Ganesh the elephant god welcomes visitors to India

My first winter in India was intense and exciting.

Following the end of my marriage, I was both thrilled to be on my own and devastated by the sense of loss and rejection.

In the spring I returned to Toronto and worked through the summer. In early October I set off for India again, knowing only that everything I had barely begun to explore was waiting for me. Travelling alone on the big 747 I was filled with apprehension. I was sharply aware of leaving my family, my Canadian friends and the nice, clean, efficiently run city of Toronto further and further behind me. And not with a clear idea of what I was going to.

The long journey finally over, I arrived in India and wrote:

Stepping off the plane into the Indira Gandhi International airport in Delhi, the first thing I see is a large wooden statue of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh. Ganesh is always invoked at beginnings - weddings, opening of businesses etc. He is a popular and benevolent figure, remover of obstacles, bearer of good luck.

As I pass through the immigration area, I notice a faint smell of mothballs, reminding me of the local custom of placing a few mothballs over the floor drains in public washrooms. Not a pleasant smell, but it is an instant, oddly comforting reminder of where I am. Compared to some other international airports there is a lack of sophistication. Some of the luggage carts are old and rusted. A boy is on his hands and knees scrubbing the gray stone floor with a rag. The building materials are plain and functional. The uniforms worn by airport personnel are khaki green, looking like hand-me-downs from the second world war. After a long wait to retrieve my luggage, I find a seat in the large, simply furnished waiting room and approach a coffee counter.

There is no one behind the counter. I wait, knowing someone will turn up eventually. After a few minutes, a Sikh man standing near the end of the counter on the same side that I am says, "What would you like madam?" "Black coffee" I say. "Sugar?" he says. "No" I say. He relays the message to someone in a back room. He asks if I am just arriving and I answer yes, that I have come from Toronto. "Canada" he says, with respect in his voice. He asks where I will visit in India and I name a few cities.

Three or four cups are handed out. Not mine yet. I see on the sign that tea and coffee are 10 rupees so while I'm waiting I get out a 10 rupee note. A thin young fellow comes out and asks "Black coffee, madam?" "Yes" I say. "With sugar?" "No" I say. In a minute he is back with a small cup about ¾ full. I hand him the 10 rupee note. He says "One more rupee madam". I remind him that the sign says 10 rupees. But he seems not to hear. I get out another 10 rupee note and offer it to him. He waves it away. "No change. No problem madam."

I walk away with a smile knowing that I am where I belong. What I love so much about India is all in that transaction. No hurry. Warm welcome. A friendly level of inconsistency. No need to "do it right". And total flexibility."

I returned to my seat, got out a tissue and my pen dropped onto the floor. A young man approached, picked it up and handed it to me. "Your pen madam." Thank you India.

Home   Contents   Previous Story   Next Story  Your Comments