All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll'd
Fare you well, your suit is cold.
From "The Merchant of Venice"
90% of what is to know about a country, you will pick up within the first minute you leave the airport. You will understand 90% of what there is to know about a hotel, within the first minute after you walk through the entrance.
"Mmmmm", says Raj as she looks up the grey facade of the "Nagpal Regency". I agree with her, and we walk in together. Kinda of marble floor. Glitters for the evening's wedding. Staff in uniform. Apparently they don't have any booking for us, but have spare rooms. Which I'd like to see first.
Shady people walk out of the elevator as we're going up. Thin foam mattresses lay against a wall on the third floor, with spotted and torn covers. The floor is covered with a filthy sheet.
The room the receptionist shows us, has no window, the bathroom is as spotless as a Delhi dark alley way, and it looks like the bed covers were white in the 18th century. Which might also be the time they were last changed, according to the spots on it. It does not look like sheets are changed after guests check out.
"Excellent, thank you very much", I say with an acid smile, and walk out as fast as I can.
"And?", my travel companions ask. "Rented by the hour", I answer, as we drive to the next hotel. "Friends Regency" looks much better. And smells better too.
Two days later, we are editing the last videos, as the car is waiting to drive us back to Delhi, an eight hours nighttime ordeal. And as a true storm engulfs Ludhiana into a dark doomsday feeling...
Dust kicks up as high as the fourth floor, while we try to cut the last video scenes. Around us, it looks like heaven got invaded by hell. Lightning crashes around us. Pieces of corrugated metal, cardboard and other undefined flying objects are kicked up by the wind, and battered down by the thick screen of rain.
Inches above us, on the hotel's roof, the huge publicity billboards collapse under the high winds, and a dozen people run around, trying to keep the boards from flying off. All on the roof just above our head.
Those are the times where one has to switch into "Ommmmm"-mode, abstracting one's self from surrounding's reality and concentrate on the task at hand. You do your work step by step, and forget about the rest. There is not much you can do about the storm, the junk on the roof, and the nightly drive.
Even though, for a moment, curiosity got the better of me, and I sneak around the corner to see what's up on the roof. And discover that most of the hotel personnel seems to live on tiny shacks on the roof. Shacks which have all but collapsed in the wind. The empty wine bottles are still neatly stacked in the corner.
False beauty is only skin deep.
(to be continued...)