balcony view By Sama
I arrived in Rameswaram about 3 pm on a Saturday after a 7 hour car ride from Kodaikanal. The ride itself was interesting as I watched India flash by...being caught in a "cattle crossing", eating lunch for 10 rupees at some little roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere where the proprietor took me in back to show me what he was cooking. Can’t remember what it was called, all I remember is that it was delicious. I was famished and scarfed it down as all the people in the restaurant -- all 4 -- stood around my table and watched me eat with big smiles on their faces.

Got to the Hotel Tamil Nadu in Rameswaram, showered and took a nap. Woke up about 5 pm and was going to take a walk to the temple, maybe find something to eat. Got a phone call (being alone in India, getting a call in my hotel room is totally shocking) and I heard "if you want to see the temple, I can take you." Still groggy from my nap, I thought how did this man know that’s what I’m going to do? I babbled something like who are you, who’s calling, where are you, what......? He said he was downstairs at the desk, and I said, yeah, whatever, and hung up.

I get downstairs, still trying to wake up, and there was the man behind the desk and another man waiting, as if for me. I had my torn out page from the Rough Guide that said "R. Kannen, who can also be contacted through the Hotel Tamil Nadu, happily gives foreigners advice, even if they do not use his services." I asked the man behind the desk if he knew R. Kannen, and he pointed to the man who appeared to be waiting for me, "this is Kannen". Wow. He materialized. But how did he know exactly what time I was going to leave? Ah....serendipity. No....he probably got the call, "foreigner in da house, come on over!" I just stood there, thinking go with the flow, whatever....

As it turned out, I spent about 4 hours with Kannen that night. We went to the Gandhamadana Parvatam, where I took pics of a beautful sunset, and to the Nambunayagi Amman Kali Temple, where I saw the man with his pet egret, and sat with him as he fed it worms he dug for in the sand. I had my weekend planned all within one hour.

As we were going back, Kannen asked me if I wanted to see the children dance -- of course I did! We stopped at what looked like a little school, totally filled to the brim with people, local business people, politicians, parents, and children. The little girls were dressed in the beautiful South Indian dance attire, their hair and makeup perfect. One little girl was so beautiful I wanted to take her picture, but there were so many people, I just got pushed along. We ended up at the back of this long, narrow lot.

So many people, and me, the only westerner, once again. But the difference between where I was now and where I had been in the morning, Kodaikanal, was like night and day (no pun intended). The energy, the attitude, the graciousness, was totally different from Kodaikanal.

We sat down and after a number of speeches, the show began. Little girls and little boys dancing beautifully, carefully, with a few missteps that added to the charm, pre-recorded music that blasted my ears. I was sitting too far back to take any decent pics. Then one group of kids dressed in regular clothes started dancing to music I recognized from a Vijay movie! The only Vijay movies I’ve seen were on the Lufthansa flights from Germany to Chennai, but I know who Vijay is!

There were a group of boys sitting about 10 feet behind me, I’d say they were pre-teens, early teens. As soon as this music started, they all got up on their chairs, and started clapping and dancing, hooting and hollering. I got up and started to take pictures. Of course, that started a riot! "Madam, Madam, take me, take me!" I yelled "dance like Vijay!", and put my hand to my forehead in the gesture Vijay uses in his movies. All their eyes got wide and suddenly I was in the midst of hip shaking, pelvic thrusting Vijays!! It could not have been choregraphed any better! As soon as I took a picture, they all ran over to me wanting to see it, then ran back to start dancing again. I loved it. The people in the immediate area weren’t watching the stage anymore, they were watching all this commotion and laughing.

We all sat down again to watch the show, and by this time of night, I was exhausted. Kannen asked me if I was OK, and I said we should go back, since I was dead on my feet, and we had an early morning walk to Danushkodi the next day. We started walking toward the front, however, people were sitting on the ground, shoulder to shoulder. Not an inch of space between them, it was packed. There was no way we could walk back out through the front without doing some major damage to someone’s hand or foot on the ground! Besides, it was also hard to see because it was pitch black with only the lights on the stage.

We turned around and Kannen asked "can you jump?" "Jump?" "Yes, climb and jump," as he pointed to the brick wall topped with 3 strands of barbed wire that was our enclosure. "sure, why not, what choice do we have?"

So Kannen jumped over the wall, and I threw him my camera. The wall was about 4 feet high, with the barbed wire on top. Since this old bod is pretty flexible, I put one foot on top of the wall. Suddenly I hear a low grade "ooooohhhhh" coming from all the young Vijays. I grabbed a corner pole as I pulled myself up and put the other foot on top of the wall, straddling the barbed wire. A louder "ooooooohhhhh" starts, mass rumbling coming from the Vijays. Louder and louder whispers in Tamil. Now how often do these boys see a white woman of a certain age straddling barbed wire on top of a brick wall? Making sure my salwar would not catch on the barbed wire, remembering that I had my tetanus shot, and hoping that I would not land in a big pile of whatever, I lept over and landed on my feet in a beautful squat on the other side.

The young Vijays explode! Laughing, clapping, cheering me on, fists pumping in the air yelling "Yes, Madam!", as the music blares and the little girls dance on stage, swirling around in a rainbow of colors.

I turned around, curtsied, and ran into the Rameswaram night.