Date: 27 April
Location: seat 35A, Jet Airways flight from Trivandrum to Mumbai, en route to Delhi
Notable sightings: Indian airplane food. Not as bad as you might think. (Effect: TBA.)
I'd been meaning to read some of Jeffrey Eugenides's work for some time, so when The Marriage Plot turned up on a display shelf at the East Melbourne library, I grabbed it even though it's a thousand pages long and I was about to head overseas so would have to return it before I left. Around midnight on the night before my flight I sleepily admitted defeat and closed the book, promising its sad little cover that I'd come back to it in July. Genius struck around 4am so I rolled over, opened the iTunes store on my iPad, pressed download and went back to sleep. My first ebook!
The novel is set on the East Coast of the USA in the 80s so it was a surprise when, as I clacked along railway tracks between Pondicherry and Madurai, one of the main characters ended up in India. (It was also a little devastating to my ego because Eugenides describes aspects of India with a comic grace I could never emulate.)
I was thinking of a passage today at the airport, after showing my itinerary and passport at the front doors to pass the soldiers, having each of my handbag and backpack labelled at checkin, going through security where each label and my boarding pass was checked by two separate people, and double-stamped and I got frisked – but before having my boarding pass and passport and all bag labels rechecked three times between the gate lounge and my seat.
'Mitchell walked along Chowringhee Road, gazing at the buildings and repeating a phrase he remembered from Gaddis, the accumulation of time in walls, and thinking that the British had left behind an accumulation of bureaucracy that the Indians had only made more complex, investing the financial and governmental systems with the myriad hierarchies of the Hindu pantheon, with level upon level of the caste system so that to cash a travellers cheque was like passing before a series of demigods, one to check your passport, another to stamp your cheque, still another to make a carbon of the transaction while still another to write out the amount before you could receive money from the teller.
Everything documented, scrupulously checked over and then filed away to be forgotten forever.'
(Jeffrey and I share a love for the winding sentence.)
And, with that passage in mind, you don't even want to know what it's like to send mail here. Dante's Inferno, with its seven circles of hell, is said to be inspired by a visit to an India Post office.