I took the key from him, went in and closed the door.
Sat on the cot and took my diary in hand.
That was Raju bhai at the door.
"Sir, what do you want to eat?" Hearing him, one would expect him to magically whisk out a menu.
"Whatever you are having, I will eat that. Like I told you, I am staying with you at your house, so that I can enjoy life in a village. You should give me only what you eat yourself."
"For us, it will be 'fry rice' tonight."
"You are having fried rice?"
I felt a little disappointed. Is there no escape from Chinese food for the people here too?
"Okay, I too will have that."
"All right sir, how was the tea?"
"Good!", I said truthfully.
For the next half hour, no one came to disturb me.
The house TV, covered in a sari, was fast asleep in the room given to me.. I had fitted my different chargers to its plug point and other such available points around the place.
And then, it was time for the fried rice. I was very hungry.
Mangalamma, the lady of the house had served the fried rice on a freshly cut banana leaf spread on a plate.
Sona masoori rice stir fried in turmeric and chillie. Here and there, slices of carrot pieces and french beans, rested decoratively. I ate the whole thing.
I thanked Mangalamma; who stood there, obviously missing her tv serials, and went to sleep.
Out side, the sounds of night life in a village. Listening to the silence, an occasional cow mooing, night birds singing... I don't know when. I slept.
When I woke up in the morning, I stepped outside. Nice and clear atmosphere. Fresh air.
There was no sign of the inhabitants of the house. Where had everyone gone?
Heard some noise from the plantation. And when when I went there, found a young man stacking bunches of mature and ready bananas on to a tempo.
"I am Devaraj," the young man introduced himself.
"Where is everyone?"
"They have gone to the restaurant. It has to be opened early."
"Aaha, that is good. Do they have a hotel?"
"Sir, don't you want breakfast? I will go there and get it." Saying that, he disappeared.
I had a bath in two and a half 'showers', dressed and soon got ready.
'After breakfast, I will go to Hampi in the morning itself,' I told myself.
I got the cameras ready. Hampi was near. So I would go on foot.
Devaraj came hurrying. In his had, a five inch black plastic cover. (The type made of recycled plastic that has been prohibited in our state)
Inside that, two iddlies rested on a piece of newspaper that read, 'Kannadamma Daily'. over the iddlies, a little coconut chutney. That wasn't all. There was some tea tied up in an other plastic cover; this time, a white one; and along with it, a paper cup.
I swallowed the searing words that came to mind in my mother tongue.
"Mr. Devaraj, Is this how you behave towards a guest? At the very least, if you had served the food on a plate, I would have eaten it. Have you all no manners! It is a pity!
You take this, and do what ever you want with it. I will eat from outside." I dropped the cover on the porch.
I poured the tea into a glass and drank it.
"Sorry sir, it happened unwittingly. It will never happen again." Devaraj continued in that vein...
Ignoring him, I stepped outside and started walking towards Hampi.
"Sir, sorry.. our restaurant is nearby. You can eat there."
Devaraj is not about to leave me alone.
I gave in a bit. Ok, let us see.
On the main road we reached a culvert (a small over bridge) A place with two or three small stalls or shops. (what we call 'pettikada' back home).
"Here it is sir, the restaurant."
"Here, this is it." Devaraj pointed out enthusiastically.
A small desk, two stools. With Mangalamma sitting behind it. If front of her, on a black plate rested some iddlies. A small aluminium plate held some coconut chutney. .
"Come, come," she signaled to me with her hands.
I walked away fast; as if I had not heard her.
Devaraj came running after me.
"I will come home to have lunch at noon. Now, I don't want anything to eat." I told him.
On the way to Hampi, I came upon a boy with a pushcart, selling delicious poori, and potato curry. Feasted on that: and went on to feast on the sights Hampi had to offer.
Hampi gave me many good pictures. saw everything in detail. When hunger really got gnawing at me, it was nearing 1.30 pm, said my watch.
Enough for now. It was time to return. Raju bhai and Mangalamma would have got lunch ready and would be waiting for me.
Trying to keep to the shade, I hurried along the way that would take me to their home.
Leaning on a bamboo pole, chin in hand Mangalamma was sitting outside, chewing on betel leaves thoughtfully.
