I am reading a book in small juice shop on Car Street in the quaint little town of Gokarna. A middle aged man in dark shades and faded sleeveless T shirt taps my shoulder and says “Excuse me! Can I sit here?” pointing to the bench across the old spotty table with one leg a few millimeters shorter than the other three. I give him a nod. He looks puzzled and asks “Is that a yes or a no?”. “Aah! The Indian Nod! Isn’t it? It meant a ‘Yes’. Please” I say pointing my hands to the bench.
Another man sitting at a neighboring table listening to the above conversation was smiling. He was dressed in a saffron lungi ( something like a sarong) a white vest and another piece of saffron cloth around his neck. There was red teeka between his two brown eyes and his long hair is held in place by rubber band at the back of his neck. I had seen many a travelers dressed up like these everywhere in Gokarna and I hated them (more on the reason behind this later) “You seem to be having a good time. Keep bumping into you everywhere” the man I was sharing my table said.
“I cannot be any better” he said smiling. The statement sounded anything but helpless. There was a deep sense of meaning to it. As if he accepted everything that life had to offer. And that acceptance was a grateful one.
“That’s great!” said the man at my table and stuck a cigarette between his lips and mumbled “You guys don’t mind, right?” We gave our approval. He exhaled a long wisp of smoke through his nose and lips at the same time.” That’s great! Yeah!”
Mr ‘I-cannot-be-any-better’ responded “Yes! If there was some way I could feel better this very moment, I would. But this is the best I can feel right now and this moment cannot get better. Its all about living and being right here an being happy and being thankful for what it is” Wow, this conversation was getting interesting.
“Aah! Then my friend you have learnt all that India could teach you. Living in the moment” said Mr Dark Shades.
“I understand what you are trying to say. But learning is a continuous process. And its not about learning, I am talking about living and being. And more importantly living and being happy” said Mr ‘I-cannot-be-any-better’
I sensed a restlessness and boredom in Mr Dark Shades words, “Yeah, I got what you are trying to say”. It was as if he wanted to end the conversation right there.
I, who was a silent spectator until then, wanted to continue the conversation So I spoke my first words ” I really like your philosophy and the way you are living it”
He folded his hands and said “Thank you very much! Its all because of my gurus and their teachings that I am what I am”
But before I could say anything he moved to the cash counter and paid for his drink and waved me a good bye. I bumped into him a few times while wandering in Gokarna market, over the next couple of days and on my final evening in Gokarna he showed me a few paintings of his and asked me to click a picture of one and said “This is my gift to you”. And as I said my thanks he shook my hands and left. I do not know his name or where he was from or what he did and niether did he ask me anything about me.
But then this is just one of the numerous encounters with nameless faces that I encountered while travelling. And each encounter brings up with it something special and unforgettable. There are some like Mr I cannot be any better from whom I learnt. There was middle aged couple with whom I shared a dinner and taught them the right way to eat dal rice. And then there was this one mischievous girl that I met and developed an instant crush. And each time at the end, we shook hands and wished farewell. (Okay! I should have got that girl’s contact details but I’m a shy and under-confident guy in such matters)
Some happened because I gave a smile and said a hi (very rarely do I do both of them) but mostly it was the others. And some because a few westerners thought that I was the guy who ran the internet cafe as I was the only Indian in the internet cafe and guy who actually ran it went out on an errand.
I, for one consciously did not care to get some coordinates to keep in touch. It was a conscious choice to share thoughts, opinions, learnings or just a cup of coffee and move ahead the very next moment in search of the next encounter. May be it was the same with others or may be not? It does not matter.
That does not mean that I did not make any friends at all. I did make a few and I intend to stay in touch with them as long as possible. But then I loved meeting with absolute strangers just for the heck of it.There was no motive behind these meetings and talks. They just happened. Words and thoughts just flowed and then they ended just like this post of mine.