the king and the good times

The Gateway of India: view from my hotel roomI’ve returned from a three-day trip to Mumbai, and am savoring the comfort of my own bed this morning after.

Every now and then a breeze lifts the grim green mango leaves outside my bedroom window, but otherwise they are huddled and brooding and appear sometimes to be telling me something through the mesh between us. While I watch them I think of the tree in front which had been dry until only a week ago, and brown like it had been flamed, but it was the absence of the inner flame that had rendered it lifeless. Now, every leaf on it is newborn, only a week old, and a young translucent green. In the neighborhood, the mayflowers are out now in April in the manner of that beer festival in Munich, which hurries to commence in September, even if those good-humored Bavarians call it Octoberfest.

It is promising to be a cruel April in Bangalore, whereas in Mumbai the weather had seemed better, and in the breeze of the evening I couldn't imagine why I'd ever disliked the city. I fought down the urge to get back to the promenade and to the cobblestone environs of the Gateway of India at night when I gazed down upon it from the third floor window of my hotel room. From that height it was clear that even with a quite swollen moon above, the sea couldn’t wet the feet of the monument placed on raised ground by confident Englishmen for their visiting king, emperor.

It is a high arch, fit for a king, and hopefully he walked as tall under it as his subjects wished him to.

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The woven mats were perfumed and there was not a speck on them; neither did the bright white woven napkins bear a single stain. The small, express meal for the short flight to Bangalore was alright for an airline dinner. There wasn’t a fault I could pin on either of the two hostesses. I should have been having a good time, but I had thoughts: Did their Chairman really recruit them personally? Did he tell them himself that they should treat us as “guests in his own home?” How is the treatment in his “own” home, or on his plane on whose outer body I’ve seen, I think, the names of his children printed below the cockpit door? What did the airline mean, to say we were in King Class? That each of us was king? Or that their Chairman was king, and we were privileged members of his king’s class, because we were being treated “as guests in his own home?"

Indeed, I should have been having a good time, but I couldn’t, thinking for most of the 90 minutes that there was another who was having a better time, and that he is the “King of Good Times” that the billboards proclaim. When the time in King Class was up, I struggled to equal the bright parting-greeting of the hostesses.

But I’ll fly them again, and again, just as I always fly that other airline to Europe in which you are a “Senator,” and the other one which calls you: “Ambassador Class.” I’m happy to have the strength to hold forth against people who take so much money from you and call you names.