Archives for posts with tag: New Delhi

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:


^ 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.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


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)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

Eight Finger Eddie’s legacy needs the whistle blown on him. Back in Katmandu, this was the man we all (the Bandit Sister buddies) were told we had to meet. This patron saint of the anti-materialist Goa commune of South India, spent his summers in Nepal, probably to escape the heat. We had a precise address of where to find him, thanks to Jasper® and his unfailing ability to tie dubious connections together throughout South Asia. Eddie was not at home, having returned to Goa something like ten days previous to our arrival at his door, or so we were informed by the very well dressed lady who came to quell the commotion in front of the gate; at a posh townhouse in a very upscale neighborhood of Nepal’s capital city. Eight Finger Eddie sounded like a name of some pool shark who’d hustled the wrong people. Anti-materialism? Enough said.

When our Katmandu days had run out after this last (aborted) misadventure, we flew back to Delhi. This departing Katmandu is where two amazing but very suspect characters, Jasper® & Socket™ (and constant aroma of ‘herbal’ chillums), drop out of our story. Jasper® is now known as ‘The Late Lord Whatever’, born an English aristocrat destined to a next life as a dope dealer running a chai shop in Almora.

At the airport, on arrival in Delhi, an Indian Army major asked my nationality. “USA” I answered. He kept staring at me, but now with a skeptical look and I stated “American.” He accepted my second answer, even if it did not seem wholly satisfactory. Back at the Hotel Imperial, I had a by this time urgent medical matter to attend to. My innumerable sins determined to leave my body by the route of my ear in the form of a fungus (initiated with my ‘cleansing’ bath in the Ganges) had to be addressed. I called the American embassy to ask who they sent their people to, for ear problems. I took this measure because the hotel’s doctor on call had prescribed antibiotics to the Canadian minister for his malaria, at the beginning of our trip. They connected me with a Sikh trained in the USA and I made an appointment.


After a couple of days in Delhi, the Bandit Sister took Sensible Sue, the Montana dyke & Bummer John south, to some baba’s ashram. The Guardian Angel Sister and Old Babette stayed in Delhi. The Tibetan headed north to Dehradun and I was supposed to catch up with him there, in a few days, after I’d resolved the sins in my ear. I’d seen the Sikh doctor and he’d used something like a tiny ball on a wire attached to a power device that made it spin. Inserting this tiny ball into my ear, he powered on the device and beat the sins out of my head. Now I was to use anti-fungal drops in my sinful ear but he wanted me back in a few days, to make certain I was clean. I never returned to the doctor or Dehradun. This was on account of the next day, Indira Gandhi was shot.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India


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


Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

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

By the time of  this trip, I was a mere eight years into my Native American education. Now, I say ‘mere’ on account of in the old ways of that world, a typical education is ten years in ‘novice’ stage, beginning with puberty, followed by twenty years of ‘journeyman’ and by the time you were forty years of age, the advanced levels of knowledge were made available. By now I understood from that world, certain dreams were considered to be time travel. And I’d had a dream, but more on that later.

My first week in India was spent in New Delhi, being a more typical western tourist, getting to know the strange lot the sisters has assembled. We visited the ‘Red Fort’ where some locals treated us to an impromptu show:


Walking the rampart, overlooking the large lawn, we heard shouting .. “Magic show, magic show!” .. and looking down, I stopped and watched. There were three men, one with a drum pounding a beat, another the master of ceremony shouting out to us and a third guy doing some levitation act; he was wearing a huge tarpaulin like a poncho, only his head visible in the center. The entire assemblage of human integrated canvass rose into the air like some strange kite getting off the ground; a large, circular wing of horizontally spread cloth, with head protruding from the center, rising in a slow spin to a height of what looked like five meters. It really was quite impressive and someone wondered aloud ‘should we give them something’ and I stated I’d not bought a ticket to come and watch this, and we moved on as though the show were meant to be free.

Some of the characters we met in India, not all, are fair game in this essay, but for the westerners along on this trip, I will provide alias. This is on account of personal history; not everyone would need or want public association with a persona such as myself.

Aside from the sisters, I will deal with them in a separate chapter, our crew consisted of these westerners:

One Canadian, a Christian minister shaky in his faith; one hard-core but very cool dyke from Basin, Montana; one pot smoking astrologer from New York; one very rich, manic widow of a former president of a major capitalist corporation, personally acquainted with Imelda Marcos; her sensible grown daughter; and myself.

And (other than the sisters) we had these people along, we met in India:

One opium addicted, privileged Englishman who’d run away from his ‘proper’ mother (who was on familiar terms with Indira Gandhi) & had spent the preceding twenty years living in India as a sadhu; one Bihari musician who’d been subverted to a certain degree by long time acquaintance with the sisters; one Tibetan exile from the north of India; one Muslim bus driver for part of the trip & his associate, a Hindu cook.

After the Red Fort, I tagged along with the astrologer and the minister, to have a look around the neighborhood in the vicinity of Hotel Imperial. Sikh palm readers nabbed them. I said ‘forget it, I’m not in on this’ as they were hustled into an ally to have their fortunes read. As I waited for them, out on the main street, there was this man wanted to sell me a sort of small crochet tool, I had no need for at all. He had them packaged in discarded plastic tampon sleeves. I was this persistent entrepreneur’s prisoner because I was not willing to abandon the astrologist & minister to their fate; as a Sikh would time to time would emerge from the alley to wave at me, insisting my friends wanted me to join them. I refused, figuring they’d get out alive, at least, if I, the living witness, was not foolish enough to take the bait. Both of them were fleeced.

This was the event that caused an early executive decision on my part; I would go native, to avoid the incessant pestering westerners typically endure, from the wandering street vendors and fortune tellers, not to mention likely pick-pockets and robbers. As a younger man, I had turned black in Vietnam’s tropical sun, my Roma blood, no doubt. With the purchase of native clothing, I knew I could do this.

‘Bummer John’, the sobriquet I will give to the pot-smoking astrologer, was our trips first casualty. After the fortune tellers had practically robbed him, Jasper (his real name), the opium addicted Englishman, took Bummer John to a local New Delhi opium den where Bummer perused the menu and ate too large a dose of hashish laced with opium. Fleeced twice, now having taken on Jasper’s opium habit upkeep, and horrified at the Indian lower class poverty he witnessed over several days of ongoing high from the drug he’d ingested, this sheltered western mentality went into depression he never came out of, throughout our trip. At least he didn’t kill himself.

Our trip’s second casualty was the Canadian minister. He almost immediately contracted malaria and had to go home. God must have loved him.


My Madcap Adventure (all episodes)

Letter to the De Sousa clan of India

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