The oddballs of Hampi
Caesar Baba, the Italian sadhu; Robert, the French painter who rides a Bullet; Meera, the Danish yogi…
PHOTO: Lakshmi Sharath
ONE FOR THE CAMERA A saffron-clad cook who prefers to live in a cave
I made my first trip to Hampi way back in the 1990s. I was a gawky teenager on a study tour and Hampi was just another nondescript heritage town, waiting to make its debut on the tourist map.
However it was during that trip that I realised that the romance of a journey lies not in the destination, its landscape or heritage, but in its people. I made several trips around Hampi and Anegundi much later and met various shades of people — charming, quaint, dark, cynical, mysterious and quirky. From a tourist guide who shared his name with the most important landmark of Hampi — the Virupaksha temple — and who walked around with a facsimile of the page from the Lonely Planet in which he is mentioned, to a saffron clad Italian who spoke chaste Hindi and called himself Caesar Baba, Hampi's charm lay beyond the ruins .
The people I met outnumbered the monuments I saw in every trip. Meera, for instance, was a self-styled yogi from Denmark who kept dogs to ward off people. She was, however, civil to me when I met her; although one look at her — a towel wrapped around her thin frame and the long matted hair — was enough to drive us away. There was Susie and her brother Paul from the U.K., who organised bike tours for foreigners around Hampi and claimed that they knew every nook and corner of the place.
And then there were many others — saffron-clad cooks and yogis inside caves, men who ferried from Hampi to Anegundi and back to watch a film, a descendant of the royal family and a conservationist who passionately dismissed Hampi as a ghost town.
It was Virupaksha who reminded me about Caesar Baba. “Very dangerous man, madam,” he said. I remembered meeting him in his den more than a decade ago. His cave was high up in the hills, with a garish painting of Shiva adorning the rocky entrance. I was with a television crew then and Caesar Baba was rather eager to talk to us. He served us buttermilk, showed us his “legal” papers and took us around his makeshift house which was perched precariously over the rocks, shaking as we walked around. We had then left him in trance while he performed his puja for Shiva along with a young Scot who had just joined him.
While discussing Caesar baba with Virupaksha, I asked him if he knew of a Robert, a painter from France. The guide immediately punched a few numbers on his phone and fixed up a meeting. When we entered the old house in Hampi village later, Robert's seven-year-old daughter asked us to wait. Inside the house, a woman from Lambada tribe — his mother-in-law — was watching television. I learnt that Robert was married twice to Lambada women and has been in Hampi for several decades.
There was sound of a bike and Robert, now well in his 70s, entered on his Bullet. With him was another young French man who was here in Hampi to practise music. We went to a small room on the terrace which was littered with paints, paintings, canvas and some rags. The ruins of Hampi as seen through Robert's eyes were juxtaposed with portraits of his family. Robert was cynical, cold and rather indifferent, but quirky in his own way. We left him practicing some chords on his Macbook, while his young wife, clad in a salwar-kameez greeted us in English.
As we walked back through the dusty lanes of Hampi, I could not help wonder if it had indeed become an asylum for foreigners.
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