“Excuse me, this is my seat”… “So sorry, sir. I’ll move”… As I took my seat on EK514 bound for Delhi and heard two similar exchanges happen around me, I realised: these people weren’t making mistakes – they were just sitting anywhere. Just like that. Anywhere! Willy nilly. I had been warned of this kind of thing…
Friend: “Chaos. It’s absolute chaos, Luc – it really is. But don’t fight it. Fight it and you’ll hate the place. Go with it and you’ll love it.”
Luc: “Right. Ok.”
Friend: “It also comes down to how much time you’ve spent there. My partner for example, has spent loads of time in India.”
Luc: “Oh, so she loves the place?”
Friend: “Well, no actually. Last time we were there she said ‘I can’t STAND this f**king place! I’m NEVER coming BACK to this F**KING country EVER AGAIN!”
Luc: “Right. Magic.”
Friend: “But don’t let that put you off.”
Luc: “Oh no. Course not.”
As the 777-300ER lifted itself into the Arab skies, I realised I had underestimated the whole chaos thing. I had assumed that it was the product of the population size, rather than people not being particularly interested in order. I had thought that people obeyed the rules but bumped into each other along the way. My taxi ride through Delhi on arrival provided a definitive introduction to the psychology of chaos – Rules? What rules?
When I think of that taxi ride, I always put speech marks around “taxi”. It was one of those micro-mini vans. One up from a rickshaw. It had seen better days, poor thing. Leaving the airport, we found ourselves on an eight-lane road; four in each direction with a wide grass median. People were lying down on that median, looking up at the sky… Others were walking seemingly from and to nowhere in particular… the sides of the roads too had gatherings of people standing around chatting in strange spots and I was unable to work out why. Why there? Why then? It was a beautifully clear night. 34 degrees Celsius. And it was noisy. Really noisy.
In New Zealand, we use our car horns as the very last line of defence. If you hear a horn sound, oooooh look out! Someone is really irritated. Not here. It’s a kind of lingua via. “Hey, just so you know, I’m behind you on the right where I have no business being. Just saying.”… “Hurry up and complete your lane-change manoeuvre! I’m trying to drive down the middle of two lanes like a NORMAL person, get out of my way!”… and so it goes on. Incessant horn-based chatter. To start with, of course, every beep went right through me and set my teeth on edge like fingernails on a blackboard (for those of you who remember what those are). But, by the time I left a few days later, I was starting to get a hang of this new tongue.
Occasionally, of course, there are messages too nuanced to be conveyed by a horn alone. On such occasions, leaning out car windows and using the full range of language and body gestures is required to really get the message across. I thought one of my rickshaw drivers was going to climb through a car window he was so angry. The whole spectacle was so comical I wanted to laugh my arse off but was worried I’d end up walking the rest of the way. I settled for a smile. Chaos.
My taxi ride to the airport on my way to Ladakh was no less eventful. My little taxi man appeared at 3.30am with sleep in his eyes and the most assertive bird’s nest perched on the back of his head that I’ve ever seen. Ok. Sleepy taxi man. Rule-less Delhi roads… Matua, tama, wairua tapu… Despite the early hour and comparatively light traffic we still managed to find endless opportunities for liberal use of the horn. It was his preference to drive *astride* the lines, you see. These silly lane-based drivers were irritating him.
After a mild run-in with airport security at the door and wanting to tackle this stupid woman trying to check in a box the size of a small car, I finally made it to check-in for my flight to Ladakh. “I’m sorry, sir. I only have aisle seats left.”… this was really disappointing because I had heard that the approach to Leh is breathtaking. The plane comes in with views over the Himalayas at sunrise – something I had really wanted to witness. I made my way through security and submitted to a physical once-over so comprehensive I started to enjoy it. Something to look forward to with my other flights 😉
Sitting in my window seat, waiting for take-off, I looked out the window at the still-dark sky and reflected on my introduction to India. My friend was right: it is kind of chaotic. Any expectation that people will follow the rules is misplaced. Just go with it, Luc. I was so glad I had decided to do just that.
Stewardess: “Excuse me, sir. I think you are in this gentleman’s seat.”
Luc: “Oh really? I’m so sorry, sir. Would you like me to move?”
Gentleman: “No, no. That’s fine.”
Hmm. Chaos does have its upsides