I met Hank every morning down on the steps of the ghats that surround the sacred lake of Pushkar. He was a quiet fellow. Contemplative, laid back, gentle, almost rotund in a beer belly kind of way. You could tell he was smart, maybe not in his speech, but more in the way he studied things. You could see it in his eyes, his movements, and his overall demeanor. He didn’t get into all the chatter of his fellow ghat hanger-outers, almost like it was beneath him, knowing there were more important things in life. He had better ways to spend his time. Comtemplating life on the holy lake, trying to understand the theory of flight, just watching the people coming and going around the lake.
I would meet him on the steps every morning about 9:00 AM. He was always the first to arrive. I would sit there right next to him at arm’s length, always sure to bring enough naan and sauce for the both of us, not wanting to interfere or get in his personal space, yet close enough so we could share the naan without having to stretch. Hank would give me a nod, acknowledging my arrival, looking neither happy nor surprised, always turning his head back to whatever he was studying within a second or two. He didn’t say much, but he was very aware. Sort of like a monk or holy guru who didn’t want to offend, but was too busy studying the ways of the world to grant you much time during the initial few minutes of meeting in the morning, not wanting to waste time just waiting for you, but wanting to finish before actually getting involved in another activity.
I would sit watching Hank for a few minutes waiting for him to complete his morning contemplations before breaking out the still warm naan. It never took him long when I arrived. I’m still not sure if I was just more of a disturbance than anything else, but Hank never complained or told me to get away, always giving me his full attention within minutes of my arrival. I would break the naan in half, handing Hank pieces that were well-slathered in his favorite sweet chili sauce. He always took them from my hand with a gentle and gracious head nod, his movements almost seeming to be practice like, slow and deliberate. He would always hold the naan in both hands in his lap before taking a bite, looking up, maybe saying a prayer of thanks for the morning meal, I’m not sure, I never did find out what Hank’s actual religion was.
We would go through this morning ritual for about ten, sometimes fifteen, minutes. Break, bite, hand over, look around, chew, look around, break, and so on. It was quite a relaxing time. The white marble cool to the touch, the holy lake before us, the city of Pushkar swirling behind. Every once in a while Hank would take the few steps to the lake to wash his hands and take a sip of the holy river, never spending more time than needed off his step, always right back to his same spot. Hank would never ask for more naan, he would only take what was offered, never complaining and always with a nod of the head. Hank was proud.
It was one of my more memorable and quiet times in Pushkar, and even though Hank didn’t talk much, he conveyed a lot through his demeanor, movements and head nods. I talked about India with him and travel in general. I told him I was probably just as confused as him, if not more, on the ways of humanity and Indians in general. We talked a bit about money. The money people spend to go on these safaris they take. Thousands of thousands of dollars to be packed into a little jeep to get just a glimpse of the wildlife about. Hank looked at me with a surprised, maybe questioning glance. I told him they didn’t know. I would rather sit on the cool steps here, free of charge, unbothered, eating naan, watching the birds and sky.
Eventually Hank let me take some pictures, or well, I took some pictures while he was watching the flocks of birds sailing through the air above. It was almost like he wished he could be one of them, flying through the air, free from the humanity, going where ever you wanted to go. He looked kind of sad in this moment, if not understanding. He was a good guy. Hank was a dreamer just like all of us. I gave him some extra sauce on the last morning, he nodded his head extra low.
If you’re ever there, look him up. I’m sure he’ll still be sitting a few steps up from the lake. Bring some sweet chili sauce and naan.