For some of my posts now, I want to profile a few of the people I’ve met along my journeys. I traveled in India from the end of December 2008 to mid-January 2009. It was an amazing experience that cannot simply be wrapped up in few words. Here is one story I wrote about an unexpected encounter as I traveled in the southern state of Kerala.
8 January 2009 — Kumily, Kerala, India
Kumily appeared to be a busy junction in the middle of Kerala’s spice and tea region. The market was overflowing with tea and spices and the streets full of travelers from far and wide. I had purchased my spices from a shop and stepped outside to wait for my friend. I observed the scene–typical of Indian life there were people, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and animals occupying the same road. Inspired, I pulled out my camera for a photo of the busy street life.
Then a man robed in orange cloth approached me. “How are you liking India?” he said joyfully. He was thin and his robes bore signs of wear and long use. As I looked into his bearded face, I wondered if he was about my age.
“Oh, it’s amazing.” I replied as my head suddenly became full of all my observations of India thus far. Amazing isn’t the right word, but there are few singular words to describe India.
“Where are you coming from?” By this time I already found out this means he wanted to know my nationality.
“American.” I said.
We introduced ourselves. He said his name was Krishna, and he traveled with two companions more than 100km to visit a nearby temple, a yearly pilgrimage for them. They came from Tamil Nadu, the state to Kerala’s east and his primary language is Tamil. He asked me about where I’d been in India and then told me I should visit Tamil Nadu, a spiritual place for India, he said.
He then asked about the tumor and birthmark on my neck, and for simplicity’s sake I said I was born with it (which isn’t entirely true, but I didn’t think I needed to launch into a factual description).
His response surprised me. “I will go to temple and I will pray for you. I will pray for your complete healing.” He said as a matter-of-fact.
I was shocked, and at the same time blessed. “Thank you.” I said, as I looked into his eyes. I was not offended, nor uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to say.
“May I take your picture?” I didn’t want to offend him, but I also wanted to remember this moment. He happily agreed, only if I were in the photo, too.
Another unexpected moment arose when he asked for paper and then wrote down his cell phone number. If I am ever in India and wish to see Tamil Nadu, I can call him, he said. He also gave me his e-mail to send him the picture when I was home.
It was altogether a short conversation, but it touched something within me that revealed the kindness of strangers in another culture. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer wafting into the hotel room. The hotel was across the street from a Roman Catholic church, and near to a mosque and temple.
Hindus. Christians. Muslims…and somewhere, one of those Hindu pilgrims was praying for me.
Wherever he is, I remember this encounter with Krishna my brother. And I pray for him, too.