Istiyak Khan

I donít think Iíve told you much about Istiyak Khan. I met him on my first trip to India. In early í96 I was travelling alone and suffering from culture shock. In Udaipur I met this auto-rickshaw guy at the train station. He was helpful and didnít try to rip me off. He took me straight to my hotel, without fuss. I asked him to come back later so I could see the town, a half-day rental. We spent three fantastic days together and I learned that he was a newly married man with a baby on the way. As a Muslim he showed me the Moghul side of India from a unique perspective. After I left India, we stayed in touch by letter.

In late í97, I was back in India and spent a week with my mate Istiyak in Udaipur. His first child, a boy, was doing well and a daughter had just been born. After I left India, Istiyak had a third child, another boy. It was then that tragedy struck. While working with his auto-rickshaw at dusk, Istiyak was held up by bandits who took his money and beat him. They didnít get enough money, so they had some evil fun and slashed his hand with a sword. The blow cut down between the fingers, through the palm, and into the wrist. I heard and sent money at once, which saved the hand.

In mid í00 I was in Udaipur again for a handful of days and found Istiyak was back driving his auto-rickshaw. The only way he could make enough money to feed his family. The wound showed whitely on the dusky brown skin of his hand. But he smiled at my concern and praised Allah, telling me it was a ďlittle stiffer than before, but itís goodĒ.

Just after Christmas í01, I was in Udaipur for a week and the two of us went out of the town and toured the countryside together. It was a great time, wandering through villages, exploring hidden forts, walking forest trails, and eating spicy local cuisine.

Istiyak Khan is a good mate and has shown me much about life, friendship, and Islam.

I ended up back in Udaipur in 2004. Istiyak is still the cheerful and slightly cheeky taxi whalla I meet in í96. We toured Udaipur and then headed out into the desert and spent time in hauntingly beautiful ruins and grand hill forts. It was magical. And the grand food was a delight. Golden Peacock beer is a good drop too. Wonderful times, made richer by the company of a good mate.

Istiyak reminds me of a local James Bond 007 contact, much in the same style as Kerim Bey or Milos Columbo.

Since I was a kid, Iíve always had a soft sport for India. One of the things that got me into India, many years before I ever got there myself, was Octopussy. I attended the Sydney premier of Octopussy, won a double ticket through a newspaper competition. I was a cheeky teenager back then and went with my old mate Bruce Gustavson. That winning ticket is still around. In '96, I watched the film again in one of those roof top eateries. Bond, curry, and beer. My taxi driver mate, Istiyak Khan was with me that time. Whenever I'm back in Udaipur ('98, '00, '04), Iíve done the roof top Octopussy evening. And each time Istiyak has been with me.

Good mates, good times, good memories...