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kanyakumari

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“All India Safety, All India Protection”

October 17th. I had not planned on telling the police about the guest house manager who was so determined to get into my room while I was in the shower.

I had had a lovely day. There had been genuine quiet moments (rare), allowing me to gaze into the expansive waves, uninterrupted. I had even explored a strange tiny aquarium with bizarre exotic fish.

But as I walked up the long dirt road to the train station, I wondered if I would see that man again and a foreign feeling of uneasiness creaked into my consciousness. I knew he targeted young women arriving at the train station — I walked as close to the guest house as I dared and zoomed in for a picture of its sign. Surprised by myself, I went straight to the station manager’s office for shelter from my increasing anxiety .

When the station master heard my story of windows peeked through and constant requests for room admittance, he stood up from his desk. I followed him out to the waiting area as he asked local men if they knew the offending guest house manager.

Along with four or five of the locals, he put me into a rickshaw, giving the driver instructions to take me to the police station — once I had heard that there was an all-female police office, I had agreed to file a complaint.

“All Women Police Kanyakumari.” I let the sign imprint itself onto my mind, having one of those “I’m going to remember this” moments.

Several policemen are standing in the driveway near a jeep; so much for “all women.”

One, taking the lead, inquires, and I explain in the first of many retellings that will happen over the next hour. The lead officer translates the situation to the others, and tells me that we will go to the guest house so that I can identify the man.

To my complete surprise, I begin to cry, although the threatening encounter had merely felt annoying. Hello, trauma I was not aware existed.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry, stop crying. All India protection, all India safety.” And I am packed into a jeep with six officers, driven by a woman with the most stars out of everyone. I heard “American” as she called in over the radio.

I am able to show them a photo of where we are going, and tell the story over and over.
We arrive and unload our small brigade, but I am told to remain in the jeep. There are two men standing in the doorway, watching the approaching police — neither are him. A small crowd was gathering on the pathway near the train tracks, and more were coming out of the nearby buildings. I had been so frightened by the thought of seeing him again, and now he wasn’t here.

The lead officer came back to ask if I was sure that this was the place, and I climbed out of the jeep, leading him upstairs to the room where I pointed to the cracked window and walked him through the story again — this time using my body as well as my voice to recreate the experience, embodying the aggressor.

Back downstairs, I watch them threaten the regular manager (turns out there are two). I heard references to windows and me, especially my American status being used as a weapon. One cop took a few swings at him, small punches and kicks that never connected. Intimidation?

“It wasn’t him,” I am saying, over and over, but they put him in the back of the jeep anyway, telling me that they know, they are going to take him back to the station and ask him some questions.

Now, all of us back in and bouncing over the dirt road, I think about the sniveling and crying man directly behind me. The lead officer is asking me questions about why I waited a day to report it: I thought they wouldn’t care or listen. I don’t share that I thought they would be violent.

“All India safety, all India protection,” he tells me again.

Led into the station, I am seated at a desk across from another female officer and given paper on which I write my official complaint. It takes three pages, and, along with my identifying information, I am instructed to write my father’s name since I am not married.

The innocent hotel manager was standing behind me in the office when I began to write the complaint, but by the time I was finished, he had disappeared.

The now six or seven cops stand on the steps to wave goodbye, until they realize that I am walking back to the train station — they start calling out after me, offering a lift. All of them accompany me to the station, where they stand and wave again as I thank them.

I run into the four or five concerned locals who had gotten involved at the beginning, and waved & thanked again, then ran into the station master and did the same after quickly filling him in. Thanks and goodbye.

Back on a train, watching palm trees and distant hills roll by, I cannot deny my high energy and relief, the feeling of being supported after assuming the community to be so indifferent. I also cannot forget the violence, the clout of America (they were very concerned about whether I was going to tell the embassy), and my sheltered middle class self trusting the police.

Not justice.

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To the End

Oct 17. I reached out to friends in India, telling the Avila Guest House story. The exposure to harassment and staring dulled my ability to distinguish it from the general melee — their shock startled me.

The lore of the southernmost point of the subcontinent, the place where three seas meet, inspired most of this journey; it is the reason that I decided to come south at all, which produced the more troubling stories that have increased concern in family and friends back home. It has a beach town feel with many Indian tourists, and I am soon immersed in why I have come.

Salty water swells into waves that burst onto the rocks in a cascading drama. With nothing to break or shape them, they descend untempered at sizes that I have never seen in my life. Delineation between official bodies of water breaks down, and I imagine them slamming together to create such enormous waves. Staring into the distance, I remember my childhood, when we would stand on the Atlantic coast and point straight out to sea, shouting “Ireland is that way!”

I find a spot away from the jostling crowds that laugh at the young men who are willing (or reckless enough) to swim. The occasional tourist climbs down the same staircase to snap a photo of the nearby islands’ statues and temples, but I sit quietly, simply gazing at the moving water.

Everything was worth it, and anything that comes after this moment will be worth it.

The goddess Kanya Devi is said to have come to this spot to bathe herself in the waters, in preparation for her oath and battle. The temple here focuses on her declaration of virginity as a sacrifice for Shiva; only Hindus are allowed inside, and when I first felt drawn to this place, the plan was to talk my way in.

But I see how they focus on her “honor” and forget that she took such oaths, shedding distractions and obligations to prepare for a battle with a demon, which she defeats to save Shiva. Not quite the classic chaste woman waiting demurely at home. People focus on what they need, but going to the temple to connect with the story no longer makes sense to me. So instead, I climb over and down to a greater stretch of beach mixed with rock for unmediated access.

On a low expanse of boulder, with India at my back and the rhythmically crashing water striving for my feet, I think about the symbolism of her actions: peeling away commitments and dedicating herself, setting out for a challenging task that, if overcome, will bring great benefit.

I wet my hands, face, feet in the water, taste the touch of salt on my lips, and send out a prayer. Deep gratitude and connection. It feels like something has concluded, although it can only be the completion of a beginning.

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