In Kanyakumari
In Kanyakumari (All photos by Julie Thayer)

3.2.15

This morning there is excitement in the air. We are embarking on a long road trip. Our destination is Kanyakumari, almost 300 km from Cochin, which should take about eight hours to cover. The plan is to reach the picturesque beach town Kovalam, near Trivandrum, by late afternoon, have lunch, then resume the drive to reach Kanyakumari before sunset. We will return to Kovalam for the night where we have booked rooms in a hotel. We all get ready in a jiffy and pile into two cars. Guha is ebullient as usual and I am again in wonderment how light and easy it feels to be in his energy-field. Many times he has quipped, “Some people can’t stand that I’m happy all the time.” Warning: He’s not always so jovial. Some of us know very well that Guha can make you squirm when he puts you in the “hot seat” and ruthlessly tears apart your most cherished notions.

The weather is pleasant now with a soft breeze blowing but it promises to be a hot day. As I look out of the car window, the city of Cochin or Kochi as it is called is already humming with life. You can see fruit sellers with their carts offering plantains, jackfruits, mangoes and coconuts, little girls and boys still groggy, being led by their mothers, looking curiously at street vendors hawking their wares and shopkeepers sitting on stools or rickety chairs reading newspapers waiting for “boni” (first transaction of the day which is considered auspicious). The bustling roadside eateries are doing brisk business as office-goers, laborers, many in traditional lungis, and college students stop by for a quick bite while ammamas and appuppans (grandmothers and grandfathers) are in no rush, leisurely savoring their upma and coffee as they catch up with the day’s news and gossip. We slowly make our way through the chaotic morning rush hour traffic and eventually reach the outskirts of the city where we make our first stop. The driver pulls into the parking lot of a popular restaurant for us to enjoy a sumptuous south Indian breakfast. As we stretch our legs Guha’s cheerfulness percolates down to all of us putting us in a happy, upbeat mood. We enjoy a hearty idli/dosa meal with hot filter coffee, the best coffee in the world.

Back in the car we settle down for the long ride. I am in Toyota Innova with Guha, Julie, Kamal, Sanjiv and Bubu. In the front seat is our lord and master Guha next to the driver. In the middle it is me, flanked by Julie and Kamal and Sanjiv and Bubu in the rear. To my right is Julie, sometimes sleeping, sometimes snapping photos with her iPhone and sending them to R & R and others at their request. To my left is Kamal, who looks tired and is also dozing off every now and then. From what I hear from him, pilots have it rough – they are perpetually tired and jet lagged, always trying to catch up on sleep or longing to go horizontal whenever they can. Poor Kamal, his circadian rhythm must be completely messed up constantly crisscrossing between continents. Anyway, the drive is lovely. I like Kerala; the palm-fringed back waters with abundant greenery all around look so enchanting and welcoming. The “God’s own country“ is famous for exotic spa clinics, Ayurvedic treatment centers, five-star yoga retreats, spice plantations, etc. “Panchkarma” treatments are very popular and widely prescribed here. It is Ayurveda’s primary purification and detoxification treatment and the term “panchkarma” literally means “five therapies”; these are supposed to help eliminate toxins from the body. It is no wonder that Kerala is one of the world’s top destinations and tourists from all over the world flock to this little paradise to take advantage of all that it has to offer.

What do you want?

Guha and others are discussing everything ranging from “disease to divinity”, to borrow U.G’s phrase, but I am reflecting on what Guha told me last night: What do you want? Ask yourself, what is it that you really want?  Seeing me somewhat listless and despondent he looked me squarely in the eye and in a grave tone urged me to think hard on the question with utmost honesty. What do I want? That’s a tough one, Guha, how can I answer that? The more I contemplate that question the more I’m going round and round in circles – endlessly. My mind is riddled with not one but with a plethora of wants which seem to stem from my conditioning. When a desire is fulfilled, I am happy, when it remains unfulfilled or things don’t go my way, I am sad. This cycle keeps on repeating itself ad infinitum. Plus, my so-called wants, desires, aspirations and goals, including wanting self-enlightenment, have been subtly and not so subtly thrust upon me by the society right from childhood. It is created by your will. It is systematically introduced into you by social dynamics so that there is a relationship between you and society. When I say I want this, this, this, or want to achieve that, that, that, I am perpetuating the status quo set by the value system. The status quo wants me to conform, do what others are doing, achieve what others have achieved, earn pots of money (because money is like oxygen in social dynamics, as Guha says) and be “comfortably numb”. To try to deviate from this iron-clad structure is like swimming against the current so I have no choice but to play the game all the while ignoring my inner voice which is saying it does not want all this. With so much pressure on the system, is it any wonder that the likes of me become totally neurotic, conflicted and stressed out?

