My visit to Kanyakumari, the last tip of India's mainland was a sudden development that drove me to that place. It was not a planned trip. Nor did I go there with the intension of visiting that place. It was a sudden impulsive decision, a decision to run away from home.
It was in the year 1979, I was staying with my brother who was posted in Deolali, Maharashtra state of India. This place has a unique climate. Throughout the year it is pleasant neither hot nor cold. I had gone there to look for a job. To facilitate my job hunt my brother used to get me a copy of the Times of India, Bombay Edition from his office. In that newspaper, I came across an advertisement calling youth of India who are graduates to join Vivekananda Kendra, a Service Mission at Kanyakumari. The picture of Swami Vivekananda did inspire my confidence to join this mission. In the meantime, I did apply and appeared for a number of Government services examination in Bombay. My brother always accompanied me for all these examinations. After trying for about 6 months when nothing happened, my brother advised me to go back home but I was determined not to. A few days before I really left my temporary shelter at Deolali, my brother's boss interviewed me for a Personal Assistant's post with a high official. On his advice I waited for the official to arrive from outstation. In the meantime, my brother got a letter from his wife to rush back home due to certain development. I do not remember what it was. However, my brother left me with some money to go back home in case the job did not materialize. I must confess here that my patience was also petering out very fast to such an extent that I decided to leave for any place the day I complete my 25th year of age. Till that day I patiently waited for my future boss to arrive. He did not come even on the last day of my stay. I had to act.
A colleague of my brother who hailed from Allahabad advised me to go to Kanpur where his friend would help me find a job. This offer was also there at the back of my mind. But the appeal of Vivekananda Kendra at Kanyakumari was too powerful to be ignored. So on the night of 5th September, 1978, I left for the Railway station. Believe me I could not resist crying out while taking leave of the place. I think that was due to breaking away all relationship with the family. Since then I am not in touch with my parental family. However with tears in eyes, I walked up to the Railway station and bought a ticket for Bombay (presently Mumbai) on the way to Madras (presently Chennai). The night passed off in the train thinking of the uncertain future I was heading to. In Bombay I had my break-fast at Railway Refreshment room. Before boarding the train, I bought my ticket from the platform itself, a direct ticket for Tirunelveli (nearest train station for Kanyakumari in those days) on the advice of a Ticket Inspector. He also helped me find a berth without any extra charge. I still feel indebted to that unknown Ticket Inspector for his help. After reaching Madras in the morning, I found my next train will start in the evening and I needed to register my ticket for that train. I stood in the queue and completed the formality.
Madras, a new place for me and at that time I could hardly express myself in English language. I could speak in Hindi but that too was invalid in Madras. The majority of Tamils hate Hindi language and they would not entertain you if you speak Hindi. So I had to manage with broken English. Although Hindi is not my mother tongue but as I love all languages I admire Hindi as well. People who go deeper into a language understand the distinctive nuances and unique flavor that every language has. Thus hating a language becomes impossible. In the meantime I developed friendship with a young man who was also going to Tirunelveli and we too went for lunch outside the railway station. It was the month of September and Madras has a very humid climate. Although the food was spicy but the use of green banana leaf for serving the lunch on was the most interesting one.
As we had some time, we went round the railway station. The Egmore station mainly caters to the needs of the local commuters while the Madras Central Rly. Station handles all long distance trains connecting with rest of India. After sometime we went back to our platform from where our train was scheduled to depart. Just before one hour of the departure, the Kanyakumari Express steamed into the station. As we had no reservation, we did not board the train but waited on the platform. One gentleman came there and enquired with me about the train and the reserved compartments. We took him there and lo our names were also there in the list! That means we too had a berth for the night travel. The rest of the journey by train went off pleasantly.
Next day morning the train reached Tirunelveli. I had to catch a bus from Trunelveli to Kanyakumari. As my immediate goal was not to visit Kanyakumari but to join the Vivekananda Kendra which is located three kilometers before the Kanyakumari bus station. I was advised by the conductor to alight at Vivekanandapuram and walk in. At that point of time I could not think anything else than getting admitted at the Vivekananda Kendra training centre. I neither had means to go back home nor did I want to.
On enquiry I was advised to meet the General Secretary of the Mission at this office. I waited for him anxiously. He came after an hour of my arrival there. In my broken English I told him the purpose of my being there. He told me, "I would not have any problem of admitting you but for the training has already been started from 1st of September." "O.K. we will discuss about it more, first go and have your lunch and come back" I had little money but it was enough for my lunch. I went back to his office and waited. There came another Mission executive and then I was called in. They asked for my graduation certificate as they were only admitting graduates and post-graduates. I had none. They asked me of my family background. I told them the truth. They kept me waiting for a long time perhaps to see my patience wears off. But I was equally determined not to give in. Finally, they gave in and admitted me.
