North of Delhi, East of Heaven (Excerpt) by Joyce Sparling
Alex looked over at the other line and realized all the Indians were staring at him.
It must have been some kind of national pastime - they stared boldly, shamelessly,
openly. They stared at his face, his hair, his clothes, and all his assorted body parts. He
shuddered. He felt the Indians undressing him, tearing off his clothes, cutting through
the layers of his skin, and burrowing down to his soul. And what did they see? Did they
see laziness? Cynicism? Prejudice? Did they see him as a materialistic, greedy
American fool? He resisted the urge to cover his body with his hands.
Fortunately, after ten minutes he reached the luggage station, where a short,
very dark man quietly snatched Alex’s twenty. Huge signs in English and Hindi
announced that nothing was allowed to leave the country - no radios, cameras, tape
recorders, clothing, food, books, medicine, or currency.
The headmaster negotiated his way past a round-faced jolly fellow who patted
his bag, signaling it on. He handed out dimes to a few beggars who followed him, then,
turning back to Alex, he nodded good-bye.
Alex felt a little sick to his stomach. This fleeting contact with another human
being who spoke English was already over, and he realized the enormity of the task he
was undertaking. He was totally alone. He took a deep breath and heaved his duffel bag
onto the customs inspection table.
The jolly round-faced man grinned broadly. Alex smiled back - they were buddies.
The man patted Alex’s bag. In a cheery, high-pitched, singsong voice he asked, “Pah
Alex stopped smiling. “Pardon me?”
Alex’s stomach began to churn. What about English? These people were all
supposed to speak English. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand…”
“Pah namtoo?” The man frowned and then slapped the duffel bag. “Pah
Alex finally understood. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and
extended another twenty dollar bill.
The Indian spit on the ground and shook his head in disgust. “Pah namtoo,” he
growled, “PAH NAMTOO.” Immediately Alex was surrounded by soldiers. Apparently
payoffs were routine, lubricating the flow of international travel, but he’d forgotten to
keep the money undercover. He’d been in the country less than an hour and was about
to be arrested for bribery. A soldier grabbed his arm, and all he could think of was the
New Delhi jail. There’d be rats and roaches, and he’d die a slow, lingering death from
some exotic disease like cholera or yellow fever.
He looked around for some way out, someone to help. A small crowd was staring
and the now not-so-jolly man was becoming belligerent. Alex pleaded with the solider,
“There’s been a mistake - I don’t understand what he wants.”
The soldier released his grasp on Alex’s arm and spoke in perfect Oxford
English. “He’s simply asking you for your flight number. Pah namtoo. Did you or did you
not arrive on Pan Am Two?”
Alex nodded. “I did.”
And it was over. The soldiers left, the man slid the duffel bag down the ramp, and
Alex was free.
Joyce Sparling is enjoying her retirement after chairing the English Dept. at La Jolla Country Day School. She lives with her husband Ray in Solana Beach, California. Her favorite activities are visiting her two sons and their families, taking care of her 3 year old granddaughter, reading, gardening, and enjoying the beach with Ray. Sparling has written 2 novels, Wedlocked, a comedy about marriage, and North of Delhi, East of Heaven, a love story set in India. For this second novel, Sparling spent time with Sikh holy men and their devoted followers in New Delhi.