He was a smooth operator the way he showed up just at the time I was going to leave to walk to the great temple.
Kannan told me that he speaks 5 or 6 languages and he has a sister in Germany, so he is smoother and savvier than most of the men of his type that I met. He is also married and has children, and acting as Rameswaram’s official unofficial tour guide is all he does. He has carved out a niche for himself, a good enough niche to be mentioned in the popular India travel guide, the Rough Guide.
I was exhausted by the time we got back from watching the children dance. Kannen and I had been out for about four hours, and this was after a day of traveling seven hours from Kodaikanal up in the Palani Hills to a place that was only five miles from Sri Lanka. We walked to the hotel’s restaurant and Kannen started to tell me about where we were going the next day, how much the bucket ceremony would cost me on the morning of the third day, how much I should pay the rickshaw driver he used, and all I heard yet again was how much money another Indian wanted from me.
So I did what I rarely do in front of anyone — I started to cry. If I was a child I would have been told that I was over-tired and cranky. I was almost shaking and I yelled at Kannen that I was not made of money, that despite the fact that I could afford to go to India, yoga teachers don’t make much money, that I was tired of Indians looking at me and seeing only dollar bills and I hated that. He looked shocked and hurt and his eyes got very wide. He put his hands to his ears, then to his forehead as if he had a headache, and started to shake his head and say “no no no no no no….”, a low murmur at first, then gradually louder. He looked like he was going to cry. Suddenly he put his hands on my cheeks, pulled me close, and kissed me. Not a passionate kiss, not even on the lips, but close enough. Remembering what I had been told about South Indian culture, and especially about Indian men, I stood there amazed. “Tomorrow,” was all he said.
He smiled and said I should get some sleep because we had a long day tomorrow, walking the beach to Danushkodi. Still speechless I walked into the restaurant to relax, and ordered black tea, not chai. I wanted comfort from something familiar from home. I closed my eyes, started to take long, deep, calming breaths, and felt someone behind me. I did not turn around because I knew it was Kannen. I opened my eyes and his hand was in front of my face, holding some flowers. I slowly turned around, looked at him out of the corner of my eye, and half-smiled. “From the bush outside,” he said, “I could not leave you sad.”