Of the numerous photos of the 1984 ‘riots’ I could have chosen, of Sikhs being beaten to death, burned alive, arson of their businesses or simply bodies of children, women and men alike murdered by the mob, I decided instead to show a taste of the opulence I’d escaped to .. and is likely an accurate picture of the Gandhi family’s life; even as Rajiv was setting fire to his mother’s funeral pyre while powerless Sikh families were being burned alive in their homes:

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^ Interior of Taj Palace Hotel at New Delhi

I’d put on my day pack and shouldered my small sport duffel, the totality of my luggage, grabbed one of Old Babette’s suitcases (she had two) and escorted her out of the Hotel Imperial’s gate, past the Sikh security contingent, all armed with swords or batons, one of whose face was severely beaten. We turned right outside of the gate and walked maybe a hundred meters or so to an area where there was a taxi business. The taxi people pointed us down an alley where there were a few taxis with drivers willing to risk exiting the area and hired one to drive us to the Taj Palace Hotel … for one hundred US dollars. Working was an affront to the memory of Indira Gandhi and could get a taxi driver killed, with no safety promise made to the passengers. We made the trip with a wide-eyed, nearly panic stricken driver speeding through the empty streets of Delhi – it looked like a ghost city with scattered debris and the occasional smouldering ruin. Suddenly we breezed through an army checkpoint into the upscale area of the city where life looked like a calm calendar holiday. We arrived at the marble & brass edifice that we’d call home for the following three nights, without incident. Then, Old Babette made her first screw-up. She quite spontaneously decided to create an alibi for the character she was traveling with (that would be me) and went into an unrequested, convoluted, unconvincing explanation I was her “grandson” at check-in. Of course all this did was raise suspicions; as I bore no resemblance whatsoever to her. A medium-short, dark, muscular male with no scent of money whatsoever in his attire, in the company of a clearly wealthy, slender, taller, translucent-White woman who’d burn in the sun in less than 10 minutes without her protective hat and sunscreen. For purposes of cover, I would never bring myself to pose as her male prostitute; as well, we had separate rooms .. otherwise that might have almost been the story that fit her unnecessary, unwanted, counter-productive attempt at an alibi. In a way, we WERE using each other. But now I was marked by hotel security in a venue that was filling up with high profile guests arriving for a state funeral.

Now, things became more stupid in a blessed sort of way; We discovered there was to be an ‘inaugural’ Japan Airlines flight out of Delhi on 4 November, the day the airport would reopen for regular commercial traffic. This stroke of luck made available to us was on account of the Guardian Angel Sister who’d an Indian professional travel associate who came to see if we’d made it to our destination alive. This Muslim man, I do not recall his name, impresses me as one of the finest people I’d met on our trip. The catch was, I subsequently discovered, in order to secure tickets, we had to visit the Japan Airlines travel agency office, precisely located one city block from Hotel Imperial! Old Babette and myself had to get a taxi and retrace our route and return!! Argh!!! None of the travel businesses were overtly open but if we went to the back door of the business, we were told, we’d be allowed in to acquire plane tickets. This would be my fifth trip across the burning city in two days, if one counted destination and return separately. I told Old Babette she could either come up with a few thousand cash for myself to transact the business for us or take the ride and bring along her credit cards. She got into the taxi with me. Two wild rides & two hundred dollars in taxi fees later, we were back at the Taj Palace with a pair of first class tickets to Cairo.

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My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)