As I get out of the bus, I take the first room I find. It isn’t a great place but it will do for one night. As I walk through town I find dozens of lodges and hotels of all budgets. Kanyakumari is India’s own Land’s End. Any tour of the far South isn’t complete without an obligatory visit to this place of fame. Suchindram was lovely this morning. Kanyakumari is just the opposite. It has no feel of a Tamil town. It is a tourist town catering for tourists from all parts of India. I certainly don’t like it.
There are certain things people will tell you about this place. They will tell you how three seas meet at a point in three different colours. They will tell you how the nose ring of the main temple deity can be seen shining from a great distance out at sea. They will tell you how you can see both moonrise and sunset at the same time. If you want to believe in these stories, there is no harm in believing. Just don’t expect to confirm them with your own personal experiences.
‘Where can I see the three colours of the sea?’ I ask someone.
‘There,’ he points to a little rock some meters away past a rocky shoreline. Waves are crashing in. Puddles of sea water have collected in many smooth pockets in the rocks. Green slimy moss have gathered through long years of continuous wet habitation.
From where I stand, I try to see if these colours can be discerned. The day is overcast. All I can make out are shades of grey. How can one precisely say that the seas converge at that particular rock? As if boundless seas and oceans can be brought into strict conformance and made to meet at a point.
A chill breeze is blowing hard from the southeast. I walk past beggars numerous in their own numbers besides the teeming crowds of tourists. Sunset isn’t spectacular today. I can hardly see the sun let alone a simultaneous sighting of moonrise and sunset. Perhaps, I am standing in the wrong place. I head to the temple but there is a crowd here. The little interest I had in visiting it vanished. I am not liking Kanyakumari one bit. I skip a museum dedicated to Gandhiji. I step into look at some pictures of Kamaraj at a gallery nearby. There is a sudden powercut and I step out just as quickly.
Out at sea, on a little island, stands Thiruvalluvar’s statue. Thiruvalluvar is that great Tamil poet of medieval India. Actually, he is not medieval and dating the time of his existence has always been problematic. He is famous for his 1330 couplets that touch various secular aspects of life and upright living. His themes are universal and because of this he has had a wide appeal across all religious denominations of Tamil speaking public. The statue on this island is symbolically 133 feet tall. It isn’t a masterpiece and it impresses only by its size. The Vivekananda Memorial next to it reminds me a great deal of the Belur Math north of Kolkata.
The last ferry to the island departs without me. I am not really bothered. Some fishermen are expertly mending nets. I walk towards them for a closer look. They are not really mending them but making them. In groups of three or four they work quickly knotting thread after thread. I don’t think fishermen in the West make nets. Machines probably do it for them. But in India these ancient traditions survive but I wonder for how long.
A few boats are moored on the sands but really there isn’t much of a beach at Kanyakumari. The shoreline is mostly rocky. I return to the road and get caught in a crowd of onlookers. A political gathering is underway. A representative of the AIADMK is giving a speech. A more-than-life-size poster of Amma Jayalalitha breathes in and out like the sails of a boat. MGR in his iconic dark glasses hovers in a little corner over her right shoulder. The speaker knows his words well. Every word is designed to elicit applause and hero worship from the common folks of Kanyakumari.
‘Anna is dear to us too but we will not allow his statue to be erected here,’ he points out. ‘This is a place for tourists.’
He pauses for the applause to subside before beginning again. He has clearly done this before. He knows how to animate the crowd. His sentences are full of quick wit and oiled sarcasm. The opposition is not here to retort and he can say anything he wants.
After dinner, I have an early night. A loud knock on the door wakes me up. I check the time. It is ten minutes to five in the morning. I tumble out of bed and open the door. There is no one here. I look down the corridor to see the manager knocking on every door.
‘Sunrise. Sunrise. Sunrise,’ he goes along shouting at every door.
‘Who the hell want’s to see sunrise?’ I say to myself, shut the door and go back to bed. I can sense the neighbours getting ready. One thing is certain. The dogs of Kanyakumari can cut short their nightly vigil an hour before sunrise. They are by now used to crowds heading to the seafront in the last dark hour of the morning.