Paharganj, New Delhi

Delhi — grand master of comedy perfection

Tales from a darkest Paharganj

“Right this way, ma’am”, commands the concierge briskly, in an undulating North Indian accent.

He charges along the corridor’s threadbare carpet, as dim lights flicker above. He could not have been more than 15, his small frame and crackling voice giving him away despite the well pressed uniform and neat, pencil enhanced facial hair.

She scurries behind him obediently, her face shining with sweat as she struggles under an enormous rucksack filled with dirty clothes. It’s 9am and already 35 degrees, and the piercing sound of tuc tuc horns fills the air, each one administering a tiny kick to the eardrums.

As he reaches the door he looks back at her gravely, like a magician about to reveal his big prestige. With a flourish, he swings it open, his body straightening to present the superior suite inside.

“Your suite, ma’am”, he declares.

Before her is a small room with no window. A TV hangs tenuously on the wall, a mess of wires suspended below, and a faint smell of damp wafts from the bathroom.

The boy gives a brief tour of the room’s amenities, explaining each one in turn — a cupboard, a desk, some blankets and a shower. Finally, he gestures regally toward the lavatory, presenting his piece de la resistance: a single, gleaming object perches resplendent on the cistern.

“Your toilet roll, ma’am.” He announces, raising one eyebrow.

It’s true that toilet roll is one of the most precious commodities in India, and perhaps rightly, he presents it with the grandeur of a rare diamond.

She stares for a moment, adjusting her eyes to the dark room, before returning to her senses to give the correct response.

“It’s perfect. Thank you so much.”The boy seems satisfied with this and turns to exit the room. As he reaches the door, he looks back suddenly, a sincere expression befalling his face.

“Oh and ma’am?”

“Yes?”

He straightens his neck before delivering his well practiced coup de grace.

“Don’t forget — my problems…are your concern.” And with that, he flounces off purposefully, a man certain he’s found his calling.

She collapses on the bed, lost in thought and exhaustion, as her eyes make out a myriad of small cracks in the ceiling.

“Wow” she muses, without a hint of irony, “a whole, free toilet roll.”

Perfection, consigned to memory: 26/07/16