I AM LYING IN BED when I hear a song from the Ramayana. By the time I wake up, it is gone, and my nephew is trying to attract my attention.
“Sandeep,” I ask, “did you hear the people singing this morning?”
“Yes, Mamayya, I heard them.”
“Do you know where they are? Do you think we can find them?”
“Are you sure?”
Another, less certain nod.
“Let’s go,” I tell him.
“But why, Mamayya?”
“I want to videotape them.”
His eyes light up. He likes to dance in front of the camera. I can involve him in the process and edit out his antics later, if I have to. For the next hour, I follow him around town. He doesn’t know where they are, but I know we will find them begging for alms up the street from Pedda Attha’s husband’s fertilizer and pesticide shop. One of them is clearly Rama; his blue face is framed by hair that curls out from underneath a gold crown. The other, with round monkey cheeks and a tail poking out of his pancha, is Hanuman. I stretch out my hand, full of change, and shake my camera while Sandeep, though he doesn’t have to, translates my excitement into words the singers understand.
Like Rama in exile, they wander the earth acting out a story they have inherited. At night, crouched next to their bundles of masks and tails, they will chat with others who stop to sleep under a temple’s stone roof—yogis, pilgrims, and mystics. Some are born into this existence; others have renounced their former lives for this one. They are points in motion connecting one stone platform to another. One town to the next.