Archives for posts with tag: 1984

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)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

Humpty_Dumpty

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.

Delhi_4_Nov_exit

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.

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My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

ganesh

Tales of a 1984 Journey to India

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 1 From Indian country to India

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 2 New Delhi, round one

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 3 On character

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 4 Into the Himalayan foothills

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 5 Sanarth & the Buddha

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 6 Varanasi part one

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 7 Varanasi part two

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 8 Varanasi part three

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 9 Katmandu

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 10 Trisuli River

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 11 Chitwan National Park

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 12 Katmandu reprise

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 13 Back to Hotel Imperial

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 14 The riots begin

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 15 To the Taj Palace Hotel

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 16 Out of Delhi!

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 17 Cairo-London-New York

My Madcap Adventure, Episode 18 Aftermath

My Madcap Adventure, Epilogue (Notes) corrections/disclaimers

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Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

All stories copyright Ⓒ 2015 by Ronald Thomas West: For profit & mass paper media redistribution prohibited

I know these crazy sisters. Their parents were 1950s Bohemian artists in Southern California. So, already you know a few things to expect; with adolescence in the middle 1960s, the girls immersed in ‘flower power’ .. and several stereotype this background would imply. Traveling to Mexico looking for enlightenment with Huichol Indians & hallucinogens, among other adventures, and finally following George Harrison and the Beatles inspirations to India. And they stayed on there for quite some time.

I was living at Starr School on the Blackfeet Indian reservation, when I received an invitation from one of the sisters; would I like to travel to India, to be taken around on a personal, guided tour? ‘Well, why not’ was my thought. And so it was I stepped on a plane at Helena, Montana, it was September .. in the Year of Our Lord (George Orwell’s) 1984.

I had a one day layover in New York City, and had let an acquaintance know I’d be in town. Tommy took me down to the lower west side (Meatpacking District) to show me (in those days) the character of one of the more interesting areas of the city. We ate at his family’s diner, a many decades establishment, located there. As we walked the neighborhood after eating, I noticed the some ‘brothers’ had a campfire going in the parking lot of an abandoned building and the thought crossed my mind ‘this is a city I could survive in.’ An interesting interlude on a journey from Blackfeet Indian country to the Indians of India.

Tommy picked me up in the morning, my flight was late afternoon, throwing my small luggage into his VW beetle, we went to Greenwich Village.  After walking around for awhile, not really investigating our surroundings so much as talking about the summer of 1981 when Tommy had been a chef at Glacier National Park’s east side and I’d shown him Blackfoot country. We somehow landed at McSorley’s Tavern and I managed to get perfectly hammered on Irish black beer. We took off from McSorley’s in Tommy’s beetle, driving to Newark airport … I had the window down and was slapping my hand on the outside of the passenger side door to time of a pow-wow drum, while belting out some popular Native American war-dance tune of that era, as we passed under the Hudson River via Lincoln Tunnel. Arriving at Newark, I was seriously worried I was too drunk to be allowed onto my Air India flight, non-stop to New Delhi.

I bid Tommy goodbye and Tommy bid myself good luck; then with a Herculean effort of will, I managed to seem sober enough to acquire my boarding pass, check myself through security and get on-board my flight.

The Air India 747 wasn’t half full, and no sooner than we had taken off, I saw people begin bringing out their pillows and some were making beds on the floor! What a blessing!! I found a row in center section with empty seats, pushed up the arm-rests and lay down to pass out … and woke up over Iran with a severe hangover. Stepping out of the air terminal at New Delhi, the humidity-heat-smog cocktail, with a sort or reddish orange glow filtering through, the tropical trees and traffic, briefly flashed me back fourteen years, to Saigon, 1970, and my adventures in that city. But only briefly, this was a very different city and embarking on entirely new adventure. I caught a taxi to the old Hotel Imperial and rendezvous with the odd lot who’d be my traveling companions. A date with a bed in colonial era ambiance and hospitality is perfect for overcoming jet-lag with a hangover, I’ll be a happy sahib for a few days .. before moving on, in native dress.

Imperial_Gate

Gate into Hotel Imperial

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My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

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