The pilgrims shouted and whistled as the timeworn boat lurched and shuddered away from the harbour into the open sea. The short hop from Kanyakumari to the two islands is for most of the pilgrims their first sea crossing. However, I must not forget there are also holiday makers as well as pilgrims, and it is a cheery, good-humoured time when families gather together in a state of mock panic when the waves break across the stern, the rusting boat lurches to the starboard to screams and razzle cries, before the captain calms his old dame of a thousand crossings.
Vivekananda Memorial islands lies only about 400 meters offshore and here the pilgrims who cross the short stretch of sea, where the Arabian and Indian Oceans collide, pay their respect to Swami Vivekananda, the ‘Wondering Monk’. He came to Kanyakumari in December 1892 to meditate on a barren, desolate windswept island rock, at India’s furthest point, before he left to wonder, reflect and deliberate on the rights and wrongs in this world by walking across India. Once he had seen, heard and believed he set about making the world listen to his philosophy for social justice.
The second island stands tall and as bold as the Statue of Liberty. 133 ft high to the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar; please pray with me his poetry and verse will never be forgotten.
The island housing the Vivekananda Memorial is India’s most southern of righteous monuments. From Leh, – in the far snow caped Himalaya, to Kanyakumari in the tropical south, three thousand kilometres apart, – holy cities, shrines, monuments, crypts, mausoleums, blessed caves and all matter of holy memorabilia to all India’s religions, I would not be wrong to make the bold assessment that half of all the world’s religious paraphernalia is in India, east and west along this north / south line.
And at the tip of this vast subcontinent, after a six-week drive from London, my walk north to Calcutta can finally begin. I can’t answer why I am here. I can’t ask the question, even to myself, ‘is there a motive?’ It does not need a motive; only a will, a desire and a passion. And with these three characteristics I can walk with confidence, even if I know I am a fish out of water, walking with trepidation. But I live with this contradiction, this will, this desire and this passion to wander as Swami Vivekananda had, as Bishu had in Japan, as Wordsworth and Dickens had in England, and Stephenson had in France, (with a donkey) and give myself the luxury of time itself to simply walk and observe, think and then reflect. To lose oneself in thought is the supreme privilege man can allow himself, and he hardly ever does. I am stepping out because I don’t want to walk where tourist have and I don’t want to know what tomorrow brings.