Couple of years ago, I made a trip to Tamil Nadu on the off chance that on this land of Gods I might find the strength to deal with my life, which was edging on the brinks of a sea change. Although I planned on reaching Kanyakumari, after making several stops along the Coromandel coastline, Manapad turned out to be the last stop in this journey. Why so is the subject of this story.
Hitherto, Tamil Nadu was granting me all that I had wished for. The bright sun, tall and sturdy coconut trees, sheep grazing lazily on the red soil, sleeping villages, seventy plus old men wearing short white dhotis and sun-glasses and running their bikes at full speed on the highway, a sacred mixture of the scents of thatched coconut leaf roofs, of fishermen’s skins and of the incense sticks, and colourful temples: it was a picture full of life.
However, as I approached Manapad, as sceneries rolled by, shorelines changing from tidal flats to cliffs, I smelt a strong difference in the air from what I had encountered so far.
From a distance, a church built at an elevated position came into view, growing larger and larger with each passing stretch until an aloof colossal white structure stood right in front of my eyes.
A light house, painted with bright red and white stripes, stood behind the church with the same aloof stance.
On our way, we crossed two more majestic churches, empty roads and old but spacious houses with lots of open space.
The place took the aura of a little European coastal village but had a forlorn look about it.The roars, fierce deafening roars of the ocean waves that hit the lonesome shores added much to this forlorn look.
On taking a turn around the church at the elevated position – the Holy Cross Church, I advent upon an alcove: nicely kept, as if its occupant never left.
Incidentally, these churches were built when Manapad was a Portuguese colony, back in the 1500s. The Holy Cross Church is believed to be alive with a fragment from the True Cross of Jerusalem, and a miraculous story rests behind the arrival of this Cross on the shores of Manapad. St. Francis Xavier made his home for more than two years in this alcove on the cliff where the church now stood, when he came to India on missionary work in 1542.
I wondered if it was so disturbing for me to endure the heart-wrenching call of the ocean in the middle of the day in the twenty-first century, how he must have endured the sorrow of those nights?
A goatherder I met told me stories from St. Xavier’s times: stories of miraculous recoveries of the sick in the hands of the missionary. ‘We hear St. Francis did lot for the local people during his time, but now even with the modern means at hand, people of Manapad suffer huge losses every time tsunami strikes and it takes years to recover. Some never recover’ he said. Even if he hadn’t mentioned that, the local hospital with its worn out yellow paint, and goats grazing on the wild grass inside its premises, spoke volumes. On the face of such abandonment, suddenly, my own issues seemed too small.
Underneath the spirit of an ardent traveller there is usually a hungry soul which presumes it might get a drib of bread for the soul somewhere on this earth. Sometimes it gets a drib and sometimes it confronts a whole loaf in front of it. It is then that the overwhelmed soul refuses to move. If rest of Tamil Nadu was giving me a drib, Manapad gave me a loaf. The haunting stillness of the afternoon despite kids loitering around merrily on the porch of the school, the quietude of parish life, the face of a toddler on the street and not far away, the call of the waves: something very poignant touched my soul. I wonder if the Church clock chimes overshadowing every other sound, even the roar of the waves, just for the sake of telling the hour of the day or more; much more.
Courtesy: To my friend Ankur who suggested I go to Manapad and to our many conversations over correspondence. This piece is just an extension of my thoughts that I had conveyed to him, after my very first trip to South India.