I visited India once before.
My predominate memories are of chaos--honking horns and wild traffic, cows blocking the roads, fumes filling the streets, delicious street food dripping with the potential sickness.
But that was years ago, slumming my way through the monsoon as a penniless backpacker. This time, I'm visiting Kolkata to attend a friend's wedding--wondering if perhaps I will find India has changed since my last visit.
My journey from London to Kolkata involves a domestic transfer in New Delhi. As soon as I step off the plane at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, I'm confronted by commotion. Passengers bound for domestic transfers are being hurriedly herded by staff toward a desk clearly labelled "INTERNATIONAL TRANSFERS." Receptionists in orange jackets are anxiously crossing passenger names off of paper lists and directing people to an overcrowded security area. Every computer in sight is sullenly inactive, and a desk labelled "DOMESTIC TRANSFERS" has been left sadly unmanned.
The queue at the security area is huge; only two of many security scanners are manned. One is reserved for men, while women are directed toward the other, which is afforded some privacy by being concealed behind grey curtains. Security officers in army uniforms patrol moodily. A small Indian lady with white hair shouts angrily at me, before dragging her turbaned husband along to cut into the queue ahead of me.
The airport carpet looks like it's from a 1970s episode of Colombo. It smells intensely of mothballs.
The security scanners turn out not to be working at all, meaning that each passenger needs to be personally searched by a security guard with a handheld wand. The man who scans me frowns as his wand repeatedly beeps at my empty pockets. I ask if I can go. The man wobbles his head indeterminately, and then waves me through.
Ah, India, I have missed you.