I didn't exactly intend to buy this earring. I was in Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu, a state in Southern India. According to my own self-imposed rules, I had already gotten my India earring in Rajasthan. But several factors impinged upon my decision.

First, was the recurrent assertion, heard over and over, that Southern India was the real India, the true India. If this was so, then my Rajasthan earring was not quite the ticket, and anyway, Rajasthan really is like another country and perfectly happy to be so.

Which brings me to the second factor. As a federation of states, India really is like a bunch of pretty different countries with a sometimes agreed upon central coordinating committee called the government. By those rules, I should have had five earrings by the time I got to Mahabalipuram.

But the truth is that the third factor was overwhelmingly dominant. It was brutally hot. I had taken refuge in a tiny air-conditioned shop run by a Kashmiri jeweler who commuted between his Himalayan home in Srinagar, politically tense but cool, and this utterly tropical, sweltering town of mostly tourist-related businesses woven between the famous Descent of the Ganges monolith, and the famous Shore Temples of Mahabalipuram, and the less famous but equally cool Tiger's Cave, a sight I had longed to lay eyes on since I was seventeen, but when faced with the eyeball-blistering heat of midday, chose to give a cursorial once-over and return to the van. (If you don't live in or haven't visited a place like this, just imagine your head in an pizza oven full of wet towels.)

Anyway, we sat and talked in the little shop under the breathy whisper of the air-con, until I was recovered enough to trek back towards my hotel. I bought the earring to be nice, because I didn't buy the gorgeous but very expensive Chola-style replica bronzes he was trying to push. As jewelry it's not exceptional. Identical pieces are for sale at any petuli-oil-scented import store in the USA. But Mahabalipuram was a personal pilgrimage site for me, so I'm glad I got it.

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