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India – pt. 1

The first thing that strikes a traveler upon leaving the plane is the smell.

For the first time in a while, the airline lottery drew me a window seat. Heathrow wasn’t raining unusually on that day, although it would be more than obvious. Fifty Shades of Grey takes on a different meaning in British weather. I wonder what safety word the Brits came up with and why it doesn’t work.

The plane slowly begins to fill, filling the space with a range of smells. Deodorant, chips, cologne, plastic. My recent flights were to Iceland – Poland. It smelled like Żubrówka and sandwiches with yellow cheese. Less frequently, it was wine and Chinese noodles. Here it smells like curry and pasta in tomato sauce. Two dishes, two takeout boxes in which airlines have confined the diversity of cultures from around the world, and with it – our comfort. It doesn’t matter whether you set your watch forward or backward upon landing. Whether you’re flying to Asia or South America. For the next few hours, one of these options will be your definition of home.

The plane doors have closed, and some rows are still empty.

„Hello? Do you have a free seat next to you? Yes, yes, I’m coming,” says a passenger with a tan complexion, sitting next to me, talking on the phone.

It begins. Heads start protruding higher above the seatbacks. Panicked, wide eyes seek a more comfortable seat. They know they have only a moment, just a moment to find a better place, from the closing of the airplane doors indicating that no more passengers will fly with us today, to the safety procedures closing this opportunity. The next such opportunity will only arise after taking off into the air. There are those whose wallet contents allow them to avoid this commotion. They sit exactly where they chose, usually in business class.

The gentle voice of the stewardess presenting emergency procedures. The soothing color of her uniform. Food that resembles home. All to make the traveler feel cared for, even for a moment. To forget, divert attention from the fact that soon they will be moving at an altitude of several thousand meters above sea level, enclosed in a metal can, in a position that does not allow for the free flow of blood in the legs, at a speed unattainable for any living being.

A few days later, I miss even a semblance of that fictional sense of security and comfort.

The first thing that strikes you upon leaving the plane is the smell.

The stench of burning trash, incense, old age. But not the kind known from European castles. Not the old age that speaks of respect for heritage. No notes of cold marble, oak furniture, dusty carpets. It’s a different kind of old age. The one that says – there is no one and nothing to take care of here. Old age pushed to the margins, forgotten, neglected.

The humidity in the air, even in February, is so high that I feel like this overwhelming smell is condensing and settling in my lungs. I feel my bronchi sticking together. I try to take a breath, one after another, but I feel like someone has replaced the air composition here. Oxygen replaced by dust.

Passengers slowly exit the jet bridge connected to the plane and begin to form queues, stepping on each other, elbowing ribs. The airport staff directs us like cattle. No wonder, this is how we behave. A man in a turban hands a shopping bag over the crowd to someone familiar at the beginning of the crowd, hitting me on the head with his elbow in the process.

„Excuse me?” – as if, no one here pays attention to my quiet voice trying to fight for its own space. Let the stronger one win.

I look down, although I know I should rather try to catch air above people’s heads. My head is spinning; I need to grab onto something. The carpet under my feet looks temptingly inviting. And then it hits me. A carpet? At the airport? The one I know from the grandmothers’ apartments of my classmates. The same one that was in my great-grandmother’s apartment. The carpet that smelled of lavender mothballs.

The officer checking my visa is dressed in a green uniform.

„Work or leisure?” He examines my face, comparing it to the one in the passport photo.

„It depends on how high the taxes are here – Good Lord…” I hadn’t finished the sentence, and I already knew it was the lamest joke I could have made. His raised eyebrow didn’t let me forget about it.

„Leisure, I spend one day in Delhi, and then…”

„Next!” The brow returned to its place, and the officer resumed his duties.

Two hours later, I stand in front of the exit at Delhi Airport. I am alone. I haven’t eaten in 24 hours. It’s three in the morning. It’s raining.

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