There was no sign of either Devaraj or Raju bhai. Had everyone left after having food?
"Sir, did you eat anything?" Mangalamma asked affectionately.
"How could I? Before I went, didn't I tell you that I will be coming home for lunch?
Haven't you prepared anything? Don't you all take lunch?" I asked.
The answer came towards me in the shape of a question.
"Sir, what will you have for lunch? I will get it ready now. Curd rice?"
Mangalamma got up from there. tucked her sari, and prepared to enter the kitchen.
I realized with dismay, that she was a lazy person. Okay, if it was to be curd rice, so be it.
Anyway, it was something I liked.. I thought, trying to console myself.
Expecting curd rice, I sat inside my room. Hunger burning my insides.. I waited.
My head was beginning to ache too. It was past 2PM. Finally at the tether end of my patience, I went outside.
"Will soon serve you sir," Mangalamma stood there immovable as a rock.
And then, like a locust, a young boy jumped forward. That was Chiranjeevi!
As soon as he appeared, Mangalamma gave him the cash she held curled up in her hand. "Go and get some curd!" she told him.
By then, I had helplessly realized, that the main ingredient for the curd rice I was waiting for was still waiting at some shop! Time dragged on. 2.30, 2.45......
Al last, on a fresh banana leaf end spread on a plate, the delicious curd rice arrived!! The lady was an amazing cook.. But she hadn't provided a side dish, or anything else to go along with it,
And then I remembered. The superb tender mango pickle that I had packed in 17 days back. With that, I had a feast of the curd rice.
Now it was time for a short rest.
A short slumber. After that, copied all the photographs taken onto the hard disk. Kept all batteries for charging. It was past 4 PM. I went outside and walked towards the riverside. Thungabhadra was flowing peacefully. Children frolicking in the water. People bathing, washing clothes. Maybe they were exaggeratedly exchanging village gossip too.
I found a less crowded spot and went in. Bathed in the river till my body cooled down. Haaa that felt great. After the cooling dip in the river, I again wandered around country paths. Had a glass of tea.. and by the time I got back, it was 7'O clock.
I had to start early the next day. I had to pack my bags, get Tenzing ready. Tomorrow I have decided to go to Kasaragod, 485 km away from here.
Raju bhai had come to enquire about dinner. "sir, what will you have for dinner?"
"Whatever you eat, I'll have that. To make it a bit more clear, you need not cook anything for me. Just give me a share of what you are having yourselves." I said calmly.
"All right sir."
By 8.30 PM, dinner arrived.
Hot rice served on a leaf covered plate. On the side, there was 'rasam' in a cup.
Another cup held scrambled eggs. (red chillie was used in it) a few pieces of onion.
I was very hungry. I ate it with relish. Superb rasam. After I finished, I got one more cup of rasam and drank it. ( extra... !)
"Did you like the 'thali' meal?" enquired Raju.
'Oh! So was this a thali!? I thought to myself.
" I liked it very much," I said.
"Sir had extra rasam too... "
"Sir, you will be leaving early tomorrow. so, including the thali' you had just now, it will be 260/- Rs for food...... " he explained further.. 200 Rs for the 'thali', 40 Rs for the rice, 20 Rs for the black tea you had yesterday."
20 Rs! I sat there open mouthed. I was flabbergasted.
"Yes sir, that was special black tea. Then, the breakfast provided was complimentary. That was what you threw away!!!"
Should I laugh? Or cry?
"Here is 300 Rs! Keep the remaining amount as tip,"
I got back inside. Closed the room. Set the alarm and lay down to sleep.
Early morning at 4AM, As I was about to leave, Raju bhai came with a small glass that held about an ounce of black tea.
"How much is this ?" I asked.
"Oh no sir, You shouldn't say that. Sir, you are our guest, and you are leaving now., that is why.. "
I nodded my head, "mm, me your guest... is this how you behave towards your guest? The tea I had just now, adjust that with the tip I gave last night."
I started the bike.
"Sorry sir, sorry. You are our guide. I have decided to start this as a business. You should come again sir !!"
Hearing this, I was left covered in goosebumps!!!
I patted Tenzing and we started from there.
My next destination, 485 kms away... to my land, Kerala :)