I flew into New Delhi early one morning and it was the first and only place I’ve ever been where I was unsure if the sun had risen or not.
I stood looking at the client in a mixture of fear, loathing, and utter disbelief. It was a crucial point in my professional life: after around a year of starting my own company, I’d landed my first international gig, and it was going horribly.
I was finding out a lot about naivete, humanity, planning, schedules, clients, and the benefits of growing a backbone. Upon landing in New Delhi, the client found out her credit cards weren’t working. So, since I wanted to be able to sleep & eat, I offered to use my business card while she worked her money problems out.
Bad idea. By the end of a week, I’d paid for the Janakpuri Hilton, fifteen or twenty meals, and countless taxi jaunts. On Saturday, the client flew back to the United States. I didn’t. She’d booked me on the wrong flight. The next available flight was a week later. I was stranded.
So I stuffed my backpack, walked outside, and after talking with a few clerks and waiters, I found a private driver. His name was Jakdeep and he owned a little beater Toyota. I asked him how much to drive me around for three days, somewhere up towards Pakistan, and he said it’d be 10,000 rupees. Sounds like a lot, but at the time that was around $165.
Hell yeah. Jakdeep and I would become fair to middling friends over the course of the next three days and something around 1000 kilometers of driving. He was a nice fellow, listening to Bollypop on the radio, stopping at roadside stands to buy soda and coffee, pointing things out and describing life in broken English.
Rural Rajasthan is a hot place. It’s India, but it’s nestled in the middle of the Thar Desert. It stretches towards the border of Pakistan, and when driving you’re more likely to swerve around elephants and camels than vehicles. It’s hot and dusty and everyone is swathed in turbans and veils.
On the second day, he stopped for lunch at a little food stand on the side of the road. People wandered around from booth to booth. I didn’t like the look of the meat (I’d been throwing up nearly every single day), but the rice vendor looked fairly trustworthy. I gave the vendor a few rupees and he dumped a ladle of rice into a metal bowl. I bought a Mello Yello and sat on a little bench and started eating. I was halfway through the bowl when I realized that the “spices” inside the rice were actually little gnats.
I started trusting Jakdeep a little less.
For starters, he drove me to a little dusty Middle Eastern-looking town nestled beside a lake in the hills. It looked like a great place to find a market and buy things, so I asked to be taken to a street market. He took me to a little souvenir shop with bad green carpet and glass display cases. I didn’t want to buy something at the Indian equivalent of a Dollar General, so I asked for a street market. By now, however, it was growing a little dark. He pulled up beside a man on a motorcycle, who I think that Jakdeep knew. He started following the motorcycle through small alleys and streets, and I was becoming uncomfortable.
We ended up back at the same souvenir shop. I felt pressured. I bought a little handcarved stone elephant.
I knew which hotel I wanted to stay at, but Jakdeep kept following the man on the motorcycle around town, and ending up at a place called the Raj Hotel. I think we know how this ends up: I stayed at the Raj Hotel.