It was a serendipitous meeting on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, in Baba’s Cafe.
I am from Manali, he said, and was willing to talk.
Yes, he agreed with an accommodating smile. I travel. I stay here, sometimes. I live in the caves there, sometimes. Kabhi kabhi. He pointed across the river, to the pitted, hollowed, craggy rock face, a boulder-strewn geography of granite formations, weathered stone and ‘cyclopean’* masses of rock piled upon each other.
I am a writer, he said, apart from a traveler. Freelance.
Where can I find your writing ?
He waved, encompassing the cafe, the river, the rocks, the stray dog, the mattresses, the lounging guests, us. Everywhere. Newspapers. Television. He reached into his leopard print dhoti and pulled out a weather beaten wallet, from which he extracted, with great care, a Press Card issued by the Government of India, laminated.
Mind, he said, I don’t write about just anything. Not that a dog died in this village or a man died in that village. Breaking news only.
Can I ask you something ?
He smiled, waiting. I was curious about his world view, one forged by journeys, by rocks and caves and self-discipline; a bare-bodied wisdom gleaned as equally from the depths of caves (where leopards and sloth bears also dwelt, we were told) as from meditation, observation, philosophy and a going within.
Presumably he was a sadhu, a good man, a holy man, a religious ascetic. Some lived in huts on the edges of villages, in caves in the remote mountains. Some lived lives of perpetual pilgrimage, moving without ceasing from one town, one holy place, to another.
He was convivial, smoking weed (I presumed; the consumption of certain forms of cannabis is accorded a religious significance), watching young Caucasians lounge, sleep, drink, eat, converse, even drift; sprawled on mattresses, slouched on chairs; beaded, braided, un-bathed, grimy, wanderers and seekers, all.
The dawn of a new year. How should we go forward ? Terrorists, I said. Bombs. Intolerance. Deaths. So much in the world today. Everywhere. Why are we here, how did we get here, to this place?
That, he said, is not my line of business. I know nothing about it.
He smiled, gazing towards the mountains, contemplative. But this I know. We are the product of our times. We are where we should be, because what we give, we get.
What we give to the world, to the earth, to the elements, to each other is the ethos we create by our thoughts and actions. Our choices. I know nothing about terrorism or hatred. Mine is a simple life. A smile. A helping hand. I give. I receive.
I am a blogger, I said. May I write about this chat ? He looked wary. Burra math likhna, he said, don’t write anything bad about me.
Why would I, I asked, genuinely perplexed.
He smoked one beedi after another, lighting one from the other as he offered menus around, chatted with young itinerants, acknowledging with innate dignity an awe-struck young man’s stuttered Thank you. Sir.
I would if I could, I mused, share his his egalitarian lifestyle – for a while – his weed, his tacit humor and detachment, sharpened by perception; his enduring, forgiving, accommodating understanding of life and living, his impermanence in the now.
Baba’s Cafe, Hanumanahalli, Hampi. I didn’t know Baba’s name, or even if he had one.
But that afternoon, in a place steeped in ancient history and hauntingly, of lives past, a place of cool winds and cold beer with sunshine glinting off a boulder-strewn river and craggy embankments, it seemed an appropriate, reflective, simple way to begin a new year.