On my first day in India, I saw a man’s death.
I was sitting down an alleyway, drinking tea with a local guy, when we heard the explosion.
” … and that’s why I’m asking you for the money,” Amal had neatly concluded. I sat mulling his story, perplexed by its woeful logic. He’d said he was a shoe cleaner and his iPhone X had been stolen from him. This catastrophe meant Amal needed me to buy milk powder from a friend’s shop for his baby. The scam was underway, and I’d only been here a few hours.
We sat bolt upright, the man brewing the tea nearly dropping his pot. Only the cow lazily swinging its tail seemed unfazed. “What was that?” I asked. Some guys rushed down the alley. We followed them, out into Delhi’s infamous Paharganj Main Bazaar.
The street was shockingly crowded considering the explosion we’d heard. The lack of panic soothed my fear of a terrorist attack. Tuk tuks were blasting their horns, trying to part the sea of humanity that had blocked the road.
I spied an even denser crowd of people standing outside a restaurant. We walked towards it, passing a colourful sari shop, boys selling fresh mango, and the smell of tandoor ovens.
A wailing siren approached from the opposite direction. An ambulance appeared, followed by a cloud of orange dust. It stopped in the middle of the street.
Four men then burst from the restaurant, carrying a long object wrapped in a white tarpaulin. They dumped it inside the ambulance and slammed the doors. The driver laughed with one of the men before speeding away.
I was confused about what I’d just witnessed, but I had a bad feeling. The excited voices surrounding me were all asking the same question in India’s many languages: what had happened?
I turned to the scammer Amal, and like a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome, felt grateful that I could ask him to explain. “They are saying there was an explosion in the restaurant kitchen. A gas tank,” Amal told me.
“But is the guy in the ambulance OK?” I asked. “Oh no, he’s dead!” Amal replied. The news had passed through the crowd by now. Everyone looked surprisingly relaxed and happy, as if this sort of event was normal. Maybe it was.
Amal saw my shocked expression, so he held my arm and walked me away. The mourning period had ended. Smiling, Amal looked me in the eyes — “now, how about that milk powder?”