On 2 November in my room at the Taj Palace, watching Indian state tv was like watching science fiction; with expressionless humanoid faces telling us not to believe “rumors of communal violence.” As I watched Rajiv light his mother’s funeral pyre on television, I could coincidentally look out the window at a column of smoke rising in the distance. Indira Gandhi’s body going up in flames or another Sikh home? There was no way for me to know, as these were simultaneous phenomena. So, what was the point of the television lie? Another trait India holds in common with the western democracies – ‘what you’re told isn’t the reality.’

Meanwhile I’d picked up a security detail shadowing me, no one believed for a New York second I was Old Babette’s grandson. It’d been better if she’d said nothing. I took care of that with fortuitous circumstance. I was sitting in a lounge in the morning when some vile looking, dowdy and incredibly wealthy (her gold and jewels hanging on her like kites tangled in utility wires) old woman decided to abandon her huge purse that appeared to be so heavy as to be filled with gold bars and leave the room. I spotted my security man across the room in a doorway, looking the other way. I walked swiftly over to him and, without mentioning the owner, I told him “There is an untended bag.” He immediately followed me into the lounge where I pointed out the purse, as it happened the old woman was returning to claim it. After, there was no further suspicions; they didn’t care who I was, other than an extra set of security eyes. No one wanted a bomb going off. A little later I frightened the ‘bejezuz’ out of myself with a stupid trick. Heading back to my room I turned the corner to see the elevator doors were beginning to close. With a sprint & leap worthy of some caped hero, I flew into the elevator as the door closed behind me: squarely into some VIP”s armed security detail! And fortunately for me, sans VIP. I wasn’t shot. If only they’d taken a photo of my face in that moment, some things are absolutely priceless. Recovering my composure in the stare of several ‘men-in-black’ security types, I simply said “Sorry” and pushed the elevator button to my level.

3 November simply dragged on in some sort of time warp that makes a day seem as though it will never end, as Indian television insisted despite rumors, there was no communal violence. Meanwhile I’d encountered an American who said a mob had boarded at a stop and killed Sikhs on the train he’d taken to Delhi.

Meanwhile Old Babette had been showering me with promises. Grateful, at least momentarily, for engineering our escape, she insisted I was going to be put up in Cairo and take a boat tour with her on the Nile, all on her dime. I listened but said nothing. Underneath, both of us knew we were absolutely incompatible personalities. That, and I recalled her brief episode of delusional belief she was a siren of eternal youth. That made me more paranoid than the rioting city we were looking to escape.

On the morning of the 4th, the Guardian Angel Sister’s Muslim travel agent manifest, to be certain Old Babette and myself made it onto the airport shuttle. For that fact, I totally forgive her for -on my departing the Hotel Imperial- passing off to me two, inferior quality, counterfeit USD$100 bills as a means of getting rid of them. On the other hand, her Bandit Sister was prone to absolutely angel moments (time to time.)

Cairo

Cairo

In our (cheap) silk kimono jackets courtesy of 1st class tickets on Japan Airline, we were among the first people out of Delhi. No sooner than we we’re in the air, Old Babette’s immense gratitude began to wane; she  was certain I wouldn’t mind a 2nd class hotel in Cairo. The truth is, other than reassurance as escort on absolutely insane taxi rides, there hadn’t been much I’d done she couldn’t have done for herself. It was the Muslim friend of the Guardian Angel Sister had made our departure possible. I don’t know if Old Babette had ‘male companion’ in mind for Egypt, but as far as I was concerned we were parting ways. As we were disembarking our plane in Cairo, her plans for us were getting reiterated and I said nothing until we’d passed through customs; her needing assistance with luggage, and myself with two carry on totality of luggage, I turned to her and said “I’ll take a rain-check” with a wave of the hand I strode away .. and the look of complete surprize-shock-amazement on her face was the last I ever saw of Old Babette.

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My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)