I Was Supposed To Be Here
Well, had life gone as planned, which god only knows this year it almost never did, I would be waking up in New Delhi, at one of my favorite hotels, The Oberoi. I would pull back the curtains of my room overlooking the golf course, which does not actually look like most golf courses, but never mind the details, it’s the morning view from a hotel I have loved for four decades. I would then sit drinking my coffee, on my first morning in glorious India watching vultures fly around outside my window. I love those vultures. I would be so happy to see them.
This would be my India welcome. Long awaited and deeply anticipated. I would have arrived in the middle of the night, well, not really the middle of the night, but around two am of today, dragging myself across the empty lobby, exhausted as likely planes had been late and luggage sometimes not found, but I would then see the big Tree of Life at the end of the lobby, which signified all was and would be in order.
I had arrived, no matter how chaotic it might appear back to my peaceful, spiritual home.
Look, I know few people who have really had a kick-ass, terrific year. I will go on record as saying it was one of my worst in memory. BUT, I have spent blissful days planning our annual holiday trip, this year to India.
I’ve been to India a lot. A whole lot. I started going in 1979. Long before it was on the beaten track. I have written four films there. I have been on the set for two.
I have been there with my mother, three times with Glenn, twice with my best friend Maryanne, once with a former friend Penelope, I had a boyfriend there for a spell, I went with Goldie Hawn on a film project and I took Taylor twice. The only person close to me I have not traveled to India with is Lucy.
We did have a trip planned ten years ago to the day. But two weeks before we were supposed to leave the Mumbai Massacres occurred. Not only was it a little scary to go then, but our hotel had also been destroyed as had several others. Lucy was eight all she saw on the news was carnage in India. Even if it had been doable, she was so not going.
But, this year, Lucy was ready. It had been 12 years since I had last been. I was so ready.
Taylor had other things to do, so I spent ten months making meticulous plans to not only take Lucy to India, but I was going to try and reenact my first trip in 1979.
The only emendation being a trip to Varanasi as I wanted to wake up on New Years Day; Rent a boat at dawn and watch the sun come up over the Ganges. I thought this would be the best way humanly possible to say good-bye to 2018 and bring in 2019.
I planned every detail to perfection. We would stay at the hotel we stayed at in Jaipur in 1979 even though it was not a proper hotel then. It was still the guest house of the Maharajah of Jaipur who I was visiting. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful hotels in India, and that is saying something. It’s called the Rajmahal Palace.
I booked us in there for five nights. I didn’t want to move around too much. Stay in three cities and do day trips.
It’s no secret to those who know India, Delhi in the winter gets very foggy, Flights get delayed, sometimes canceled. I was a bit concerned about that but I’ve been flying into Delhi for forty years, I wasn’t going to not go because of possible delays. You have to leave that kind of thinking behind when you go to India. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to go so badly this year. I need the clarity and zen India’s chaos never fails to provide.
But for the last week, I had become increasingly aware of the air quality. Something I had not thought much about. It started with a photo of someone on Instagram in India with a pollution mask on.
I then added the four cities we were going to into my Apple weather forecaster. Three days ago Delhi went from Poor air quality to Hazardous.
I went online and read the pollution was especially bad and it was a good idea to wear N95 masks while outdoors if breathing became difficult. So I Amazon Primed me some masks. Glenn laughed and said he wouldn’t be caught dead in one, which makes the rest of the story even more amusing if there is an amusing aspect to this story.
Christmas night we packed. I packed so well. I have been quasi packing for months. I have been assembling clothes for this trip since the summer. I cannot tell you how much I have been looking forward to it.
An hour before we were heading to the airport Glenn said he saw some squiggly lines on his computer when he checked Delhi weather. He didn’t know what they were. He was not checking for pollution, mind you, he was checking to see what kinds of sweaters or jackets to bring.
He then did some googling and reading and discovered that the weather pollution had reached beyond hazardous if there is such a thing. We then dug a tad deeper and it turned out that Delhi and Northern India had been and is going through the worst pollution crisis it has ever experienced. People were told to stay indoors and not to dare go outside. Now, this is great for people with housing, I shudder to think of the 1/3 of the population who live either outdoors or in sub substandard housing. But if you can put that aside and it’s not easy to do, for us it meant we would fly for 20 hours and very likely not be able to go outside. All reports said it was especially bad for people with breathing conditions. I’m asthmatic.
To put this into a timeline, we literally had an hour to make up our minds about what to do. Glenn quickly emailed two friends of ours in India. One said “as much as we want to see you don’t come. You can’t breathe, it’s horrible, we are heading back up to the mountains as soon as we can.” The other person we contacted is a member of Parliment, he said no one can breathe, he was only in Delhi to work and was headed back to the sea. We should come back at the end of February or March.
I could not accept these answers. But I also knew there were few choices. It’s the New Year, I had booked our reservations everywhere eight months ago. There were to be no spontaneous itinerary changes. We were going to be in the grey hot center of the pollution.
To put it in perspective normal livable pollution particles in the air are measured in increments of….. Oh, let me show you.
On Christmas Day apparently, Delhi got to 999 a point where it stops being measurable. We started getting really worried. Glenn suddenly got beyond wearing a mask to saying we shouldn’t go.
But we were packed. I have never canceled a trip. Never. Ever.
I called my friend Maryanne who I had been to India with, she had been there during a pollution spell. She said I would be such a bitch if I traveled all that way and was stuck in the hotel.
I knew she was right. The Tree Of Life would lose a lot of its life if it was all I could look at all day. And what about Lucy? It’s not fair to subject her to what is a hazardous situation. Apparently breathing that air is the equivalent of smoking three packs a day.
So at truly the 11th hour, we bailed.
Deposits be damned, plans be damned and a year of yearning to visit my spiritual homeland would have to be replaced with a spiritual understanding of going with the flow and endangering our health was not worth it.
So we are here. Lucy is home for almost a month. We are making lots of plans. We are shopping as I had also saved money during the year to buy things in India. We are doing museums, theatre and just enjoying New York.
I am grateful for many things. Though I am very sad not to go. I am even sadder for the people, especially those who cannot afford proper plumbing much less an air purifier whose lives are literally being cut short by this.
And I am deeply, deeply sad that we have destroyed and continue to detroy our planet at such an alarming rate.
And like all terribe things I love to blame them on the monster from Mar A Lago, and while he has no hand in what happens in India., this morning the front page of NY Times has an article about how all his EPA rollbacks are causing the worst pollution many American cities have ever seen and it’s only getting worse.
Amazon- N95 masks, if Trump hangs around much longer we might all be wearing them.
Namaste from NYC.
Since I will not be travel blogging here are some shots from trips through the decades.