It is 18.15 on the corner of the Paharganj main Bazar just opposite the imposing New Delhi Train Station. It is rush hour and the market is buzzling with millions of people. In less than 30 minutes my train will depart and take me to the City of Agra, just a few hours away from here. My pack on my back and my drum around one shoulder I am waiting while my friend is collecting some pictures from the photo shop.
As I am looking over the crowd gathered there, here she comes, smiling. Yeah! The pictures are ready! As I try and ask if the pictures look good, something feels weird, really really weird!
Only half my mouth is moving. I am suddenly paralyzed on one side of the body!
Here in the midst of the New Delhi’s madness, stoned, with all my possessions in a little backpack, and a train in now 25 minutes! This is absolutely surreal!
We are in December 1989, and I am not travelling alone anymore. I had met Shelley 2 months before on the southernmost point of Crete where I was living naked under a Tree. We had fallen in love and she was now following me on my well known hippie trail around India. We had just walked around the Annapurna Sanctuary for 4 weeks in Nepal, and were now going to zoom around India for 6 months. But first I was going to show her the great Taj Mahal!
How stoned, unconscious and fearing nothing we must have been that evening is still beyond my imagination. I clearly just had a major incident in my brain-possibly a stroke.
But we made it to the station and got into our train! I was stubborn and changing plans was against my philosophy. The train ride was intense. We were both 23, we had long dreadlocks, we looked wild and we were wild! With only half my body moving the other passengers thought that I was completely drunk. The train was packed but somehow someone gave me a berth and I could lie down.
We arrived in Agra late that evening, and after the usual struggle with rickshaw drivers we finally managed to find a cheap guest house.
Two weeks later we were still in Agra. I was now lying on the bed of a local hospital, under drip. I had been misdiagnosed since days, no one knew what my problem was and all the antibiotics I was taking didn’t help at all. I had just spent 24 hours in Coma a few days back and my condition was obviously serious and getting worse. But somehow we didn’t realise and trusted that life would take care. We were doing our thing and were moving along.
The Agra hospital had certainly no intention to have a foreigner die on their premises, and so before sunset they sent me to the Apollo Hospital in Delhi.
The train to Delhi took forever, but finally at 2 am we got a rickshaw to drop us in India’s largest hospital with our dirty backpacks. By then I surely looked really sick and like a skeleton, but the emergency room looked like hell, filled with blood and screams and people looking far more impressive than I did. Someone’s head had a hole in it. Someone’s leg was on a table next to his stretcher. A doctor finally had a quick look at me and told me that I was okay. He gave me another antibiotic pill and off we were again on the streets of Delhi.
It was now 3 am on a Sunday morning, and this was going to be my last day in this body.
After a few hours’ sleep we are waking up somewhere in Carol Bag in a much fancier hotel than I was used to. There is carpet on the floor. We got scammed by the rickshaw driver as we left the hospital in the middle of the night. But this is all irrelevant at this point.
It is around 8.30 am and Shelley goes down to the reception and calls the French Embassy. It is early, and it is Sunday, and yet she can smell that this is very soon all over for me.
Less than an hour later a young French doctor arrives in the embassy’s car. He is shocked. I have been in this condition since more than 2 weeks, without a diagnosis and without proper treatment. This is the first time that someone really looks at me since I became suddenly paralyzed on the street. He takes his time and I feel hope and trust again. I am in good hands. We will do tests he explains, but first he has to guess right and act now. Results would come too late.
His first hunch is that I am suffering from Infectious Mononucleosis and that an Oedema had developed in my brain, explaining the coma and the paralysis. He is right and this will save my life. I look so unlike anything he ever saw that he also suspects that I could have at least Aids and another tropical disease as well, but luckily he will be wrong on that one. He injects me with a good dose of cortisone, pays the hotel bill, gets us into his little car and off we are through the busy streets of Delhi to the reputable East West clinic.
I am given a room there and my girlfriend can stay with me. It will take a week to get all the tests done and get the pressure in my brain down to a point where travelling by air can be an option.
Finally one evening at around 8 pm, the van from the embassy arrives at the clinic and 4 officials from the French embassy knock on the door. They have organized tickets to Paris, and we are leaving now on a direct Air France flight. There is a chance that my brain doesn’t cope with the flight and so the doctor has to sit next to me.
And so on a freezing morning just before Christmas 1989 I landed in Paris, walked through the airport corridors with my doctor on one side and Shelley on the other, got picked up by my Dad, and was brought straight through Normandy to the emergency room of my hometown Hospital. That same afternoon, on the 18th floor, I slid into the tunnel of an mri scanner.
Completing this chapter isn’t easy as I have to omit the juiciest parts.
I was 23 at the time and I just had my first significant encounter with death. I came very close. Most significantly, it marked the end of my hippie life as I had intensely known it. I never touched drugs again and I instead would soon discover meditation. Out of this I would soon meet Osho and be absolutely ready and open for what He was about to propose.
As I left the hospital on Christmas 1989, I was prescribed a year of convalescence; but instead, after 6 days at home with my parents, I bought a ticket to Western Africa. I would spend the next 2 years living naked in caves on the Island of Gomera and in Senegal. Life was easy, wild, and completely in touch with nature. I had a beautiful girlfriend and we then moved on slowly all the way to New Zealand.
What had happened in Delhi had shaken me to the core. What was I after? What was I running from? What did I really long for? I was aware that I was now doing extra time, that another chance was given, and that sooner or later death could take me back, and this time keep me.
Those years travelling in the wild were a time of convalescence indeed, a time of chilling out and of transition. Those were golden days, insouciantly living a freedom somehow long gone, and I was getting ready for a new adventure, an inner one this time. I was getting ready to open up, to feel, and to say Yes.
(…as this chapter is closing, a new one is about to open. More stories coming soon…)