“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.”
She felt the spray from the sea on her face, the taste of salt made her take note of her surroundings. The sea continued its ritual of bringing wave after wave to the shore, only to take back all the things people left- no longer useful. The sea always had charm for her - the stability of its monotony, yet the variety evident in each different wave that strikes the shore- it captivated her, calling to her as if from a forgotten past. She stood there staring with unseeing eyes, as if witnessing a scene separated by time. Yes, the call was growing deeper with every passing day, as if the sea had remained embedded in some part of her soul that refuses to let go. She must go; for there, she knew, lay, in some inexplicable way, a part of her destiny. She turned to leave, feeling the wave that licked her toes, inviting her onto the depths. She closed her eyes, surrendering her senses to the sea.
The spray that splashed through the window sill washed the last remnants of weariness from her sleep deprived eyes. The train thundered on, not in the least weighed down by the feelings of the multitude thronging its interiors; not pausing to feel the cool drops of water splashing down. She looked out of the window, watching the scenes that slipped by, not waiting to bid goodbye. That was life for her. The more she moved forward, the more the things that she cared for moved away from her, leaving her clutching in vain at the abyss they had left. But now, it will be different... she had answered the call. She was going to the place where it all started. A sense of peace descended on her and she closed her eyes to drift to sleep while the train brought her closer to Kanya kumari.
The sea was just the same, it never changed. She was happy about it. She never got bored watching the sea, watching its innumerable waves splash onto the rocky shore and withdraw gracefully. The sea at this particular place held more fascination to her, for at this place the tri-seas met, sharing waters and silt from different lands.
It was 25 years since she saw this sea last, but it never did leave her mind. Something in its magnetic depths lured her towards it. That was what made her leave all her work and catch the train to this peaceful seaside.
Ram Babu saw her sitting at the steps, staring at the sea. He had seen many people like this; people running away from home in search of peace, a few minutes of retrospection; and he did his best to avoid them. Being the eldest of the guides and having a moderate grasp of English, he was the most sought after among guides. There weren’t many legends that he did not know of. There was something about this girl, (not really a girl, but for this very old man, anyone below forty is a girl), that made him go to her. He knew she needed his help. He tapped on her shoulders. She turned, taking her eyes off the sea for a second, and gave him a ready smile. He asked, "Madam would you like a guide? There are many stories here that only I know of!”. He saw her smile wean off. She sat looking at him, as if sizing him up, for some time and at last nodded her head.
"What is your name, madam? And where are you from?" "I am Madhuri. I work in Mumbai. Have you ever been to that part of the world?" "No, I have never left this seaside for the whole of my life.....and I am proud of it!" She grew silent. He took her to several places - churches, buildings of beauty, which she viewed with a disinterested air. He took her shopping but she bought nothing except a packet of seashells from a small girl. Her gaze always seemed to return to the sea, as if in search of something she lost. He then took her to the seaside and showed her the rock, a few feet wide, lying at a little distance from the sea. "That, madam, is the star attraction of this place. The latest legend and I have the utmost authority to speak of it. "What’s so special about it?". Here, at last, he could discern some curiosity in her tone, a twinkle in her eyes. He knew her heart would stir up to it. "A long time ago, around twenty five years, there was a little girl of 12 years-a very cheerful little girl with a musical voice who sold seashells, flowers and other knick knacks to tourists. Her name was Kadambari. She was collecting shells at the sea shore. The sea lay beyond this rock then. She was standing at its edge, bending down and collecting beautiful shells. Maybe she saw a beautiful shell that would attract the tourist eye; anyway she fell off and the tide carried away her light body remorselessly. She was never seen since". She noticed that his eyes glistened with tears. "I knew her well. She used to come running to me calling 'Babuji', to show me her collection. Her body was not recovered, but in this place where the tri-seas meet, the whirling waters in the depths can take you anywhere. Since then it is said that she haunts this place. Many a guide coming back home at night has seen her standing on this particular rock." She gasped. "Have you seen her?"
"Yes, just once. She waved to me and vanished. It is called Kadambari rock now and is the most sought after location in this place". He helped her take some photographs of the rock and as the sun began to set, she left him, giving him a generous pay, almost twice his fee.
The taste of salt brought her back from her musings. She opened her eyes half expecting to see the sea. But she was at the balcony of her hotel and the sea was distant, like a giant grey monster lying in wait to be fed. The salt had come from her tears that were running freely down the sides of her face.
Should she have told him that she was the very same Kadambari, who was saved from the turbulent waters, taken to
Funny-after years of education and perseverance, here she was ,a well settled woman; but her presence in the world has gone down in history -not as the cultured cosmopolitan but as the flower girl whom she had hated and buried in her heart for ever.
She looked at the rock, the birthplace of the legend. She felt she could see the child there, waving her arms as if urging her to let go and move on. She felt, vaguely happy, as if all along there had been a fight raging inside her, a fight between the past and the present. The past had won, proving itself the better of the two. Tomorrow she would go back, but she would have left all the memories and sorrows at this shore- let the sea wash it onto itself, dragging it to its depths.
The sea hasn’t changed, so did Babuji. His assumed air of self importance-she had thought that there wasn’t anything that he didn’t know of, but she had been a fool then!!!
That day Ram Babu came home early. His wife looked up from where she was cooking their frugal supper.
"You remember Kadambari, the little flower girl? She had come today. I was right all along. She didn’t drown, she somehow managed to escape. She has grown up to be a pretty woman but has the affected airs of the city folks about her. I didn’t give away my feelings because I wasn’t sure if she'd like to be known by her past. I was right. She has a new name and has made a mark for herself and did regret her past.
I told her a cooked up story about the rock- the one which she fell from -being named after her and it being the star attraction of this place. Quite a legend I made up.” He sat there laughing to himself.
"Why did you do that?"
"So that she would be as much proud of her humble past as she is of her new found glory!!!"
The sea continued to lick the shore with its ebbing waves, lying in wait, dragging and burying the stories left there.
“Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.”