Last Updated on
In 1994, my brother and I had Christmas in Kovalam, just south of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala as a break from our 5 month railway trip round the perimeter of India. One of the most memorable sights was the Balloon Man of Kovalam. He was a long-term guest in the Guest House we stayed at, and was a very tall, forbidding American who looked just like Kilgore from Apocalypse Now, and was reputed to be a vietnam vet living on his disability pension writing reams and reams of weird poetry about numerology, death and Hindu mythology.
Every evening, just before sundown, the Balloon Man (real name: Buck) would stand on a rock on the seashore, facing the horizon, and inflate balloons and release them, while chanting and singing. Sometimes, he would tuck a long balloon into the back of his shorts like a tail, and scamper around like Hanuman, much to the delight of the local children who followed him around adoringly.
I gave him my address and he sent me 3 or 4 self-published books of poetry and doodling; last I heard he’d left India and was in Prague. Here he is on Christmas Day, 1994: