. Spicejet flight. The fog doesn’t usually descend until 9 or 10 p.m. (after clearing up around 10 or 11 a.m.), so this seemed like a safe bet. I congratulated my worrier self for thinking ahead and strong-arming my inner cheap Jew.
When I woke up on Wednesday, I was greeted with, well, I don’t think I can make it any scarier than the Times of India did in a news article from 1/21:
“If Delhiites thought Tuesday’s fog was the worst of the season, Wednesday unleashed a nightmare.”
Um, yeah. What they said.
Sarah’s apartment was engulfed in a thick layer of white. It was kind of like being in the middle of a cloud on an airplane (oh, the irony.) Sarah herself was not in said apartment, but rather sitting on an airplane at the Delhi domestic airport, attempting to fly to Bangalore for a last-minute business trip, which of course never happened.
By 11 a.m., she received word that my flight too had already been delayed by four hours – you know, back to the time I had paid money to avoid. I started to suspect I was starring in this movie.*
(I never post graphics or photos here that aren’t my own…but c’mon. It’s a movie about killer fog.)
The Times of India, too, seemed convinced we were embroiled in some sort of epic, other-worldly saga.
“Those out driving said the fog set in all of a sudden, leaving them completely blinded in a matter of seconds.”
Is this a news article? Eventually, after all the melodrama, some actual information:
“The fog began setting in around 8.30pm and in less than an hour, visibility had fallen to zero in several areas.”
Now that’s some solid reporting. Because 9:30 was exactly the time I was boarding my little Spicejet plane, keeping my fingers crossed that this would somehow work out, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
At that point I was pretty calm. Once I got to the airport, I entered this kind of zen-like state where I was all, what’s the worst that could happen? My flight gets canceled? Nbd. (I think the Indian chick lit novel I picked up the night before may have had something to do with it. That shit was good. Or maybe our visit to the B’hai Temple, where Lena tried to get me to calm the f down earlier that morning.)
Anyway, we did actually board and we were really close to taking off. But you couldn’t see anything at all out the windows, and even the buses that took us from the gate to the plane had trouble driving. So I spent the hours we sat on the plane just bracing for the cancelation, and when it came, I was OK. If it was too dangerous to fly, it was too dangerous to fly, I reasoned.
What I hadn’t considered was that the process of rebooking my ticket might, in fact, be more dangerous than flying in zero visibility weather. There was screaming and pushing and shoving – which I have seen people (um, my mom) do at an airport before, but this was to such an extreme that some guy took out his cell phone and started videotaping it. If you find that shit on Youtube, let me know.
I was fortunate enough to elicit pity from win the favor of a super sweet 18-year old Delhiite (who had, of course, lived in NJ until she was eight.) She took me under her wing as we hustled to the ticket window, then ran back to the baggage claim (“I wouldn’t trust our stuff there for a second,” she said) and then headed back to the ticket window to try to get on flights for the next day. When my bags took much longer than hers to come around on the carousel, I told her to go ahead, I would be fine, to which she responded, “no, you’ll never make it.” At that point I was considering holding her hand for the rest of the evening.
She eventually helped me push my way up to the ticket window, where I got super lucky (or so I thought) by snagging a seat on a 3 p.m. direct flight for the next day, while everyone else was getting stuck on a 5 p.m. flight with a layover. She then called Sarah’s driver from her cell and instructed him, in Hindi, on where to pick me up.
By the time I got back to Sarah’s apartment, I wasn’t even upset – just thankful for her help. I had one of those my-faith-in-humanity-is-restored moments, awed by the fact that she had stood by my side the whole time, giving up a better seat on an earlier flight to help a girl she didn’t even know. That surely canceled out the rifle pointed at my head two days ago, I reasoned. Maybe I had been too hard on Delhi. Maybe the people could be lovely and helpful and warm, if you let them. Maybe I should have given the Crafts Museum another shot.
Funnily enough, I would end up with plenty of time to give the Crafts Museum another shot.
*Credit goes to Amruta, or really, her work friends, for this reference.