Lost luggage lessons in Delhi

I arrive in Delhi for a tourism conference at the once-grand Ashok Hotel. It's a hot September evening, a sticky 29 degrees. I'm relieved it's nothing like my previous visit 10 years earlier, when the mercury hit 47 in the post-monsoonal days of April. Then, I was also attending a conference and had an appointment with an official from the Indian tourism board.

Leaving my airconditioned hotel room, I emerged on the street - walking into a blast furnace. I assumed our interview would be in a chilled office, so rather foolishly I donned pantyhose to smarten up my knee-length, short-sleeved dress. I wished I'd packed some flowing outfits, but I hadn't.

My taxi was a sweat box (although I loved its retro look - it being a Hindustan Ambassador, a car based on the Morris Oxford). The driver suggested I roll up the windows to keep out the heat, and when I arrived at the office of the under-secretary of tourism, or whoever the gentleman was, all that was stirring in his broiling office was a desultory fan whirring at snail's space.

Now a decade on, dressed in a black linen pants suit and with plenty of clothes in my suitcase, I'm ready to take on Delhi again.

The action is to take place in the ballroom of the same hotel, which is government-owned and tends to host all state-run functions. I wait and wait at the airport carousel but my bag, containing an array of clothes to cover every contingency, doesn't materialise. An airport official eventually tells me it's lost but will "most definitely" turn up some time that night or perhaps the next day.

My friend has her bag but mine is somewhere between Australia and India. I visit the airline's desk (no names, no pack drill), fill out a form and am given a bag of essentials - a lightweight, pale-blue dressing gown, disposable knickers, basic toiletries, and a stash of rupees that should allow me to buy a few items in case my bag never shows.

The next day, Delhi's temperature hovers around 30 and the humidity is stultifying. All I've got is the black linen outfit, which, while fresh and smart 30 hours ago, is not so alluring now. But it has to be worn to the opening day's conference - otherwise it's the blue, logo-bearing airline dressing gown.

I give it a press (linen is a nightmare to iron) and head out. Eight hours later I'm determined to buy something to wear to the open-air cocktail party that night in case my bag doesn't arrive.

I head to Shankar Market near Connaught Place where row after row of quaint shops sell silks, shoes and clothes. I feel pretty smug when I pick up a pink shalwar kameez (a traditional outfit of matching loose pyjama-type pants with a drawstring, knee-length tunic with slits to the waist and a shawl). I think I've scored a retail coup when the merchant throws in a free top with diamante trim, and next door I snaffle a pair of turned-up-toe shoes for a song.

With airline rupees to spare I cab it back to the hotel room - notice the bag has not arrived - but smile as I gussy up for the night.

All is going well as I slip on tunic and shimmy into what can only be described as a pair of Bombay bloomers. But something is terribly amiss; the pyjama pants are swimming on me and making their way steadily south. Mr Patel, my retailer from Shankar, has forgotten to supply the drawstring.

My friend phones from the foyer with a "hurry up, the taxi's here" message. What to do? I look like Billy Bunter on a bad day!

Then I remember the pale-blue dressing gown has an inch-thick cotton cord.

I grab it, hitch up the voluminous pants, turn the waist over a couple of times and bind that cord around my waist ultratight.

I check to see if you can see the blue under the pink, ignore it and exit the Ashok with aplomb.