The soldier in the gatehouse eyes me dubiously. “What is your business at the British High Commission?”
“I’m here to pick up a slab of beer.”
The soldier studies my passport with pursed lips. His head bobbles from side to side like the hips of an Elvis Presley dashboard doll.
“You are Australian, yes?” he asks me.
“This is the British Embassy.”
“I know. I’ve got an appointment with Marlene Predap.”
The soldier grudgingly picks up the phone. He has a short conversation in Hindi with somebody and waves me through the gate dismissively.
I meet Marlene in the Embassy foyer and take the delivery of my beer.
“Do you have a car?” she asks me.
“No. Just this.” I show her my scooter.
She gasps. “Did you ride this from Scotland?”
“Not all the way,” I reassure her. “I’m a hitchhiker.”
Marlene stares at me, wide-eyed. “You hitchhiked from Scotland?”
“Most of the way, yeah. All across Europe.”
“Aren’t you exhausted?”
“I could use a beer.”
I’ve had a lot of help getting here to Delhi. When I left Edinburgh two months ago, I never worried about whether or not I would make it here. I know hitchhiking, and I know that if you wait long enough, good people will help you out.
As soon as I stuck my thumb out in Scotland, I started meeting awesome humans. People like Dan the Serbian truck driver, who drove me across the channel to France; Pietro, my host in Paris; Petr and George, my new best friends in the Czech Republic; and of course Maria, my hitchhiker buddy from Athens.
Now I’ve finally reached my destination. Delhi, India.
I feel like I’ve seen the future again. I felt that way in California too. Different versions of our collective future. What we are heading towards. As a species. As an ecosystem.
My friend Amit and I spent hours talking about my experiences in Delhi. He has spent most of the last ten years traveling the world. He understands India in a way I don’t—from the inside out. He helped me see how the machinery of India is inextricably linked to the machinery of the world economy. How the technology and power of California are driven by the same forces that bind India into poverty.
Of course, I understood this concept intellectually. It’s something else to walk around inside it.
In Mumbai, I saw little kids living with their families in the gutter. In Nashik, I think I saw a dead person on the street one night. I’m not sure. I was too afraid to pull aside the filthy blanket and look at the face underneath.
Delhi is the scariest place I’ve ever been. It felt like the burning edge of the world. The streets were constantly engulfed in noise, animal droppings and people. People worked and slept in every crevice of the city. A dense orange cloud of smoke hung over the city. Ravens flapped through the smog and fed on the garbage in the streets.
When I told Amit how I felt in Delhi, he said, “there are the same traps in Delhi as there are in every city in the world. In the west, you’re used to having many things veiled. The difference here is that you can see clearly. You can see the suffering. You can see the scarcity. Every part of humanity is visible here.”
It’s a hot and dusty day in the city. I load the slab of beer onto my scooter, wave goodbye to Marlene, and head for the park. It seems like good weather to have a beer in the park. There are plenty of people walking and hanging out. I find a spot on the grass near the India Gate and crack a can.
Indian people really like to take selfies with me. I’m not sure why. I guess because I look exotic. I’m not the only backpacker who has had this experience. Taking selfies with pink people seems to be a popular hobby in India.
I’ve barely had time to slurp the froth off my beer before an Indian guy comes over and ask shyly if he can have a photo with me.
“Sure,” I tell him. “Would you like a beer as well?”
We stand in front of the big arch, and his buddy snaps a couple of shots.
“What is this beer?” they ask me.
They nod seriously and finish their cans.
“Very nice,” they tell me.
By the time we’ve done our photos a small crowd has gathered around to take pictures of us taking pictures. Everyone starts helping themselves to beer.
It’s a feeding frenzy.
All the barefoot dudes selling candy, the ladies flogging scarves and the fat tourists from Mumbai descend on the box of beer like pigeons. I’m glad I had a can in my hand, or I would have missed out.
It seems like India likes Scottish beer.