The Seafarer

The rush is maddening. A man admonishes his child for not folding her hands in the sanctum sanctorum. “Kaiya koopu! Nee onnum periya doulath illa!” he spews words on her head. Instead of gathering my thoughts, I wonder if that child knows what doulath means. It’s hard for me to focus, ask the cosmic dancer to grant my wishes, over the man’s angry voice. I still try.

It’s a busy day at Chidambaram’s Thillai Nataraja Temple. Hundreds and hundreds of women sprint, dart, bolt around the radiant room of Nataraja, muttering prayers under their breath, holding their pallus, dragging their children, holding their hearts, and beseeching the ecstatic performer to be kind to them. Religious marathoners. But where are the men?

As I step out from the sanctum sanctorum, I am lost in a whirlpool of humanity. Like the child who was just rebuked, I stand there soaking in the collective energy exuded by the amblers’s dreams and despairs. I can’t see the sun but the light enters the corridor, as though a weaver unrolls his newly woven spools of silk. I resist the crowd for a quick moment to bask in that warm, tender light. To my surprise, people make their way around me, and continue their walks relentlessly. They are the river, I am the rock, and it feels great to be the rock sometimes.

On my way to the stage of the said dancer, I spotted a Muslim woman in the temple. The little gems on her abaya gleamed; a purple hijab covered her head. Her right hand clutched her footwear, her left hand held her abaya up, and she walked like a monk who was lost in meditation. My friend said that she took that way to reach the street behind the temple.

In that electric, hurried atmosphere, she seemed lonely, crestfallen. I traced her path until she disappeared. A little later, She didn’t seem alone, isolated. In that sea of religion, she sculled her boat quietly, with her undivided attention on the waves which could turn rough and choppy.

I will remember her for her measured steps.

In that enormous ocean, she was a seasoned seafarer.

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Image from here.
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The Stolen Sunset

(As Cyclone Ockhi lashed at Kanyakumari, I am thinking of the little town.)

The cloud-whale was solemn. Against the rising sun and pink clouds, the indigo cloud-whale was stubborn. From my train that was negotiating a generous bend, I followed the cloud-whale as he refused to be dragged by the morning winds. The cloud-whale seemed like a prelude to the legendary, glorious sunset I was expecting to see in Kanyakumari, a little coastal town in Tamil Nadu, India. The train took a couple of turns and I lost the cloud-whale. But I trusted Kanyakumari to show me more marvels during the sunset. I knew she would. After all, Kanyakumari has the sunrises and the sunsets wrapped around her little finger.

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added: “You know– one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.”

― The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I am a sunset person, and I don’t agree with the little prince here. Even if I see the sunset every day, it is not going to make my heart sink. Never the same sun. Sunsets fill me with hope, make me feel alive, and lift the veil of sadness.

As the sun washes the sky with myriad colours, as the clouds reflect the burning brightness and draws their favourite patterns, as darkness races against light, it’s hard to think about the trivial problems of life. Even the pressing ones. The spectacle might be staged by the universe, but the real performance happens in the hearts of the spectators who watch it from the sandy shores, who lose their breaths to the ephemeral truth.

I was one of those hungry lovers, waiting to steal a kiss from the cosmos, when I sat on the promenade in Kanyakumari’s sunset point.

But… it rained on the last day of my trip.

On the first day of my two-day trip, I missed the bus. I didn’t employ the cliche there. I really missed the bus that would have taken me to the sunset on time. My bus coughed and coughed while it braved the evening traffic. I understood the passive-aggressive message: I was not going to see the sunset.

The next day, when it rained, I prayed to the gods to push the clouds aside for a minute. Just a minute to devour a fleeting glance. Quite like the cloud-whale I saw from my train, these clouds were obstinate. Their bums were glued to the sky. They stole my sunset.

Minutes drained. The collective sigh of the audience grew heavier. The selfie-takers were still euphoric. But the sunset was robbed quietly, tactfully, by these adept thieves. Clouds.

My disappointment couldn’t be contained in words or tears. But AK knew how to see the bright side of the stolen sunset too. “Perhaps, it’s a sign that we would be here again,” he said. I hugged his words to pass some warmth to my cold heart.

Her sunset could have been elusive, but Kanyakumari was charming in other ways. I would remember her for her people:

The tea-maker whose tea was so-so but whose grey hat was adorably quirky. He was even more cute when he handed me a piece of spoilt cake. He was the cutest when he took it back and offered another piece of cake (which was also almost rotten) as though I was a child and he was sharing his candy heartily. With people like the man under the hat, it’s impossible to fight about smelly cakes. His toothless smile was my kryptonite.

The localites who held a tiny conference to work out the best route that would take me to a hanging bridge. I stayed out of their circle, as they put their heads together — sometimes arrogantly, sometimes humbly — to find the best bus for me, and to coerce the driver to stop the bus where I wanted to alight. I was their guest although they didn’t invite me.

The incredibly talented driver who took us on the green roads of Nagerkovil and some little villages on his 40-year-old car. A white Ambassador. The car listened to him like a loyal dog. In the corner of my imagination, I was on a sled pulled by a group of Samoyed. A girl can dream, can’t she?

The most sought-after sunset could fail me, but so long as I remember to look for beauty even in prosaic, unassuming things, life would show me more whales.

And perhaps, even a cloud-ocean where the whales can swim to eternity.

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