To a person who has never set foot in the southern regions of India, it is a puzzle only solved by the popular perception of coconuts, gajra, lungi and white shirts on sight. A blessing in disguise for a student who loves travelling came in the form of a call letter that demanded her to go to the Tuticorin in Tamilnadu. The funds arrived, transport arrangements made, a bag packed, snacks brought and the time came to do a little research on the area in concern.
We researched about the possible places to visit with the budget slip attached and the problems we might face. The language barrier isn’t very common to a Hindi speaking person in India. So, a trip to the land of non-Hindi speakers faced the suggestions of using English wherever possible. The common perception was set firmly in the mind that everyone in South India speaks and understands English.
Train arrived late; the station was filled with large families consisting of members ranging from every generation and generous piles of luggage with dubbas that probably carried food. The first encounter came in the form of co-passengers who spoke fluent and heavy-duty Tamil incessantly. A bewildered expression might have adorned our faces that the Tamil was now spoken in less loud voices.
A night’s sleep later, came the sticky and feeling of humid summer only peculiar to the coastal areas. We now knew that the locomotive has entered the land of coconuts and lungis. The female vendors had gajras on pinned on their hair and the aroma of idlis and vadas was fresh in the air. The day went by for us in the same bewilderment and the sight of beautiful new landscapes passing by.
A change of train later outside the Tuticorin station, the usual chanting of autowallahs outside the railway station wasn’t what welcomed us. While asking about the directions to the bus stop from a gentleman, we got to know that he knows just threadbare English. Somehow we managed to convey a few keywords thus receiving a bit of understanding. The gentleman was generous enough to lead the way to the bus stop and the as the story follows the work was done with a lot of time to spare.
The ultimate desire to see the oh-so-famous Kanyakumari’s sunset and the place where Swami Vivekananda found peace hit hard. While asking for directions to go to the town English didn’t work as opposed to the common perception, keywords and smile did. As suggested by some people earlier, the next phase of the trip was done by travelling through road. Since there were no direct buses, we had to catch another bus from a small town of Thirunavelli.
The small town resembled any other town in the country just with an exception that no one understood Hindi and the communication was difficult. While we brought some food for the journey, a friendly face at the small grocery store helped as much as he could with the broken chain of keywords. The route from Thirunavelli to Kanyakumari goes round the Pothigai(Agasthyamalai) hills that holds aesthetic and religious values for the locals.
As the trip continued from the small towns like Nagercoil to big cities such as Chennai, a few of the popular perceptions attached to the area weren’t proved to be as true as they are told. In the mid-summer months, the sun in Kanyakumari doesn’t dives into the sea as expected by many. The sunset isn’t as spectacular in April to December because of the rotation circle earth passes through around the sun.
A mug of original Arabica and Robusta coffee is bound to pinch your pocket in any café or restaurant, but the frothed coffee tastes just the same (maybe even better) in the tiny, clean shops in Kanyakumari. Unlike the popular chai culture in the other regions of the country, coffee is what keeps the people running in Tamil Nadu.
Popular perception will tell you that the people in South Indian states can speak and understand English, where the fact is correct to far less extent as it is known widely. Travelling breaks the wrong ideas attached to culture, place and people that had grown strong with time. It is always about what are you willing to let go of in order to let a more accurate and practical information enter into your brain. For me, the best way to travel is to let go of the popular ideas in exchange of receiving whatever is presented to me at the moment.