“Ruthless, ruthless, ruthless” he exclaimed passionately, his beard silvered age and no doubt, experience. The syllables rolled off his tongue like a Russian post-war car struggling to start.
“They’re Ruthless around here, be careful, please.” He looked into my eyes, thinking that a naïve girl from Australia was here for an adventure. He wanted a promise back, so I said, “Okay, I understand.”
“Have you been to India before?” He asks.
“No,’ I reply, hesitantly, ‘first time…”
He lets out a deep chucking laugh as if he were at a comedy show. I begin to look a little worried.
“I do not want to scare you, but you need to be careful. Are you meeting people? I hope you are, I will say no more.”
I hadn’t felt unnerved until I had boarded my flight for Mumbai from Abu Dhabi, but now, in the shadow of the window seat that I had, I felt a little wary. Our conversation was interrupted by a national who sat between us, and from there, the discussion was kept minimal.
The flight from Abu Dhabi was long, hot and packed. I had a vegetarian meal that had quite a bit of spice in it. The rest, as they say, was uneventful.
On the tarmac, we get into the shuttle buses to take us to the main terminal, and again I run into this well-travelled Russian chap. He starts telling me about the slums that we had passed on landing and talking about the caste system and the beliefs. He reveals that he’s a concrete worker, a businessman of sorts. A bit jaded with how it all works, we walk into the main terminal and he translates that we need to get another passenger card filled out.
He’s short of a pen and there’s people everywhere. I loan him one of mine.
Waiting in line for the final immigration card felt forever. But finally I got my stamps and was on my way. Through the arrivals hall, collected my bag and made my way out. Tried to get swindled into converting some currency, I withheld, for now, travel money card will suffice.
As I’m about to get called over to finish my immigration, he walks over to me, hands me my pen, plus 2000 Rupee.
“I won’t accept no for an answer, here’s something for coffee.” He replies. I look at the notes. Before I can even surmise a response, he has disappeared.
It all hit home when I met up with the airport charter to get taken to the hotel. Rickshaws, everywhere. It’s sinking in.
This is real.
This is happening.