I will never forget Kosuke. I met him on my wanderings through the capital of the old Vijayanagara empire—Hampi. Conquered, pillaged and destroyed, Hampi has stood the assaults of invading armies and time alike. Kosuke's story was much the same. A Japanese man, he quit his high-paying job, divorced his wife, and left his children to come to India in the pursuit of happiness. Along the way, he lost an arm, gained a pacemaker, learnt Hindi, and traversed the country doing odd jobs and singing about Shiva. He did, however, find his happiness.
But Kosuke wasn't the only person I met in Hampi. It was like a melting pot of cultures. Lungi-clad men and women with flowers in their hair students and backpackers from different parts of the country, speaking in different accents of Hinglish, and hashish-smoking hippies from all over the world. There was even a tiny community of Rajwada people, with their kurtas with dhoti and turbans, and long red ghagras with silver jewellery.
"Don't worry," they said. "Be Hampi."
Zipping across the lonely roads on a rented scooter, meditating with sadhus, or marvelling at the architectural masterpieces of a civilisation long gone, Hampi was quite the celluloid dream. I spent my days exploring the temple complexes—from Vitthala to Virupaksha—or simply watching Laxmi, the resident elephant of the Virupaksha Temple taking a bath in the Tungabhadra River. I spent my nights down by the Sanapur Lake, gazing up at the starlit sky with the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel to keep me company.
The place had a mystic aura about it, but I couldn't exactly pinpoint what it was. Maybe it was the tales of the fabled Vanara Kingdom of Kishkinda, where the brothers Bali and Sugriva fought. Or maybe, it was the beautiful boulder-strewn landscape intercepted by bright green paddy fields. But there was something in the air of Hampi that liberated me of all my inhibitions and made me feel small, insignificant...and free.