Kevin and I in India by Frank Kusy
Monday the 2nd of January 1985 saw me on a British Airways flight to Delhi, via Kuwait. From my prized window seat on the plane, as I looked out at a glorious sunset, I found myself doing something I had not done for a long time. I began to write.
It had been three years since I had written anything – a misguided project called ‘The Conception Horoscope’ which no publisher would touch because it would have ruined the livelihood of all traditional astrologers. Now, as I sat on that plane with half a day to kill, I began penning something which I thought publishers would touch…a diary. A diary that would eventually run 200,000 words and encompass all 144 days of my travels in India and Nepal.
‘Since boarding the plane,’ I started it dramatically, ‘there has been a slimy, crawling feeling of fear and apprehension in the pit of my stomach. My spirit feels bloody and torn, like a child ripped unsuspecting from the womb and thrust rudely into a new and frightening world in which it knows none of the rules. For the first time in my life, I realise, I am completely independent, alone and free. No supports, no crutches, nothing familiar to lean on. All that I have is an address or two in Delhi, and the hope of a good following wind to get me there.’
The good following wind ran out at Kuwait airport, where our plane was disembarked and we were informed that owing to fog over Delhi there would be a six hour delay. ‘How depressing,’ I thought. ‘What on earth am I going to do for six hours in this stark, bleak and clinically sterile airport lounge?’
The answer was: meet Kevin.
Like good, typical English types, Kevin and I circled each other warily – despite being the only two Europeans in the vast lounge area – for three hours before finally being driven together at the foreign exchange counter.
‘Do you think we’re better off changing money here or at Delhi airport?’ was my opening gambit.
‘I don’t know,’ responded Kevin. ‘But I tell you what, they better have a cheese sandwich waiting in Delhi. This Arab lot haven’t even got a coffee shop!’
In retrospect, it seems quite incredible that a chance conversation at a near-empty Arab airport should have led to a deep and mutually rewarding travel friendship lasting over two months and taking us 15,000 kilometres around the continent of India and into the Kingdom of Nepal. But once I had got over the shock of Kevin being an ex-7th Day Adventist boat builder, and Kevin had reconciled himself to the company of a Buddhist astrologer, we decided to take digs together in Delhi.
I quickly found in Kevin a most congenial travelling companion. He was amusing and pleasant, held a lively, informative conversation, was extremely open and accommodating, and didn’t snore. He even supported – though he never quite understood – my Buddhist practice. “Have you chanted yet?’ he asked me on one occasion, and when I said: ‘No,’ he shook his head in mystification and said: ‘Are you sure? I’ve been hearing that bloody chanting everywhere I go!’
What was truly wonderful about Kevin though was the carefree way in which he laughed at vicissitude. Racked with discomfort from mosquito bites and sunburn, and unable even to find a cup of sugarless tea anywhere, he was able to maintain: ‘I’ve never felt better in my life!’ When I pointed out that he’d had flu for the past 3 weeks, he said: ‘What I mean is, I’ve never felt in better mental health!’
Sometimes Kevin challenged my own mental health, like when he went off on a one and a half hour whistling rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and ‘Oh, I do like to be beside the Seaside’ (two tunes I absolutely hated) but this was a small price to pay for his boundless enthusiasm and optimism.
‘Where else,’ I found myself asking, ‘could I find a travelling companion who can liven up your day by accidentally changing the combination on your padlock so that it takes you a whole afternoon to escape from your room? And who else, when bored, spends his time bouncing coconuts up and down the walls, then blending slivers of Cadbury’s chocolate, coconut juice and Indian rum into a personal cocktail in a malaria tablet bottle?’
The only thing that dented Kevin’s enthusiasm – apart from his ongoing battles with beggars and rickshaw drivers – was the near absence of European cuisine. ‘I ordered chips,’ he raged on one famous occasion, ‘and all they’ve given me is six slivers of raw potato!’ On another occasion, in Varanasi, he finally located a plate of cheese sandwiches, but had to turn them away. ‘I couldn’t eat that plate of sandwiches,’ he complained in his own diary. ‘To be honest and blunt, they were disgusting. Stale, stained black and bone hard, I opened them up and found bits in them. I think the main “bit” was a dead spider.’
I suppose the summit of our trip – if one discounts the time Kevin was forced to eat five chilli omelettes in quick succession and nearly had a stroke – came when we decided to have our heads shaved bald.
‘If I’m here as a Buddhist,’ I told my young friend. ‘I might as well look like one. Besides, it’s too hot for hair.’
Kevin’s broad, ruddy face creased in amusement. ‘You haven’t got the head for it, Frank,’ he laughed. ‘Me, I’ve got a lovely head. I’ll look just like Sean Connery.’
And it was true, once Kevin’s light, brown locks had fallen to the floor of the ‘Disco’ barber’s in Kumily he did look just like Sean Connery. Only trouble was, the next town we came to, he was unexpectedly mobbed by a crowd of James Bond devotees who wanted him to sign autographs and bless their babies.
All of a sudden, Kevin didn’t want to look like Sean Connery anymore!
Kevin and I in India
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