My suitcase is packed for India: clothes for two weeks, trusting that the Goethe-Institut in Delhi will provide a washing machine. I'm to spend one month in the Indian capital city. Made possible by the Goethe-Institut's "Close-Up" exchange programme and the hospitality of the colleagues at the Hindustan Times, I will spend four weeks in the centre of the world's largest democracy with the job of reporting from this mega-metropolis.
The announcement came sometime in early September following a meeting about an entirely different subject. "Oh, by the way, we thought you could take part in this exchange programme with India," my department head told me as nonchalantly as writing, "P.S. Say hello to your parents," at the bottom of a letter.
Since this meeting, hardly a day has passed in which my mind did not revolve around Delhi. Eleven million people are packed into the narrower city districts alone. My parents immigrated from Croatia, a country that does not have even half that many inhabitants. Compared to that, India is not a country, but its own planet with Delhi at its centre. So, now it's time for me to make travel preparations, buy summer clothes for the Indian autumn and apply for a visa. Pretend to be prepared for it all.
While talking with the staff at the Indian consulate general in Frankfurt, I suddenly ascertain that my English is not as good as I imagined it was since finishing school. And I read up again and again, make an attempt to approach this city. Numbers dance about in my head: more than 3,000 years of history, four official languages. The actual city population is augmented by another five million people in the Delhi conurbation. Of them, 1.4 million read the Hindustan Times, the newspaper that will be my journalistic home for the next four weeks. Numbers, numbers, numbers! They say nothing. They merely frighten me.
I know nothing about Delhi and what I thought I knew is not worth mentioning in the light of the sheer size of the city. "So, what ties you to India?" a friend recently asked. Besides a fondness of Indian restaurants I could think of nothing - but one.
A few years ago I did actually visit India - even if merely in a dream. I was chugging along a huge river in a turquoise coloured motorboat. To my left and right, monuments, temples, triumphal arches and steles rose above the waves. We were now "in the city" the friendly Indian man steering the boat in my dream told me. "The city" was never given a name. It would not have mattered to me anyway. What was far more pivotal was the feeling that I was looking at something very old, unutterably valuable and grand.
I now begin my journey in anticipation of this feeling.
Danijel Majic is an FR intern who has swapped workplaces with a journalist from the Hindustan Times for four weeks.