11th April at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi
No matter how many times I come - and they have been many - India startles, charms and crushes me by turns. Yesterday morning, reaching Delhi, my driver from our local agency quizzed me on the celebrated naturalists I knew. He had driven Jonathan Scott six times, he thought. And what about David, did I know David? Which David he couldn't remember at first. David... David... yes, that was right, Attenborough. He had driven him to Ranthambore in 2009. I knelt to kiss the seat on which the saint had sat.
Last night I stayed in a godawful dive in Delhi and this morning Sir David's pal failed to turn up to transfer me to the airport, leaving me late and scrabbling for a taxi. He had an offer from a better naturalist, I presume. I felt sorry for myself, and fumed quietly in the back of the cab, until we drove past the tarpaulin homes on roundabouts of Delhi's poor.
On reaching the airport I discovered I have a thirteen-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur with nowhere to stay. On the back of seven weeks of seventeen-hour working days, with several nights' sleep missed in transit or collecting clients, that's just the sort of news you relish.
Remember the tarpaulins Nick; remember the tarpaulins.
Yesterday afternoon, emerging briefly from my dive, I had my hair cut in Patel Nagar. I had meant to have it cut two weeks ago in Bhopal but I was left stranded in an absurdly luxurious out-of-town resort (as a very generous gesture from the owners). I could neither afford to eat nor to travel into town to do essential jobs. Oh India.
It took me a while to find a barber's shop yesterday, and by the time I did I was hot and my guard was down. After seventeen years on the road, I should have known better. The barber who ushered me into his cubicle, and drew an ominous curtain around us, was elderly, white-haired, white-stubbled and all but toothless. I suspended my better judgement. Sixty rupees it would cost me, far less than a pound, or even a dollar. He addressed me with ancient, hand-powered clippers, of a sort I have not seen in India in years. Prior to wielding his battle-weary steel scissors he doused me with quantities of water with which Noah would have felt at home. It was only mid-snip that I noticed the geriatric quake of his hands.
Today my hair is, shall we say, tufty.
But I got some sleep in my dive, once the resident child had finished her two-hour screamathon. This morning, at IGI Airport complimentary wifi refuses to allow me to post. I'm tired, my marshtitters, very tired. To be honest, going home sounds like a lovely idea. But I have a month ahead in Borneo, searching for leopard cats, flat-headed cats and Sunda clouded leopards.
I know, I know: not all eyes will weep.