Then another question arises – who is the “I” that has all these ambitions and desires? Isn’t it some fictional entity? You are nothing but a conglomeration of fictitious desires. Everything in you is put in you systematically by culture. Perhaps the sense of “I, me, mine” has been so ingrained in me since childhood that I started believing I am who I have been told I am. Guha has always told us that this sense of “I” is not real; there is no one sitting inside your head. Nandini is not real! Nandini is a fictional entity! Because there is no Nandini how can she create demands? What she feels, demands, everything, it is fictitious.  In Dangerous to Ponder he says, the connectivity of life is so complicated that it bypasses much of our intellectual ground and recognition processes that are accessible to self-consciousness.  Our brain’s limbic system is where most of the functions and relay processing take place.  It makes one feel like there is a guy sitting there in the thalamus.  Well, not a guy really, but many nuclei!  It may not make any sense to you… Despite knowing all this the wants don’t go away so the see-sawing emotions remain too. Hence, I’m back to where I started. I am unable to come up with any definitive answer. Guha, I am exhausted, I accept defeat. At least for now. But I will take up the cudgels again. I will digress here as I feel compelled to say how grateful I am to Guha who made it so easy for me to connect with him at a very fundamental level and who makes me think so deeply about my intentionality. What Guha means to me I cannot say but I can say with utmost conviction that he is the best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life.

Kovalam beach
Kovalam beach

At last we reach Kovalam in late afternoon. It is hot and humid here but the place is charming if a little too touristy for my taste. The beach we are on (I don’t know the name and there are many beaches in Kovalam) is small but surprisingly clean and the water looks inviting. The quaint little lighthouse tucked away in one corner looks so cute. I see lots of foreign tourists strolling around, mingling with the locals, sipping cold beverages in tiny restaurants or cafes lining the beach or just relaxing under the big umbrellas. Some brave the harsh sun to acquire a tan. I find it amusing that while Indians by and large have a fetish for “white skin”, the “goras” are always looking for opportunities to “brown” themselves. However, today we have no time to enjoy the scenario. We have to reach Kanyakumari before sunset otherwise the whole journey would be in vain. We quickly check in to our hotel rooms, freshen up, have a hurried lunch in a shack-like eatery and hit the road again. We urge the driver to hasten, but this tall, well-built Malayali will not be hurried. It never occurred to any of us till now to ask him why he was driving so slowly. When Guha finally asked him to hurry up, we were dumbstruck by his reply. He said very earnestly that he prefers to take the local roads (which pass through every little village), the reason being on the highway, where the speed limit is more, he would be tempted to go fast and may get a speeding ticket and would have to pay a fine of about Rs 200. So, to prevent that, he has no problem driving at the pace of a bullock cart and inconveniencing his customers. What wonderful logic, I smile to myself.

Good luck to you

After a long, meandering drive through overcrowded villages and towns, we arrive at our destination in the nick of time. Kanyakumari gets its name from the ancient temple dedicated to goddess Kumari Amman where she is worshipped as a young charming girl, a virgin. The town lies at the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent in the state of Tamil Nadu and those like us driving from neighboring Kerala it is easily accessible. Kanyakumari is a popular tourist destination as well as a major pilgrim center. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial, which attracts thousands of visitors every month, was built in 1970 in honor of Swami Vivekananda who is said to have attained enlightenment on the rock. Kanyakumari is also famous for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets where at certain times of the year you can see the sun set and the moon rise simultaneously over the same horizon. Isn’t it magical that you can see sunrise, sunset and moonrise sitting in the same spot surrounded by three waters on three sides? This “triveni sangam” (confluence of three waters) is where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean merge. For the Hindus, bathing in these holy waters is considered very auspicious, a must to wash away all our sins. Did I hear Guha smirking? I can almost hear him say, “If you think bathing in these waters will get rid of your sins, good luck to you. If that were so, the world would be a very different place.”

