Earth and Chai in Hampi, India

 

hampiHatulah wore the same purple T-shirt every day. His name wasn’t really Hatulah, ‘cat’ in Hebrew, it was something else, an Indian name, but Israeli tourists dubbed him this because of his unique green, sea-glass eyes. Every time I passed him in the busy market of Pushkar, working at the falafel shop (because of all the Israelis), he caught me by the arm to sit me down in a plastic chair for tea. Swirling, spiced, milky tea. River-after-rainfall colored.
We’d talk about our families and things, and every so often he’d leap from his chair, throw out his arms in a singsong shout to an unsuspecting passerby, “Hello, my brother!”
He was twenty-three, wearing a purple shirt.

Miko, not his brother but like his brother, manned the big metal skillet-disc with a sly and constant half-smile, pressing vegetables hot and salty into wraps. Stooped in the kitchen all elbows and knees, Manda, not like his brother, but actually his brother, chopped ingredients. At sixteen, the stick bug was already arranged to be married. So was Pankaj, the calm one, the almost-perfectionist with an intelligent, pointed chin containing his delicate face like the knot of a latex balloon. The father figure of them all sat with a hand on one thigh, wise, grey hairs growing like wisps of smoke from his ears. Manak, overseer of all things falafel.

By day, I sat sipping tea with other travelers, caught-by-the-arm. At night, the dark purple town yawning and blinking, I’d be back in that plastic chair, brought-by-my-feet. Always just in time for the closing hour falafel circus. Giggles bubbling up like boiling water, I’d watch their coiled springs bounce off the street, a doorway, each other. A cow. People like the falafel boys (some like brothers, some actually brothers) really make it hard to leave a place.

But sometimes you don’t meet this type of people, but instead the kind that keep you running, harried and frantic. Sometimes, the person you meet is a wheeling, dealing auto-rickshaw driver who victimizes you, of all people, who once burst into tears at age ten for accidently bringing home an unpaid for pack of multicolored hairbands. Sometimes, the people you meet are after more than your money. The spindly, spider-fingers of the man sitting next to you on the dark and crowded night bus try to crawl their way into your lap, fingernails clicking instead of pincers, as you press away desperately- rigid, awake and longing for sunrise.

And sometimes, more often than some times, you’ll meet children. Their dusty knees and matted hair, four fingers and a tiny thumb pressed together at the tips pointing to a mouth. Sometimes, a mouth that can’t even ask yet. A young woman with an infant on her hip, weaving through the pulse of traffic, peering into your car window. Two bananas, a loaf of bread. And a guilty twist in your stomach for the hunger pains in theirs.

But some times are different. Those cloudless, bright blue sky times. The mother and you, in a rhythmic flinging and dragging of iron spades. A quiet rest in the shade of a mango tree. Insect wings buzzing, breeze through leaves and word bartering.

Vaana, rain. Maanu, tree. She calls you “sister.” Two separate pairs of hands caked with the same red soil. However fleeting, the connection fuses, holding you in place, with this new and wonderful person holding open your heart.
Like that crazy, laughing cat- “Hello, my brother!”

Hatulah in his purple shirt.With sea greenness for eyes.

About the Author: Isabel Atkinson went backpacking in India for three months to learn as much as she could and wrote everything down. She travelled with everything on her back in a bag that grew heavier each week, being sure to maintain her journals. No matter how her location, lifestyle or outlook may change in the future, she still will have journals that captured a specific time in her life and what she experienced.

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