Whirlwind trip to Raipur, arranged at nearly the last minute, to meet and chat with one of the country's better-known faces. First see him when I stand outside a gate garded by barking but friendly-looking dogs (you can tell when they're friendly), and suddenly he looks out from under a low roof, then comes to open the gate. He looks tired and a little stooped, but otherwise healthy.
We sit on a nearby parapet and talk for a few minutes. Then we walk over to a nearby building under construction and climb a rickety bamboo ladder onto its roof. Apparently a crack has developed up there and he wants to take a look at it. The roof is an arch, covered with tiles. We walk along it to a man who's on his haunches, and there's the crack, it stretches right across the structure. The two men discuss repairs for a few minutes, then we climb back down the rickety ladder.
Back to the parapet, then he suggests coffee and toast inside the house. We enter and he sits me down, then toasts two large brown slices and makes me a cup of absurdly strong coffee. His wife produces some cheese to go with the toast. I pick out one of several squares of Amul and am about to peel off the foil wrap when he points to a triangle that's also in the container. "Try that," he says, "it's softer and tastes better."
We talk some more, over this breakfast. When we finish, he takes my plate and cup and washes them with his, refusing point-blank to let me do it, or even to help. I say, "I'm good at washing dishes," a fact those who know me may or may not agree with. He says, "So am I," and carries on washing.
"I used to have a dog too," I say.
"What kind?" he asks.
"Rhodesian Ridgeback," I say, getting ready to describe this relatively less-known dog as I usually have to. But not this time. He nods in recognition; he knows the breed.
Later in the day, he will make two more cups of coffee for me. We chat over lunch, then he clears a bed so I can take a nap -- I had three hours of sleep last night before a 630am flight to get here, so I'm fading fast after lunch. We chat some more in the evening. This time, I take notes.
There are occasional interruptions in our conversation, once for nearly ten minutes that he has to attend to someone visiting. But each time, he returns to the room and immediately to the precise point in our conversation where we were interrupted, the place I remember only because I'm taking notes. Him, it seems effortless.
When I leave for the airport for my flight back, one of the country's better-known faces stands on the landing as I descend the two flights, waving slowly, almost shyly.
At the airport, my flight is inordinately delayed. While we wait, the woman beside me and I strike up a conversation. She works for a NGO that works in education in a rural part of this state.
She asks me why I'm here. I mention the better-known face, assuming she'll know the name.
"Who?" she asks. She's never heard of him. So much for assumptions.