Delight of the day:
After leaving our first company for the last time with gifts and profuse thanks accompanied by much enthusiastic head-shaking, we made our way back to the hotel feeling a little like editorial celebrities. We took a brisk turn around the park and I spent an hour before my phone call home reading on a lounger next to the swimming pool, enjoying the warm air and unwittingly getting bitten to within an inch of my life. Happily ignorant of this, I met up with Margaret for dinner at the Verandah, which was hosting its weekly ‘Delhi Friday’, although this was our first introduction to it. It consisted of a decent buffet, including starters, curries and desserts, and little stalls outside with bright red-and-white canopies. The waiters, clad in jovial red uniforms, presided over piles of kebabs ready for grilling, large bowls of samosas, pakoras and the like, and great vats of pancake mix for uttapam. I wasn’t sure about the wisdom of cooking outdoors – it seemed like an act of unprecedented generosity towards the mosquitos, and I hadn’t even seen the state of my face yet – but it was all very festive. The restaurant was booming with loud, rhythmic music, a curious mix of US rap and more traditional Indian wailing. It worked surprisingly well.
While eating I started reading the back of the water bottle, as you do when reading is so automatic that you’d read the pattern of freckles on your arm without a better alternative. When I was younger I loved a book called ‘Goggle Eyes’, by Anne Fine, in which the narrator describes herself as the sort of person who gets nervous when the cereal box is removed from the table, leaving nothing further to read. It was one of those moments of self-recognition that provoke a wriggle of embarrassment and gladness that someone, somewhere is just like you, even if they’re fictional. I had the same feeling when I read a Terry Pratchett book about a man who thought his time in jail wasn’t so bad. Not when he spent it correcting the spelling of the graffiti on the wall.
Anyway. Back to the water bottle. Himalayan mineral water, nothing particularly special, but on the back it read as follows:
“I look back on life – it’s funny how things turn out.
You, the creator of beeping sirens and honking cars, yearn for the solitude of the mountains.
You, a connoisseur of fast food, now gaze at water that took years to gather natural minerals as it trickled its way down from the Himalayas to within your reach.
And I, some of the purest water in the world, stand here, trapped in a bottle.
Come, enjoy the irony.”
I can quote that in its entirety, because I was so impressed that a mere bottle label had managed to make me laugh and make an intelligent reference to irony that I immediately removed it from the bottle as something worth preserving. This took longer than anticipated as it was extremely well stuck. I had to get out my (very blunt) dinner knife and hack at it for a few minutes, earning myself some sideways looks from the waiters. They looked as though they were wondering whether I was going to run amok with bottle and butter knife, perhaps sent over the edge by an unholy mingling of hip hop and Indian pop music. I expect I’ll find the cutlery discreetly removed when I turn up for breakfast tomorrow morning – our last, sadly, in this beautiful hotel.