The term ‘surrealism’ in the common vernacular is about more than any school of art or literature. In the collective conscious of humanity, it is sometimes expressed in the vulgar tongue as ‘shit happens’ .. as when life itself becomes surreal. As surreal as my adventure might have seemed to now, suddenly it took on that psychosis that does not belong to the ego of any one individual, no matter it was both; arrogance & narcissism of the individual had initiated some few days mayhem & bedlam worthy of some South Asian ‘El Greco’ portrait. Except these inmate behaviors were exterior to the walls of the asylum. But first:
Indira Gandhi was an arrogant woman. From the time of the so-called ‘Emergency’, it was clear India is no exception to the general rule of democracy; it is the selfish ambition of the individual rises to rule, and the rights of the ‘little people’ are run over. After, when a militant Sikh separatist had taken over the Golden Temple (some would justly believe he’d been radicalized by Gandhi’s Congress party acts) she could have waited him out. Instead, this woman had her army storm the Sikh sacred temple, as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was an affront to her ego. Her long time body guard, the Sikh Beant Singh, consequently ended her life. Then, Gandhi’s Congress party empowered a massacre of Sikhs in Delhi. This is what I’d been caught up in. These organized (by Indian Congress Party officials who’ve never been held to account) riots were from the evening of 31 October, the day Gandhi was assassinated, through the evening of 3 November, when the authorities finally began moving to have order restored. Meanwhile, thousands of Sikhs had been murdered and countless Sikh businesses and homes damaged or destroyed. The Hotel Imperial was a Sikh owned and operated business.
I managed to get out of Delhi (and India) on 4 November and needless to say, I am no fan of the Gandhi dy’nasty.’ Reflecting on these events is not fun but I’ll seize any black humor opportunity in the narratives that follow.
The Hotel Imperial is first of all, a walled fortress. A late colonial period construction, it was probably built with defensive features in case of rebellion. There was a large population of Sikhs in the neighborhood and this resulted in two phenomena; every Sikh in the area that could make it alive, came to Hotel Imperial for refuge … and Hotel Imperial became a point of focus for the anti-Sikh mob or what was essentially an organized pogrom. It wasn’t the Alamo, but the potential for one seemed real.
Insofar as the surrealism, imagine this: after their evening dinner, European tourists are camped in lounge chairs in the garden by the pool, with waiters serving drinks while profoundly apologizing; for the occasional Molotov cocktail that comes sailing over the wall.
The morning of 1 November, I tested the waters beyond the walls; it was quiet during the day. Walking out the gate in my western clothes, past the Sikh guard contingent, I drew looks from the Hindu mob’s sentries across the street but no one made any move to accost me. Taxi fares were over the moon. You could get rides for wads of American dollars but it was clearly dangerous. I made it to the American embassy where I gave the details of our party and asked for their assessment. They said there appeared to be no hostilities directed at westerners but frequenting any Sikh neighborhood or associated business was definitely not good. I inquired what area of the city was secure and they recommended any hotel in the ‘diplomatic enclave’ as that was the only area the army had moved to secure. Back at the Hotel Imperial, I gave my report. Old Babette wanted out. The Guardian Angel Sister was more philosophical; “Oh, I love these Sikhs, I’ll stay here.” Of course that would have nothing to do with her carpets arranged for export having been commandeered to fortify windows; where muskets that looked to have been retrieved from a colonial museum were manned from behind her precious bales.
Meanwhile, Old Babette and myself struck a deal – using her money and my experience, we’d get out.
My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)