The souvenir sellers stand waiting outside even the holiest of Hindu temples.
"10 rupees," said the barefoot boy with skinny calves in front of me, gripping a stack of envelopes, each filled with poorly printed postcards. As I fumbled in my bag for my coin purse, I felt his distant brown eyes roll over me; regarding me with the indifference and momentary curiosity with which one observes a strange bird that has lit on the windowsill.
"Which country?" he demanded in a rapid monotone, indicative of a rehearsed phrase.
"America." I heard the syllables crackle with a cold and creeping uncertainty despite my attempt to endow the word with the loving familiarity I felt it deserved. Absorbing my embarrassed smile, the boy fired back, "Why you here?"
"To study the religions of India," I answered, and in the confused silence that followed I offered, "To learn . . . religion?"
At this the boy wobbled his head to say yes; "you look for God," he said, as if this were the most natural and ordinary thing for a person to be doing on a late Tuesday morning before lunch.
His eyes were losing interest in everything except the ten rupees I held out for him. As he faded away into the sea of saris and incense scented, spicy air, I was left reeling in dizzying clarity, wondering if the boy was right, and what, exactly, I had bought with those ten rupees.