At Mahabaleshwar I struck up a rapport with a local restaurant hotel owner. It was based on economics and convenience: I needed a place to eat and write, and he had a customer who kept the register ringing throughout the day in the off-season. The conversation was good. We watched a cricket match together, spoke about competition in Mahabaleshwar - "Makes things better," he approved - and talked about visiting places.
Our conversation veered towards temples in Kanyakumari. I asked if he knew anyone there who I could direct a few questions at. "No," he replied, "but anyway, the temple is by the RSS." He grinned through his french beard, and I wondered why. "It is by the RSS," he repeated and shook his head. "I am an RSS man." There was something I should have said, but didn't know how to respond to this sudden turn. "I am an RSS man like my father." More nods from both of us.
Then, folding his hands and allowing some seriousness into his expression, he announced, "I am a communist." Now I was truly flummoxed but tried not to let him see that. Inside, I screamed for help with this conversation, outside I was unaffected. Several things confused me: one, the abrupt turn of this conversation, two, did competition of this kind and communism go hand in hand? Meanwhile, he nodded and once again his lips parted in a smile that then seemed sheepish. And somewhere, in my mind, I saw this in a different light: that shy smile, by this tiny man, was like that of a person emerging from a closet to reveal his true sexual orientation. It was shy, I believed then, and felt a swell of warmth and sympathy in my chest. Carried away with this feeling, without pausing to think, I consoled, "It's okay to be a communist, really!"
His smile pretty much disappeared, and he turned off the cricket to wath a saas-bahu serial.