And that’s when it happened.
Perhaps the sky was angry. She’d been making threatening sounds ever since I’d left my room that summer afternoon. Or perhaps she wanted to play. I could hear her battle-cry rattle through the spine of the valley. I watched as the dark clouds drained the valley off its color. The landscape of Hampi is fractured and immense. Thousands and thousands of rocks the color of my skin or perhaps a shade redder, as if sunburnt, rise and fall to the earth in perfect harmony with the land’s natural topography, the way dead leaves are wont to cover a dark forest’s floor. Some rocks are but pebbles, but some are so giant they are mountains themselves, with even more rocks piled upon their strong shoulders.
I’d followed the road about twenty minutes, taking every wrong turn that had presented itself, intending to be very lost before any thought of returning to my resort would re-awaken me from my complete and absolute bliss. But her thunderous rage and constant warning shook me out of my stupor and at the first smell of wet earth—and how glorious that smell is to be but an object of eternal languish—I turned my modest moped around and made my way back to Shanti, our resort.
“Back so soon?”, came a voice from behind me. The voice extended her hand and dragged me across the garden to Shanti’s most popular hangout, the cafe in the corner. It was more a restaurant than a cafe, I guess. And it wasn’t really a corner, but it was an edge, an edge that steeped-off into the river below, past a brief patch of sugarcane grass. Elusive as I might have been, had I decided to be elusive, hopping under mango trees or the occasional sunshade, the rain would’ve still caught up with me while I was about halfway across the property, thundering down from the sky in victory and noisy laughter. I was properly wet before I’d made it under the roof of the restaurant. And she, the voice, was wet too.
“Damn this rain!”, I said. My words are empty and without meaning, I would never damn the rain, I love the rain. “I didn’t get very far before I turned around and headed right back. I didn’t want my camera getting wet in the rain”, I told her. That reminded me of my camera, and I discovered that it, too, had worked up a nice sweat.
“Yeah, but with these winds the rain will be gone soon”, she said. “Then maybe we can all join you on our bikes, this time”, she added.
“If the damn rain doesn’t take the sun with it!” I said.
I love that restaurant. It wasn’t really a restaurant, just a shack, I guess. Four-pillars, a tall roof and a low wall to support your backs. Granite slabs placed barely off the floor became tables, and instead of chairs, there were thin mattresses that lined the cold concrete floor. I occupied the mattress in the far right corner and she took the one to my left so we could share a table. Her hair was in a frenzy as the wind pushed hard to disturb the rain, but all it did was blow the rain into the cafe in perfect spurts that landed with a poetic pitter-patter on the granite tables, our teas thinning regretfully in answer.
We spoke for a while, till the wind had won its war, by which time the lights had come on and the river had retreated softly behind a velvety curtain of blue mist. But, the winds continued to blow, relentless. It howled as it flew past us all. Or perhaps it moaned. The wind was sad, distinctively sad. Like it had searched forever and could never find.
There were lampshades in the air, blowing with the wind, rising and falling in unison like synchronized swimmers in an Olympic pool. But with a little more romance. Like synchronized swimmers, unclothed and unguarded, doing their dance in a summer’s pond perchance. And these lampshades, zero-watt bulbs dressed in an ornate fabric covered with embroidery and little round mirrors, hung low from the ceiling made of dry leaf and dead wood. The wind made merry in the open cafe, as we sat in a circle passing cigarettes and banter.
And that’s when it happened.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And I have been to many places, and seen many beautiful things. We were greeted by short bursts of brightness and darkness as the bulbs waned with the voltage. Every time it happened, we each would appear and disappear to the rest of us, like an apparition held in place and time by nothing more than that simple, glorious light. The waning of the bulbs would be met with the orange glow of our cigarettes. Every time it happened, we were each reduced to nothing more than an unguarded secret, waiting in earnest to be betrayed. The blue-velvet of the evening fog had resigned into a bluer still, darker light, and the bulbs gave in to the choke of the rain gods, as we were quietly plunged into the unquiet night.