Kanyakumari

This morning the sun rose upon the three waters. Expectation, a woven memory of solitude and calm, I walked through the remnants of the place I’d known, towards the ghats. Stumbling through the first stirrings of stallkeepers around the market, only half aware of them as past and present become a fluid thing; a plasma mixing and merging the senses until there was no difference to be felt. Unless it be on the periphery.

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Down to the harbour, through the bleary halflight of the alleys. Down to the harbour, through the temple. Fifteen years ago I made the same journey: another self, drifting uncharted between the tidepools of some hippy dream.

The last light of a different era had floated upon the beaches of Goa, diffused through change’s prism, casting the shadows of a harder day. I thought of a scene from another age, Kerouac sitting amidst the Pranksters, a shadow of another time, transposed onto the beach. The return had held slight traces of what had been, a few familiar faces, but the dilution of something, a desperation in the dance. 

Sitting, adrift upon a place of distance, we watched the approaching tides, the changing of the guard. From a distance we danced solemnly upon their borders, felt the landscape change, watched the undertow darken in proximity. Beneath a waning moon nightwinds whispered of a need to move, to leave the madness of the hour, to begin, again, at an ending point. And here, an unexpected crossroads led elsewhere, solitude and silence upon an unplanned route. 

Somewhere on the way, on a night train between forgotten points, a conversation – you know Kanyakumari? There are ghats there, a sacred place. Good karma if you swim, a place to cleanse both skin and soul. And so I’d arrived in this place surfing on an ebbing tide of liquid acid and opium, wholly deranged, to swim.

And, here, I had thought of Pancho. A friendship woven of stories and impossible plans; where a restlessness of hours haunted the defiant longing for distant waters, where, krakens hide from the cartographer’s pen. And he had sought new maps his whole life, an atlas of wonders and dockside bars etched upon a weathered face, behind a whitening beard. Even his name was picked up upon his travels, a tale where, jumping ship in Mexico, he spent a year working on a ranch before his next ship departed. Later, the same in tactics in Japan allowed guerrilla massage at a whim. But, always, there was the sea, always the ocean whispered, calling him back. Here, at this meeting place of the three oceans, a place that he would, surely, have delighted in. Here at this place I thought of him.

Buying a bag of sands: three pouches from other beaches touched by one of the three waters, one from Kanyakumari itself and one of driftwood pencils. Four pouches of dreams, echoing the mountains they once formed. A gift, a tale maybe, placed safe in my rucksack for the next months carried in the certainty that the thoughts behind them would amuse him. Five pouches of dreams, the essence of our shared landscapes.

And dreams they remained. Death found him before I did, before I could offer him my tales and gift. I found, instead, that his pouches of sand were contained in a more ephemeral pouch, that of memory and regret. In this way Pancho and Kanyakumari became intertwined; the waters still called but, now, sang a tune of pilgrimage. The water’s song became a lullaby for letting go, a place for ghosts to dream. And I made a promise to the emptiness, I would return and, next time, swim once for Pancho and once for me. It never occurred that the road back would be such a long one.

Half awake early, woken by a temple soundtrack which ushered in the promise of daybreak, I left my room, entered the heat of the brightening world. Outside, stumbling through the remnants of expectant memory, lost, straggling between the tidal surges of the crowd, I wove my way through the first light of a promised dawn, surrounded by ghosts and imaginings. To the ghats.

This morning the sun rose, once again, upon Kanyakumari, I removed my raggedy hat and my lungi and, naked, swam my farewells to my friend and looked north.

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A pouch of dreaming
sands echoing mountains – tales
found upon the way.

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