Leaving New Delhi in times of inner emergency

Less than three weeks ago, after an amazing two months in India, I found myself in Rishikesh. For a long time, I had dismissed the pandemic that was to come and also didn’t anticipate the fear that would take over the whole world. But since a few days already, the fear of being stuck in India without medical, without food, sick and dying was creeping into my system. Anxiety set in. Shocking world news were appearing at an increasingly fast rate. India had first cancelled all the visas so no foreigner could come in, and then countries one by one were closing their borders; more and more flights were being cancelled, and as I finally just bought a ticket to go to Denmark I received a message that the country just ordered national lock-down and that the community where I was going had to close. Shock set in. Words like “national lock-down” were so foreign to me that I struggled to understand what it meant.
I had two clear options: either stay in India or go back to France. A choice between having my soul or my body nourished. A choice between feeling safe or feeling alive and thriving. A choice between isolation or the magic and incredible richness of human connections that were still happening for me in Rishikesh at this point.
Although my friends in France and Europe sent me the same clear message to stay in India and that life in France was far worse, my gut feeling was clear. Taking care of my nervous system, of my anxiety, of my inner child was a priority – and going back to France was the only option that would make me relax right now.
It took me two days to act on this and to follow my guts- and I almost waited too long. A fight between my male and my female, between my rational and my intuitive parts, was taking place in my inner world. Luckily I have learned to listen to those two, to have them talk and listen to each other, and to give my feminine side the space she needs. Not doing so always had a price I am not ready to pay anymore!
One night at 2.30, I woke up with cold sweat. I turned on my phone. Breaking news affecting me was appearing a few times during the day and night at this point. The French President had just finished his talk to the Nation and announced national lock-down from tomorrow noon!
More cold sweat. What did that mean?
I turned on my laptop and checked for flights. There was one leaving Delhi tonight and arriving in Paris the next morning at seven after a stop in Dubai. 230 euros! I hesitated. That meant packing, organizing a taxi to Delhi for the 7 hours journey. That also meant organizing how to get to my hometown 250 km away in Normandy once I land in Paris. Would I spend hours at the airport? Would I be quarantined? What did it all mean? I usually take a train, and in an emergency, I ask my Dad to come and pick me up (which happened twice only during my long crazy Indian life). I check online. The 16 trains to my hometown are cancelled from now on, and no one is allowed to drive.
Anxiety gives place to panic. I get my credit card, but I remember that I lost my French sim and that buying a ticket would require entering the security code sent to that now unreachable number. I am fucked. And arriving in Paris without a working phone sounds even freakier. Kiosks to buy a temporary one would be closed. I am upset at myself for losing that little thing, and yesterday I spent 2 hours checking every piece of luggage in my room and had come to the conclusion that it’s lost for good. I do have another credit card, but there again, I usually need my French number to verify. But sometimes not. Okay, I try. I walk up and down the room. I have not slept in 2 days, and my heart is beating loud. I see that I am freaked out. And yet I have to act. It is quiet; the monkeys are still asleep. It is now 3 am. I tap myself on the face, yes, here I am. I look at the screen on my laptop and review the flight details. Leaving tonight! Should I or should I not? Will I manage to bring myself to Delhi?
I review the basics involved. I am so foggy. But I have to act. Now. So many details involved. It is just too much. My intuition is that there is a 30 % chance that this flight will go, 70 % that it will be cancelled. I am already thinking of that option and what it would mean, being stuck in Delhi, finding a place to stay, being on my own. But 30 % is a good chance. I watch my fingers entering the details. I look for my passport and enter the numbers. I review the screen again, struggling to keep my eyes open. Yes, it is a flight from Delhi to Paris, arriving tomorrow. I double-check if the month and year are right. They are. Then the Credit card numbers. Now I just need to push Enter. Probably it won’t go through. But maybe it will.
I get up, I am in the most unconformable state I know. Will I make it? I mean, will I die here? I get back to the laptop, and my finger just pushes “Enter”. I hold whatever is left of my breath.
“Your transaction is successful. Have a nice flight.”
I scratch my eyes. A mix of delight and more panic looming. It is now 3.45.
I lie down. Theoretically, it would make sense to sleep for a few hours. I will need to be strong, and I have a long, long unknown journey ahead.
Sleeping is a good idea, but an opinion only.
At 8 am, I am in a state of complete panic. Now I have a ticket, but still so much to organize. I need help!
I remember the breaking news in the middle of the night, and the French presidents saying that flights from abroad would be interrupted from now on and that stranded French Nationals should contact their nearest consulate to organize their return.
Calling the French embassy in Delhi is something I did once in my life, and just the idea brings up a tidal wave of memories, of traumas, of an incredible life journey that continues to this day.
It is early, but I dial the number. I imagine the switchboard saturated with calls, and I expect an answering machine. But to my surprise, a soft voice answers, and a lady on the other end asks for my name, my situation, my phone number. I feel taken care of. I explain what I just did, a flight tonight, no phone when I arrive in Paris, no train, how will I get home, I am in a panic, exhausted, have not slept in 2 days, I am freaked out. I burst in tears. She listens, reassures me, tells me about her situation that she is from Bordeaux and also will face the same issue at some point when she goes back if she does. No one knows. I did the right thing she assures me, and that flight I just booked will likely go she checks, if not I should call her back. She looks at options with me and assures me that once in Paris I will relax and I will find a solution. I am amazed that she stays with me on the line for so long, holding my hand somehow. Half an hour passes. Aren’t there thousands other people wanting to talk to her for support? Do I sound that freaked out?
As we are about to part, I say “You know, last time I called the Embassy in Delhi it was in 1989, and you know what? You saved my life! I have been doing overtime since then. “
Now let me go back some 30 years.
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 buzzing 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 of 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 were in December 1989, and I was 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 four weeks in Nepal and were now going to zoom around India for six months. But first I was going to show her the magnificent 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 the 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 severe and getting worse. But somehow we didn’t realize 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 brought me to the Agra train station and put a little paper in my pocket where was scribbled “Apollo Hospital 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 sick and like a skeleton, but the emergency room seemed 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, 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 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 for more than two weeks, without a diagnosis and proper treatment. This is the first time that someone 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 7 pm, the van from the embassy arrives at the clinic and four 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.
This chapter of my life isn’t easy to write, because as exciting and interesting as it may sound, I do need 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 hippy 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 six days at home with my parents, I bought a ticket to western Africa. I would spend the next two 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 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, recklessly 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 and slowly but surely tap into a source of infinite possibilities.

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