So it’s my first time in Vadodora, formerly known as Baroda, which is indeed much easier to say. The plane lets us off onto the steaming tarmac and the blistering 110 degree winds pulse over me. I head through the one terminal building and pass the two conveyor belts: the joy of traveling carry-on. A drove of photographers and cameramen gather outside. One of the bowlers from the Indian national team is on the flight. I ask my hotel driver his name, but he says he doesn’t know.
Once checked into the Taj Gateway, I make my way to the pool and eventually locate a lounge chair not dolloped in bird shit. The squalid, bean-shaped tub is warmer than fresh pee. With goggles firmly suctioned over my peepers, I slither in. A few amoebalike strokes later and an attendant in white trousers emerges in my periphery. He calls out in greeting. I interrupt my lap to acknowledge him and then float on my back. But the encircling and swooping fowl and bats soon start making me nervous, so I wade to the edge of the pool where the man gleefully beams in wait.
“Hello.” He appears very pleased that I’ve swum over. “Is it possible to order something from the bar and have it brought here?”
“Oh yes sir. Anything is possible.”
“That’s great. What kind of cocktails do you have?”
“You’d like a Pepsi?”
“No no, something with alcohol. Do you have a bar menu please?”
“No no, something from the bar. I saw the bar in the lobby. Can you bring me the bar menu?”
“How about fresh juice?”
A second attendant emerges and scurries over. He nods to me and says, “hello sir,” and the two men then murmur and confer. The second one now pipes in.
“Sir, would you like a juice cocktail?” I remove my goggles, he grins nervously.
“Is it possible to have a drink sent over from the bar, you know, something with alcohol?”
“Oh yes sir. We can do that for you. What would you like sir?”
“I’d love a cocktail if that’s possible. Your other Taj properties have these great specialty cocktails. It would just be really nice to sit out here and have a drink.”
“Oh yes sir, I know. One moment sir.” He scampers off leaving me and the first attendant smiling at one another gormlessly.
“You swim very nice sir.”
I chortle, “No, not really, but thanks.”
“Oh no sir. Your swimming very nice, very nicely.” He is adamant.
“Well thank you. You should see me drink cocktails.”
The second man now trots back. He’s carrying two bottles of water. He crouches down and hands me one.
“No no, I don’t want water, but thank you.”
“Aren’t you thirsty sir? Vadodora’s very hot today.”
“It is, yes. Never mind. That’s okay.”
“OK sir, I’ll leave it over there.”
“That’s fine, thank you.”
The first man says, “Sir, one moment please. I go get the manager.”
“Sure, whatever, thanks.”
I wriggle over the side of the pool and slosh my way to the open-air shower. While hosing off the scum, a more senior man in a black suit gently approaches.
“Good evening sir.”
I must appear like a pudgy white cow caught in the rain, but with goggles round my neck.
“Oh hello, good evening.” I try to ignore the fact that he is formally pressed while I’m half-nude and drizzling. We politely address one another as if our exchange were within the perfect bounds of normality.
“Yes. I was wondering if I might order a cocktail, or something from the bar, and have it served here by the pool.”
“Yes, I understand sir, but I’m very sorry. You see, Gujarat is a dry State.”