The short Finding Yourself was inspired by the town of Hampi, India.
Hampi sits near a world heritage archeological area full of ancient temples and holy sites. It is also home to a backpacker nest and all of the associated ecology that entails. Mostly that’s just weird Indian dudes mumbling “hashish, mushrooms” as you walk down the street. My personal favorite was a man with soft lips who approached me and whispered, “Would you like me to train your ears?”
“Excuse me? Train my ears?”
He grinned and produced a small notebook full of handwritten, uh, reviews I suppose. After he repeated his sales pitch a few more times I realized he was saying “drain your ears” and his gig was ear candling.
My girlfriend and I did make an attempt to visit the ruins. Unbearable heat turned us back to the hostel before we made it too far.
Laura sat in one of the chairs on our verandah. From inside our room I heard a vaguely teutonic accent.
“Oh America? I haven’t been back in years. Ghastly place.” Paraphrasing.
I came outside to see our neighbor was also enjoying the verandah. He had a long white beard and the easy confidence unique to native German speakers.
He went on to tell us about how he’d been coming to Hampi for years and how much better India was in the 70s before people stopped starving as much.
He had a dog-eared copy of Das Glasperlenspiel in his hand. When I mentioned that I’d not read that but I enjoyed Siddharta he seemed annoyed. Like I told him that Nevermind was my favorite Nirvana album but I’d never listened to Bleach.
Once you got past the immediate dismissals of Americans, the authenticity posturing, and the mild sneering he was quite a lovely guy. Honestly. We talked for a while and he told us fantastic stories about spending long nights camping out in caves. Before we left I gave him a copy of A Familiar Face and he gave us a business card on the chance we visit Florence one day. I’m pretty sure he works in the art world.
I found Gerd to be a compelling person. Parts of him have appeared in a couple of my stories, each time as an ingredient in a trickster archetype. Something about him fit perfectly with India and with the character of Reinhart in “Finding Yourself”.
However, Gerd wasn’t the only inspiration for Reinhart. The other unmistakeable influence on any story I write about India is my old friend Tim Young. He too was a tall man that sported a long white beard and had been closely acquainted with India for many many years.
I met Tim in seventh grade, where he was my teacher. As an adult I visited him in Mamallapuram and along with some others we trekked through Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He was the consummate western-gone-eastern mystic and his life was full of the sort of mischief you might expect.
One of Tim’s first warnings to me was to beware of sadhus (holy men) because some of them had a tendency to rob people at knife point.
Of course I asked, “are they fake sadhus then?”
“No, no. They’re quite holy.”
The robber sadhu has been vivid in my mind ever since.
“Finding Yourself” is a play at that irony. Maybe it’s possible for an inveterate huckster to get robbed, rob someone else, and still somehow find the peace they’re looking for—not despite those things but because of them.