I joined the training centre with real earnest. A new horizon in my life thus opened up in a difficult crossroad of my life. The location of the training centre was so charming that I fell in love with the place at first sight itself surrounded by the sea on three sides - Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea. From the terrace of the two storey building which housed the training centre, I could see the seas as far as my sight would go. In the immediate vicinity were the coconut and tamarind trees that sooth our eyesight with greenery and the seas with blue waters. We had a wonderful routine from morning 4.30 a.m. to night 10 p.m. packed with Prayer, meditation, yogic exercises, lectures, and intellectual and physical activities. Kanyakumari is famous for its fabulous sunrise as if it rises from the Indian Ocean/Bay of Bengal waters and the sun sets into the Arabian Sea. One day I got up early around 4.00 a.m. and went for a walk by the sea. As the darkness was invaded by the light of the sun, the whole sky was diffused in multi-colors of different hues. It was a marvelous sight to see. The early morning breeze was so soothing that one can feel the presence of the invisible power that propelled the sun into its orbit. That day the sky in the horizon was absolutely clear thus paving the way for the sun to shine in all its glory. As the red fireball raised its hood, instant red lines were drawn on the sea waters. With the movement of the sun, the waters turned into red coloured, bridging the gap between heavens and earth for a while. I stood transfixed looking at this heavenly panorama. A few thousands visit Kanyakumari everyday but I do not know how many could see such a sun rise. I am sure many have seen but their numbers are limited. There is another celestial event that takes place once a year at Kanyakumari is the rising of the moon from the Bay of Bengal and the setting of the sun into the Arabian Sea at the same time.
Before I narrate some of the prominent landmarks of Kanyakumari, I would like to talk about the light house which I am sure many do not bother to look at. If you ever seen the seas on a dark night with its turbulent waves and the sudden flashing of the light house beam over the sea waters, you will understand how terrible the sea looks at that time. It gets manifold if it is a stormy night. I enjoyed seeing the nature's terrible face as well.
After we completed our training of 3 months at the Centre, we were asked to go the Vivekananda Rock Memorial everyday for a fortnight using the ferry services. Our work was to introduce to the visitors the majestic statue of Swami Vivekananda made of bronze in the main hall and also tell them a brief life history of this great warrior monk with special emphasis on his meditation on the rock. Here is the story: Swamiji after visiting the Kanyakumari temple came out and saw the twin rocks and decided to meditate on that rock. He swam across the stretch of 200 meters and stayed there for 3 nights and 3 days in the year 1892. In meditation he visualized Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa directing him to go to the West. As this rock is off the coast, a visitor has to take the ferry service to reach this place. The present temple was completed in September 1970. The pounding of the rock by the sea waves create a continuous roaring sound. But once you are inside the meditation hall the sound seems to get subdued and allows you to meditate for a while. Another interesting natural event a visitor can witness is the setting of the sun into the Arabian Sea. It is so vivid that as if in reality the Sun goes down into the waters. It is an optical illusion but none the less an enjoyable one.
There are three more important structures one can see. The first one is the 133 ft. tall statue of Tiruvalluvar adjacent to the Vivekananda Memorial. His statue was installed, I suppose, more as a Tamil pride competing with the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Of course Tiruvalluvar's composition of 'Tirukural' is comparable to the Bhagwad Gita.
The Gandhi Memorial is also another landmark of Kanyakumari. This memorial was built on the spot where the urn containing the Mahatma's ashes was kept for public viewing before immersion. Resembling central Indian Hindu temples in form, the memorial was designed so that on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, October 2, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept.
The third one is a very small temple dedicated to Shankaracharya, the exponent of Advaitya philosophy. There is another Shankarachary temple in Kashmir thus connecting India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in its Advaitic philosophy of oneness.
Most of the people those who visit Kanyakumari do not stay overnight. I personally feel that if you really want to have feel of a place, a night stay gives you an extra edge in understanding the nature's warmth. In the quietness of the night our mind can easily tune with the surrounding nature and identify oneself as a part and parcel of this universe.
On a full moon night, if you ever watched the seas, you will wonder how the waters react exuberantly by the pull of the moon. During our training at Kanyakumari we were taken to the sea shore on full moon nights & we had to deliver an ex-tempore lecture on a given subject that too in our mother tongue! If you are a nature lover spending a few hours, like taking a walk on the sea beach on a full moon night, I assure you it would definitely be a rewarding one.
I still love that place and would like to go and stay there whenever the next opportunity comes.
How to reach Kanyakumari: You can take a flight upto Triruvannanthapuram or by train and by bus / taxi reach Kanyakumari. Alternatively, fly to Chennai and take a overnight train or bus to Kanyakumari. It is well connected. The best season is Nov. to Feb. See the Vivekananda Kendra website: www.vkendra.org/