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Soul Identity - Dennis Batchelder's debut novel
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a good welcome to india
By Dennis Batchelder 5 April 1998

we have arrived in new delhi, india. the first thing that hits you is the air. i mean, hits you HARD. it's unbelievable dirty - kind of like living in a chimney. i think smoking filtered cigarettes would be cleaner and safer than breathing this stuff.

remember the joke about the taxi driver who didn't stop at the red lights, then slammed on his brakes at the green one? the passenger asked why, and he said that his brother passed by that way. WE GOT THE BROTHER. but tihs is a story in itself.

we picked up the driver at the airport. he asked if we needed a taxi; i asked him the price. 375 rupees ($10.00) to the hyatt. good. all is well. we follow Raja (means King) to the parking lot, squeeze between all sorts of busses, and arrive in front of this yellow thing that probably once was a taxi in a former life.

we brought our bags to the trunk. Raja pounded on the car, and the trunk popped open. neat trick. unfortunately, it wouldn't close. "No problem" says Raja. "Yes Problem" says Latif. "No Problem" says Raja. "Big Problem" says Dennis. Raja gives in, rearranges the luggage, and closes the trunk. score one for the americans.

we try to get in. the back doors don't open. Latif's side doesn't even have a handle. mine won't open. "No Problem" says Raja. Raja gets in, leans over, and opens my door. Latif gets in my side, then i get in.

off we go, sort of. we were in teh little engine that could. but it didn't know it could. the beast sputtered, coughed up clouds of smoke, then lurched off. Raja cranks the radio. Latif and I wince. Raja shouts to me, "First time in India?" I nod. "A very good welcome to India". Raja smiles. now i'm warming up to him. score one for the indians.

now a bit about driving in delhi. i have observed the protocol. it's pretty easy. here's the rules:

  1. drive on the left, unless the right side would be quicker. then switch sides, beeping your horn as you swim upstream, as it were.
  2. stay in your lane. but if you're not sure which lane would be a tiny bit faster, straddle both lanes. if cars are already in both lanes, beep at them and attempt to squeeze between them. if that fails, keep beeping your horn, make interesting gestures with your hand at the other drivers, and yell some gibberish.
  3. NEVER stop at red lights. beep your horn as you speed through them at full speed. unless, of course, there are mere mortals stopped in front of you. if that happens, refer to rule #1.

not so hard, right? i'm thinking of renting a car myself next time i'm here.

anyway, raja all of a sudden pulls off to a gas station. gets out of the car. checks his pockets. finding nothing, he leans over, smiles, and asks for his payment early. i give him 200 rupees, and say he'll get the rest when we arrive. "No Problem" says Dennis. "No sir" says Raja. I hand over another 200 rupees, and ask Raja for change. "350 more rupees" says Raja. "For what?" asks Latif. Ah ha! Raja wants us each to pay 375 rupees.

the battle lines are drawn. Raja has the gas station attendant. Latif and I, though, are much bigger, older, and madder. we win. Raja is pissed. he diesel is pumped (taxi remains running). he gets back in, cranks the radio really loud, and lurches off. score: 2 to 1, americans.

I ask Raja to shut off the radio. he obliges. then i smile, and say "a very good welcome to India, huh?". the rest of the ride goes quietly. no music. no talking. just lots of beeps.

so we arrive. now it's 4:30 in the morning. we're off to the railroad station, hoping to get a train ticket to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. If we can't get a train, we'll rent a car. "No problem".

a good welcome to india - india