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It was early in 1996. We never intended taking our nine-month old daughter to visit Hampi in the Indian state of Karnataka to see the ruins of the once great city Vijayanagara, which had in its heyday rivalled Rome in its splendour. We had hoped that her grandparents in Bangalore were going to baby-sit for us, but just before my wife and I were about to depart they felt unable to oblige. So, with little preparation, we boarded the sleeper from Bangalore to Hospet, the nearest town to Hampi. My wife clutched our little one on a narrow, hard, swaying railway bunk bed, desperately trying to prevent her from falling off.

At Hospet, our hosts, officials at a local mining company, greeted us with banners which they had made for us. They drove us to a comfortable hotel, whose rooms lacked air-conditioning and fridges. The ambient temperature never dropped below thirty Celsius, even at night. When our daughter needed a bottle of milk, we prepared it, and had to use, and then dispose, of it in less than 45 minutes because in that heat the artificial milk deteriorated rapidly.

Hospet in 1996 was less sophisticated that it was, say, a decade later. We ate in simple restaurants, often outdoors under shades. Our daughter took a shine to the South Indian food that we were usually served. She took this from our plates and, also, to our horror, off the not too clean floor. Years later, I can report that unlike many of her school friends she has never suffered from allergies. I am sure that her foraging in Hospet is to some extent to be thanked for that.

Occasionally, I felt like eating North Indian food. We found places, which bore the notice “NIDS”, which meant ‘North Indian dishes served”. I should have known better than to order a ‘NID’ in a very provincial South Indian area, but I did, and was usually disappointed by the curious concoctions that appeared on my plate. On one occasion, I ordered a ‘Peshawari naan’, something that I love. What arrived was surreal. It looked like a circular pizza base that had been painted bright green, and it was covered by bits of dried fruit and fresh banana. It was almost, as they say in the USA: ‘close, but no cigar’.

Optimistically, we had taken a folding ‘buggy’ to Hospet. This never got used, as there was hardly a square metre of ground smooth enough to roll it. Luckily, our hosts drove us around the vast archaeological site in a large four-wheel drive. Our daughter, sat happily perched on or other of our laps as we bounced across the rough ground between the various attractions.

In 1996, the ruins at Hampi were in a far better condition than they are now. For example, the Vittala Temple with its musical pillars was in fine condition. Now, it is a sad shadow of what it was in 1996. It has been vandalised by evil-doers as well as by the authorities, who have tried to save it from collapsing by adding hideous concrete supports.  Back in ’96, it was possible to wander from one attraction to another through a landscape romantically dotted with fragments of earlier civilisations, both Hindu and Islamic. In contrast, today the major attractions are walled off, and attract entry fees. Although I consider Hampi still to be a most exciting archaeological area, it has lost some of the charm that it had when we visited with our baby. She has not only visited Hampi thrice since and is planning another trip soon, but has also grown up to become a professional art-historian. I like to think that her early exposure to mediaeval Indian art has played a role in the evolution of her professional interests.

Our baby had no difficulty with the high temperatures and discomforts during our visit to Hampi and Hospet. She seemed to have enjoyed it immensely. Not only that, but so did the locals. Wherever we went, and this was true of most other places that we visited in India in 1996, she was adored by everyone including total strangers. We had thought that I, a ‘gora’ (a fair-skinned non-Indian), would have attracted attention during our trip from Bangalore, but this was not the case. I was ignored, but our little child was mobbed by well-meaning passers-by, especially little boys who patted her affectionately and told us how sweet she was.

Some short while after our trip to India, we visited Italy, a country famed for spoiling children with affection. At the end of our visit, we concluded that the Indians are far more ‘soppy’ about little children that even the Italians.

Enjoy books written by the author-dentist, ADAM YAMEY.

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