24 HOURS IN DELHI AIRPORT
(or what happens when you miss your flight)
4 March 2015
Delhi is a beautiful city. Its sun-soaked alleys, riot of colours and torrents of food are a perpetual feast for the eyes. So much so that I couldn’t tear myself away when it came time to leave.
So, I proceeded to miss my flight and went on a whirlwind adventure, finding wild romance in far-flung corners of the country. Well, not quite. The truth was much more insipid. I had swapped passports with my friend by accident and by the time I had gotten mine back, the gate had closed, and I’d missed my flight. By five minutes!
As punishment, I decided to spend the 24 hours until my next flight at Delhi’s tiny Indira Gandhi International Airport. As penance, I made myself write a poem out of this malarky. And so I did.
When The Gate Is Closed
I am no longer in departures or arrivals but somewhere in between,
unchecked in this strip mall of coffee joints and gourmet delis;
a vast lounge of temporary dreaming.
Under the safety of a constant flourescence,
I am protected by men with armored mustaches
as I read of having breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Drivers occupy all remaining chairs, some bring newspapers,
others watch for fresh arrivals as Delhi fogs into oblivion and planes circle,
waiting for a brief clarity to plunge in.
A woman comes to clean the floor; she knows I have scorned
a city hotel to be with cavalier chauffeurs, transit travellers
and a sign proclaiming, ‘waiting was never so fun!‘
She is laughing inside, but only nudges me
with her broom to raise both legs
so she can sweep the floor again, and again.
A businessman takes out bottles of Johnny Walker
and slips them inside piles of shirts and jeans,
clearly not the first time he‘s coming home without labels.
Silver bangles of Sikh drivers dance as they turn the paper.
6 bottles later, the businessman, wearing a Rebel Dream t-shirt,
zips his suitcase with a happy sigh. The woman returns to clean my spot.
With a loaded trolley I trundle up and down the terminal
memorizing the store layouts, all six of them, advanced practice
for old age, a geriatric exercising amidst the sanitized scenery.
I consume a sandwich over four hours,
every bite lingering as long as a chapter.
With awkward glances, Muslim men spread rugs
and kneel to pray behind the privacy of potted plants,
finding the right angle to face holiness.
The empty boxes of whiskey
become suspicious items for an illiterate soldier
who warbles urgently into his walkie for backup.
A line of army soldiers queue in silence,
hefting rifles like tote bags,
winter exercises care of Air India.
the fog seeps into the airport,
adds more steam to unending cups of transit coffee.
The airport staff have been here just as long;
the same barista serves me when time doubles on itself.
The cleaning lady is napping outside the toilet.
The Airtel attendant, a live sculpture
watching over public telephones,
sings softly into her mobile phone.
In the bookstore I browse airbrushed models,
who never pose in airports longer than it takes
to scrawl a perfect signature of themselves.
I fall asleep for an hour, my shopping bag of
ethnic pottery and ceremonial knives arranged like
a shop window display for transit passengers.
When the plane finally leaves it is shyly, through
a blinded veil of fog; hesitant to consummate
this journey that‘s been delayed for so long.
'When the Gate is Closed' was first published in Postal Code (2013).
Text and Photos by Marc.