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June 10, 2011

My Husband and Other Animals - One Last Trip

By: Janaki Lenin

The Hindu

Travel and adventure writer Kenneth Anderson had one last wish: to learn whether LSD could help him come to terms with his imminent death. In this short recollection, an acquaintance remembers Anderson having an “incredible experience” that left him feeling calm, alert, and at peace.


Originally appearing at http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/metroplus/article2093498.ece.

One of the last of the hunter-writers of India, Kenneth Anderson wrote books such as The Black Panther of Sivanipalli and Other Adventures of the Indian Jungle. As a schoolboy in the 1950s, Rom spent part of his vacation with friends in Bangalore and had hero-worshipped Don, Kenneth’s son. Years later, towards the end of the 1960s, the Dude received a postcard from Kenneth offering his pet python to the Snake Park.

When Rom visited the writer’s home in Whitefield to pick up the snake, he immediately noticed the unusual garden. There were trees from all over India – the Himalayas, Central India, and the Western Ghats. Kenneth had also collected an assortment of pets: a jackal, a bandicoot and a couple of kites. Unlike Jim Corbett, Kenneth really liked snakes, and Rom took to him immediately. The python was about twelve feet long and grossly fat. With great difficulty, the Dude managed to pack her in a large basket marked “Vegetables” and brought her by train to Madras where she lived for many years.

Rom was then travelling extensively along the Western Ghats doing reptile surveys. Kenneth offered his shack, located along the picturesque Sigur River, a tributary of the Moyar in Masinagudi, for use during the surveys. When Rom and his Irula friend, Natesan, arrived there, they discovered that a sloth bear had stunk up the place by using the front porch as a latrine. It took much scrubbing and cleaning before the hut finally became habitable.

Later, hippies began staying at the hut and Kenneth regaled Rom with stories of their misadventures. One was of a woman who would go into the forest to meditate clothed entirely in white. Kenneth had warned her against her choice of clothes but she wouldn’t listen. She had apparently argued that white symbolised purity while he countered that forest animals are not accustomed to the colour. So he had tried to coax her to stay close to the shack and not go into the forest but she disregarded this advice as well.

Once, an elephant walking up the only path along the river came upon this meditating vision in white blocking his way. He may have wondered what he ought to do before flipping her right into the water. He wasn’t being nasty, he just wanted to get her out of his way. As for the stupid woman, she was grazed and scratched but suffered no major injuries. She left Masinagudi, never to be seen again.

Rom and Kenneth stayed in touch sporadically. A few years later, the latter was diagnosed with prostate cancer and admitted to a hospital. He had since become interested in mysticism, and Rom recalls he had even written a book on the subject. But now when it became apparent that the writer wasn’t going to survive very long, he confided that he wanted to try a consciousness-expanding hallucinogen such as LSD. He had read that it could be a tool to better understand his imminent death.

Rom had the advantage of experimenting with drugs with friends in the US and was concerned that Kenneth wanted to drop acid alone, without a guide to help him out of a bad trip. But Kenneth was in great pain and anything to distract him seemed well worth it. So thanks to a passing hippie, Rom got hold of a pill for the ailing writer.

A week later, he was relieved to hear that Kenneth had had an “incredible experience” lasting nearly eight hours. He said that his senses had been tingling alert, a sense of cosmic goodness coursed through him and he had felt at one with the universe. He had seemed buoyant after the experience and more at peace with himself. That was the last time Rom saw him. Soon afterwards, he had to travel and by the time he returned, Kenneth had died.


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