Hampi is a small temple town in the south of India,the size of a postage stamp. It can be explored in a day or in six months depending on your pace and depth of interest.
A river runs through this temple town dividing the spiritual side of this World heritage site from the comparatively rather ‘less’ moral side, the ‘party’ side of the town.
We had experienced the ‘rather’less’ moral side with it’s green paddy fields and multitudes of guest houses with more foreigners than natives and also the spiritual side with an ancient temple at every bend of the road. Did I mention we covered both in less than twenty four hours?
Tired, de-hydrated and sleepy we lay on the steps leading to the river, while the afternoon sun slowly grew weary. Beside us freshly laundered bright saris lay drying in the sun. A street dog lay comfortably on a white sari while the temple cow walked by stopping now and then to inspect bags of tourists for food. From where we lay we could see the boat transporting people between the temple side to the party side. Women were washing clothes on either sides of the river. Thud thud they kept rhythm as they beat the clothes against a rock.
Thud thud went the women of either side answering each other. Thud thud. A lullaby for heavy eyelids.
“Buy a Hampi guide book.” We look up at a boy about eight years old, wearing reddish brown shorts and a cream shirt with a faded insignia of his school.
” Why are you not in school?”, Preeti always direct. She doesn’t believe in beating around the bush.
“Today is Sunday. No school. You want postcards?” he retorts in perfect, accent free English.
I look at them. They are of a really bad quality but my heart goes out to this little guy.
I ask him , “What is your name?”
“Do you know the meaning of Akilesh”.
“Yes. It is the name of god”.
“What is your name?”
“Nice name too”.
Preeti and I exchange impressed smiles.
“So you will buy the postcards? It is only twenty rupees.”
I have only a hundred. Akilesh spots its and says “I can get you change.”
I look around and see a coconut cart. “I ll get us coconut water”, I tell Preeti.
” I will help you carry it”, Akilesh offers.
The two us walk over to the cart. I hand over the hundred rupee note for two coconuts.The vendor hands me the change and from it I give Akilesh twent rupees.
I expected him to leave immediately but he surprised me by taking one of the coconuts from the vendor and running to Preeti.
He is a sweet kid. I smile. I think of buying him one but before I order for another one he is gone.
Sipping our coconuts Preeti and I follow him with our eyes as he walks to the ferry point and boards the boat that will take him across to the party side of town.
” Did you notice he did not have an accent at all? And his English was very good.”
I smile and we both simultaneously say ” Nice name“, imitating him.
Now that is something he did not learn in school. He must have picked that up from the foreigners. Smart kid.
But we felt sorry for him. When we were his age we spent our free time playing and not selling postcards to tourists.
We watched him as he got off the boat at the other side of the river and started an engaging conversation with a young couple. Just then I realized that he had taken my money but had not given me my postcards! That is one smart kid!