leaving Rameswaram




I returned to my hotel after the bucket ceremony and lounged around for a few hours thinking about my past three days in Rameswaram. I sat on my little balcony staring out into the ocean wishing that I did not have to leave this place.  Of course I was under no delusion that if Fate decreed that I stay here that Rameswaram would be peaches and cream.  I’m sure it would be just like when you meet a man and have a wild weekend love affair only to discover when you do try to make it work that he really hates your cats and he farts all night.  I packed my bag.

Kannan returned in plenty of time to take me to the train station.  I had to pay him for his three days of being my guide.  He told me on the first day that I should pay him what I think he’s worth, that it was totally up to me, he never asked for any money during our time together.

When he arrived he said, “Kannan wants to talk to you,” referring to himself in the third person.  I thought that quaint.  He came into my room without asking and I thought that was rather bold.  I left the door open and stood close to it.  He sat down on my bed and I thought that was even bolder remembering again what I had been told about South Indian culture and men.

“What do you think of Kannan?,” he asked.  My guard was up and I knew I had to be careful in what I said.  I told him that I thought he was a good and kind man and also a quietly spiritual one.  He began to tell me how he felt a connection to me these past few days, that he knows I am a spiritual woman.  But then he told me that his wife did not understand him and that they always fight, that he has his life and she has hers.  I groaned inwardly and I bit my lips to keep from smiling.  Are men really the same all over the world?  Is there a Universal Male Playbook that contains these lines?

I looked at him and slowly shook my head.  “You are married, and so am I,” I said very seriously.  Then I said something that I knew he would understand: “and I have a dear friend.  Understand?  ‘dear friend?’,” and I pointed to my heart.  “He is always in here.”  Kannan nodded that he understood.

We walked out and he asked me for $40.   This was over and above the rupees I had given him for his guide services.  I raised an eyebrow, squinted, and looked sideways at him.  Then he asked me if I would buy him a cellphone when I got back home and send it to him.  One would think that this conversation immediately after telling me that I’m a spiritual woman would infuriate me, but it didn’t.  I thought it was hilarious and tried very hard to keep from laughing.  For some reason it did not phase me at all.

I told him that there was no way I was going to buy him a cellphone and send it to him when he lives in a country where even the Shiva babas own cellphones.  I told him that Indian cellphones are much cheaper than American ones.  However, I did break down and give him an extra $20 in American money.  His guide services were definitely worth it, and besides….his wife didn’t understand him, how could I refuse?

I gave him a bandana covered with OM symbols that was still wet from the temple water.  I told him he could remember me by it.  He put it in his shirt pocket telling me it would keep me close to his heart.  Quaint.  A smooth operator.

We said goodbye at the train station and he told me that when (not if) I return to Rameswaram, he will always be there to help me, to “please call Kannan.”  Of course I will.  How can I not?

I sat in non-air-conditioned First Class for my 17 hour train ride back to Chennai.  My compartment mate was a businessman going home to the state of Andhra Pradesh.  Compared to my first compartment mates on the train to Madurai which was a long two weeks ago, this man was polite and talkative, and spoke perfect English.  We talked about yoga and meditation, about Gandhi, and the politics in India.  He told me that there are many Indians who hate Gandhi and this surprised me very much.

I loved the train ride because since it was not air-conditioned, there was no window glass, the windows had bars across them.  In every station we came to along the way I heard the cries of the chai merchants or food sellers and they would hand me my purchases through the window.  A magazine seller walked by and seeing the feringhee woman, he pushed English magazines through the window at me, telling me to “buy, madam, buy! Look! English!” I kept telling him “no” in Tamil as the train pulled away.

We pulled into Chennai at about 8 am and my compartment mate made sure that I knew where I was going.  I did, and Suresh picked me up in his rickshaw to drive me back to my hotel.  Although I loved my travels, I had missed the cacophony that was Chennai.  I spent the next two days chillin’ in Chennai, and did a day trip to Tiruvannamalai, another famous temple town, visiting the famous ashram of Ramana Maharshi.

My month in India was finally over and I cried the night I had to leave.  But I knew I would be back.

I can not stay away from Ma India.

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