Last week I had finally given up all hope of seeing New Delhi in the few short hours I had during our overnight stay there, and had gone back to my room. I had started a trek from Japan to Pakistan on Thursday, had hardly slept hours since then, but had no regrets about a few hours of lost sleep.
Most of Thursday had been spent seeing the rock of Corregidor, where we held out for so long during World War II, and Friday had found me in a Buddhist temple where I had seen a treasure hidden from human eyes for over 200 years — a 10-foot tall, solid gold Buddha weighing over 5 tons.
I was grateful for those moments because I knew the chance to see such things might never come again, but here I was in India, land of my dreams, and once again facing the same compelling urge to see what I could while I had the chance. However, I was so near collapse after three days with just two hours sleep that I was forced to give it up. At 2:30 in the afternoon I staggered back to my hotel room, flopped on the bed still dressed, and was sound asleep in seconds.
I woke with a start, wondering where I was. Then I remembered, looked at my watch, and saw that it was just 3:40, and sat up. For someone who had only slept an hour or so I felt surprisingly good. I went into the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, grinned back at a happy face in a mirror, and headed for the door. Three-forty in the afternoon. I had the rest of the day, and all night, to see fabled New Delhi.
I stopped with one hand on the doorknob as a slight hitch arose in my plans: I was hungry enough to eat a cow, even the sacred one I’d seen eating a newspaper out in the street earlier. I knew that the hotel dining room didn’t open till six, but there was no way I was going anywhere without eating.
Remembering a room service button on the wall, I pushed it. In a few minutes a tall dignified looking Indian bearer wearing a sash and carrying a tray tapped on the door and came in when I opened it.
“What can I do for you, Sahib?” he asked.
“Can I get something to eat here in my room?”
“Certainly, Sahib. What would you like?”
That was easy. For some reason or other I was dying for a thick ham sandwich. The waiter raised an eyebrow when I launched into a vivid description of what I wanted, but he said nothing. “Would you care for something to drink, Sahib?” he asked.
That was another easy one. “An ice cold bottle of beer.”
He raised an eyebrow again but disappeared out the door and came back in 15 minutes with one very thick ham sandwich and one ice cold liter of beer. I paid up, tipped him nicely, sat down on my narrow bed, had one fine mid-afternoon feast, went back in the bathroom, checked my watch, saw it was just 4:10, grinned at the happy face in the mirror again, splashed some water on my face, and headed out.
Didn’t get far though. Not far at all.
Standing on the front steps of the hotel I had an epiphany of sorts. It was pitch dark outside. It wasn’t four in the afternoon; it was four in the morning.
No wonder I felt so well rested. I had conked out on my bed and slept for 13 hours straight. And no wonder the bearer had raised an eyebrow when I asked for a ham sandwich and a bottle of beer in the middle of the night. I suppose he just thought I was another crazy American — and he was, of course, correct.
All I got to see of New Delhi that day was a pre-dawn bus ride through empty streets. And so — feeling well rested I must admit — I stepped off a triple-tailed Navy Super-Constellation at one in the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 1, 1959, at PAF Mauripur in Karachi, Pakistan. There, I began a tour as — unknown to me for a month or two until I figured it out on my own — ground support for the U-2 Program.
Did I ever get to really see New Delhi? Wish I had, but the answer is no. I saw a lot of things in my years in what had been India until a few years earlier — wonderful things. But Delhi? No.
On the other hand, just 17 days later, on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1959, a by-then good friend named Sam McNutt asked me, “Hey, Tom. How’d you like to meet a couple of nice British girls?”
And so, at 7:30 in the evening of the best day of my life I met the finest gift that the world ever gave to anyone, a young woman born on her grandfather’s tea and coffee plantation in Southern India: Loretta Teresa Garrett, nee George.
I’ll settle for that, Johnny.
You better believe I will!