Delhi was where I started my trip in India, and, in one way or another, it’s where my trip would end.
I was staying in a small, haphazardly built guest house in Connaught Place, a big busy double sided ring of posh shops lining a large traffic circle with a park in the middle. I had found the guest house nestled in the inner ring, where the other shops had their back entrances and all the fake tourist information offices ran their scams. The guest house’s little twisting staircases and overgrown vegetation on the rooftop patio made it feel like a treehouse, out of place in the grimy and mercantile streets. I told myself I bought the room because of price, but it was really because of the treehouse.
At the end of a long day, I was walking back to my room when I heard someone shouting. I turned to my left to find five men standing on one side of the street. One of them was gesturing wildly at me to come over, and had clearly seen me turn to look. They were all well dressed, wearing designer jeans and nice jackets. Against my better judgment, I walked over to their side of the street.
“Hey maaaan, where you from?” The one who had gestured over was tall and slightly intoxicated.
“The US. I’m an American.”
His eyes narrowed, his body straightened slightly, and said, “An American? No offense, but I fucking hate Americans. You smoke?”
He offered me a cigarette. I took it, and we both lit up. It wasn’t the time to pass on a kind gesture.
“Americans man, they fucking suck. You know what I hate about Americans? Somebody comes to India they’re treated like fucking guests, man, because they’re in our country. And what happens when I go to America? When I go to New York on business? I’m treated like a fucking terrorist. Like I’ve got a fucking bomb?”
The four other men standing with us weren’t involved in the conversation. They seemed preoccupied with the street in either direction. I gave a quick glance to see what they were looking at, but the street was mostly empty. Otherwise, my attention was focused solely on the philosopher. I tried changing the topic.
“So, what kind of business takes you to New York?”
He paused to look at me, took a drag on his cigarette, then looked down the street with the rest of them. “You know, man, … business.”
It’s at this moment that my gaze shifted to the man standing to the philosopher’s left. In the last gasp of dusk, I noticed a medium sized handgun stuffed into the back of his jeans, mostly hidden by his jacket.
My mind immediately went in several directions. The first was my emotional reaction to seeing a gun, any gun, in any situation. The second was the inevitable logical response.
One. You don’t need a handgun to take money from a tourist, as a clever lie is often more than enough. Two. As deserted as this alley might be, there are still tons of people around, including cars and taxis. Three. I’m as white as a snowy day compared to these people, and conservatively 1/4 of the people on the street are staring at me at any given time. Four. The philosopher was somewhat drunk, and everyone else seemed bored. These four things combined in my head to one simple, calm conclusion.
This gun is not for me.
The philosopher was still talking about New York, telling a story about someone who called him a “sand-nigger”. Intensely aware of everyone and everything around me, I found myself agreeing that George Bush and the man who called him a sand-nigger were both “ugly fucking Americans.”
A car pulled up next to us and four men got out. One man started eyeing me up and down, introduced himself and shook my hand. He asked the philosopher a question in Hindi, and seemed calmed by the short response. I was by myself, in a foreign country, in a back alley talking to a drunk man who “fucking hates Americans” while standing next to his handgun toting friends. I decided it was time to go.
“Hey man, I’ve got to get going, it’s past my bedtime. Thanks for the cigarette.”
“Any time, man, take it easy.”
We shook hands, I glanced at the man who had the gun, found him staring straight back at me, I turned my back and calmly walked away.