The sharp smell of drying fish filled the South Indian summer air as Abraham and I walked together around the fishing docks of holy Rameshwaram, the abode of Rama's shivalinga, the place where god worshipped god in the epic Ramayana. Today was the day when hundreds of fishermen unloaded their catch, bringing buckets of fish and shrimp from small wooden boats to shore. The scene had the appearance of being something ancient, something repeated every other day, done in the same way since Rama and Hanuman's monkey army invaded Sri Lanka to free his wife Sita from the clutches of demon king, Ravana. Abraham's leathered face looked with sparkling eyes towards the colorful boats: "I've painted many of these boats," he boasted.
Abraham – the human embodiment of South India
These were the shores where Sita crafted a shivalinga from the orange sands, representing the life essence of Shiva, the phallus. Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, prayed to Shiva at this lingam – god praying to god. On these same shores, ice trucks heading for Kerala, Madras and elsewhere – packed fish tightly for the journey. Taking the role of a caring grandfather, Abraham warned me not to go out at night tonight as the fishermen would spend 60 rupees of their 300 rupee pay on whiskey, then look for a fight.
Abraham was a philosopher with age and experience as his guide. For thirty five years, he worked as a merchant seaman based in Mumbai. For most of his life, he lived on a boat, watching the ocean change from calm to fierce, from blue to grey, visiting many ports-of-call. "I've been to Paris, Comment t'allez vous," he laughed. "We'd arrive at a port, go dancing with women until eleven. If you liked her, you could leave together," he smiled. "One time, I also traveled to America – New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore."
"I'm very happy with my life – no tension," he said, as he invited me to drink chai near the shore. "Why not," I replied, a typical Indian phrase. He lived with his elder daughter in town; his wife had died eighteen years ago.
As a Muslim, he also visited the Christian churches and the Hindu Ramalingeshwara Temple, which houses the famous lingam. "I go there to pray – only one god," he said, not seeing any contradictions between the faiths, he prays to Rama, Shiva, Jesus and Mohammad.
Abraham was the human embodiment of South India: his wanderlust spirit, his sparkling eyes, his smile, his faith and his generosity. His spirit embodies the ultimate traveler who has returned home with memories to share with the world. His essence lies somewhere within all of us.
For more of Lloyd Raleigh's stories, visit Travel Pod.