Long Distance Heartache

I never suspected a chance meeting on the other side of the world in 2015 would make my heart ache today.

Bhavani, me, Ramesh in Mamallapuram March, 2020

Ramesh was a lifeguard for the Radisson Blu, an upscale resort in the coastal town of Mamallapuram, south of Chennai, India. North Indians are fond of using that location for weddings, but European tourists stay there while visiting the ancient, sculpted rock temples.

I was able to speak basic Tamil with Ramesh as I headed into the resort to eat at their restaurant. I was attracted to his natural warmth. He explained he was a former fisherman turned lifeguard. His knowledge of the currents and the waves and the ocean weather had helped him rescue over 40 people. He had monstrous biceps; I felt good he was there protecting tourists.

Ramesh with biceps, 2015

I accepted his invitation to visit his home and meet his family. He and his young wife Bhavani had a four-year-old daughter, a lively ball of arms and legs. Bhavani was shy, and she fed me delicious fish curry and spoke of the arranged marriage with her husband, which seemed to be working well. I felt as though I had known them for many years and wrote about my visit with them in my travel blog (Ramesh | Travel Blog).

We continued our relationship over the years as I visited Mamallapuram at least five more times. I watched their lives change. Their active pre-schooler grew into a young woman, earning top grades in a local private school. Ramesh kept blowing his whistle at tourists who ventured too far out in the ocean and rescued those caught in the strong riptide. Bhavani continued to maintain the home, doing huge batches of laundry, caring for their daughter, and cleaning and cooking for Ramesh’s mother, brother, and her daughter and Ramesh. She even started taking sewing lessons so she could earn additional money for the family. Every Friday she visited the deity in the local temple important for the fishing community.

When I visited, I was treated to traditional Indian food, more delicious than anything I could buy in restaurants. Idli, dosai, coconut and tomato chutney, curried fish, crab, vegetables, rasam, everything I love. Bhavani refused my help in her kitchen and delighted in serving me and filling my stomach. At night I danced to Bollywood songs in their living room with Sadhana, their daughter, making goofy moves that sent her into giggly spasms. In answer to my prying questions, Bhavani and Ramesh talked about how they met, how she finally said “yes” to him as her partner despite their differences. They called me Mama.

Beautiful Bhavani

About nine months ago, the family had devastating news. At age 34, Bhavani was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer. She’s undergone chemotherapy and has had a feeding tube inserted, but her condition remains serious, according to her doctor. The situation has challenged the family’s resources and hope. Ramesh has stopped working to care for Bhavani at home. From the other side of the world, Ramesh calls me, barely able to speak, telling me how important his wife is. I speak with Bhavani sometimes, who hangs on, despite the discomfort and questionable prognosis.

My heart aches. They are family. My adopted family whose members have shared their lives and love with me. They are so young.

I started a GoFundMe* campaign for them with a goal of raising $7,500 to cover medical and living expenses. I’m appealing to Radisson Blu management, Ramesh’s employer, hoping they will help.

But money can’t eliminate the anguish for Ramesh and his family.

I can’t either.

*If you’d like to support Ramesh’s family directly (without fees paid to the GoFundMe campaign), please contact me through this website.

2 thoughts on “Long Distance Heartache

  1. It would be easier to get the money to you than to do the GOFUND… if you would send me your address, I’ll send you a check.
    I’m deeply sorry for this news and the pain it’s causing you and that dear family. Prayers are going out to all.


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