Sunset at Kanyakumari
Sunset at Kanyakumari

We reach the beach just as the sun is beginning to set. It has a rocky shoreline and one can get an unobstructed view of the setting sun from the black rocks stretching into the ocean so that’s where we are headed. Some of us stop for a quick chai (tea) from a vendor but it is tepid and tasteless. The place is jam-packed with masses milling around with the ubiquitous beggars and hawkers trying to make a buck or two from gullible tourists.  In the melee I get separated from the rest and am a little nervous about getting lost. Thankfully I spot Guha at a distance and sprint up to him before I lose him again. Now we are on the rocky outcrop. It is low tide and I remove my chappals (kind of flip-flops) and hop from rock to rock to get to a vantage point. It is water, water everywhere and I watch with awe the orange orb in the distant horizon casting a golden glow all around. The reflection from the setting sun is creating magical flame-colored patterns in the dancing waters. Oh, what a spectacular show Nature has put on! I bow my head to the Mother of the Universe in silent homage. All around people are taking photos or videos, trying to capture these enchanting twilight moments.

Julie and Vidya are recording the entire sunset on their smartphones. Kamal is the only one amongst us who takes a dip in the sangam. He says such an opportunity may never arise again. Then we all pose for several group photo sessions before the sun disappears out of sight. Soon it is getting dark and people start dispersing. We are all happy that our mission is accomplished. Now we can say, “Been there, done that,” like U.G. always did after visiting a new place.

We reach Kovalam late at night. Guha, Julie and a few others are too tired so they go to bed without dinner. Some like me are very hungry so with Kamal in the lead we go hunting for a restaurant which is still open at this late hour. I am tired too after a long day and my legs are hurting but I need to put something in my stomach before calling it a day. After a half hour walk alongside the beach listening to the waves gently lapping against the shore, we finally find a restaurant which is just about to close. Reluctantly, they agree to serve us dal rice. After a 45-minute wait, we finally appease our hunger. Now with a little more strength in my legs, I trudge back to the hotel around midnight dead tired but happy. I am delighted with our room arrangement and after a hot shower, snuggle into bed. Sweet dreams!

Next morning we are all up early and are ready for a walk on the beach. The sun is shining bright and it already feels hot. I am walking with Kishor. He is quiet and unassuming by nature but has a quirky sense of humor. Guha enjoys Kishor’s one-liners which he tends to throw in when one is least expecting. Right now he’s narrating how he came to meet Guha. As I listen to him talking about his spiritual thirst, being with Ranjit Maharaj, then stumbling upon U.G. books and finally finding Guha, I am again reminded how fascinating and unique each one’s spiritual journey is. I see Guha and others far away wading in the ocean. Julie too is happily splashing around, her clothes getting wet. She looks so innocent and childlike enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

IMG_2741After breakfast we pack our bags and are ready to depart. I am keen to see the The Leela which is not too far from our hotel. So we decide to drive to the popular resort before leaving Kovalam. The Leela looks lovely perched on a cliff-top overlooking the pristine beaches and the ocean as far as the eye can see. The view from the top is so magnificent that it takes your breath away. And when you look down at the ocean, it appears blue. That is unusual because nowhere else can you see blue waters in Kovalam. The hotel is very aesthetically designed and blends nicely with the surroundings. I believe all rooms have scenic views with balconies overlooking the azure waters. We leisurely explore the property and walk down to the private enclosed beach. I spot a swing made of coir rope and a wooden plank hanging from a palm tree. I cannot resist it; I jump on it and swing to my heart’s content. Julie, of course, had the camera ready. I see Guha at a distance exploring the place. As we are leaving, Guha comes up to me and laughingly tells me he saw me on the swing and would have joined me but I didn’t call him. Look, let me make it clear that Guha does not want to sit with anybody on a swing but he can be nice at times! Seriously, he is just reflecting our wishes and wants. He has pointed out to us many times it is just stimulus and response for him. It is not volitional on his part. Overjoyed I exclaim, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Now we have to go back. I have to have a picture with you.” So back we go back to the swing where I pose happily with Guha. He sure made me a very happy lady that day. I will always cherish fond memories of Kovalam as well as the Leela. For me, the Kovalam “leela” was short and sweet but unforgettable. I hope to come back here again some day.

 

Preface

Part I: A Big Zero

Part II: You Say Just the Way You See

Part III: A Pilot’s Tale

Part V: There Is No You

Part VI: The Tiger Is Out

Part VII: Thoughts Drain Life’s Energy

Part VIII: Caught In A Web of Love

Part IX: Never In Past And Never In Future

Part X: Butterflies Are Free

Part XI: Sun Breaks Through Nimbus Clouds

Part XII: Love Goes Toward Love

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