“Some say this is the end of all India, here where the three seas meet. But there is only one sea, and this is the place where everything begins."
This is Kanyakumari, India's southernmost tip, according to a devotee of the illustrious Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda. The anonymous man is committed to taking care of the Swami’s shrine. Not the huge memorial built on a rock in the middle of the sea right ahead, whereas a 130 feet statue stands, but a small altar, carved in black stone back in the 1960s, hidden behind the great Devi temple and disregarded by Kanyakumari’s visitors.
Most people come to this city at the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to ask for benefits at the Devi Kumari temple and enjoy the sunset from Mahatma Gandhi's museum balcony. But the man doesn’t mind. His mission in life is to keep the shrine fresh with water, flowers and gifts every day of the year, come rain or shine. He has been here for the last six years and promised to come back everyday until his strength permits. Someone has to support the altar.
I listen with genuine interest, but leave the shrine after giving some rupees. I came to Kanyakumari to dip my feet in the tri-sea, the sangam where the Indic Ocean, the Oman and Arabic seas collide, the site the Mahatma himself elected for his ashes to be launched in the wind.
Kanyakumari is no more crazy than most parts of India, at least for foreigners. Women coming and going in their elegant sarees, men dressed in cotton lungi, lines of uniformed school children following their teachers. People, cow, goat and crow alike congregate on the huge stone boardwalk nearing the sagam.
But there’s a taint of surrealism in experiencing an edge of continent, and I enjoy the thrill of being in the remotest part I’ve ever been, alone. I may not be the only westerner tourist in town, but I’m sure the only short haired, tattooed, Brazilian female around and, despite wearing a modest combination of skirt, shirt and dupatta (the Indian shawl), I still get stares all the time. I ignore them, walking as if very sure of where to go amongst the persistent calling of men selling ice-cream, postal cards, plastic tuk-tuk toys and rice grains with your name written on it.
Centered in the boardwalk, overlooking the sangam, is an immense shelter structure, like a squared bandstand made of the darkest, polished rock. Inside, dozens of women relax in the shadow, sharing water and food while men and kids bathe in the stone beach. Pavement leads to a three-sided terrace facing the three seas, with steps diving into the water, where a man fishes with a nylon line and a young couple look at the horizon, discreetly holding hands. The big, atomic Indian sun scorches us all, but there’s no heat at the sangam. It just dissolves in the unstoppable wind.