Written By Nilanjana Haldar (Pictures © by Nilanjana Haldar)
Always and always loved the beach!
A total of 9 hours at the beach.
And you thought a beach story concludes with the joyrides over the waves or cheap local lemonades over the sand-dunes and no further?!
Read my excerpt, I produced another story.
You might want to read this for it hails from an equally-compelling, busy-life worker like yourself– me!
Chennai – two beaches – Elliot and Thiruvanmiyur. A total of 9 hours spent observing the beach, the promenade, people, sand dunes, and the bhuttawala ( roasted-maize sellers) in two separate days.
I had gone for an interview for Fellowship in ‘Sankara Netralaya Institute! It was the first time I took a trip all alone, travelling far away from North to South, and getting lost at the beach and the calm locality near it, I seemed to experience the whole universe stream through me, a feeling psychedelically galactical.
After spending days and days together behind city-walls, the very first glance at the sea was humbling and I let myself collapse, my jeans becoming one with the soft sand only my eyes were up and clearly enthralled. I breathed the sea from one end to another and all at once felt myself growing younger and smaller in years, ages peeling away from my skin.
Waves collapsing and collapsing away, big ones, medium ones, small ones all the way and suddenly they seemed to give me a message, “ You stay stuck in your mind all the time, don’t ever forget that far more orderly and powerful things are out there which you never really take any notice of!” All at once, I felt powerless!
These blue circular wheels of jellyfishes studded the entire soft sand, gently drifting with the foam, that caught it once in a while, otherwise left it quiet and nonchalant.
Keeping my bag aside, I first took off my shoes and climbed down the sand cliff and reached for the loose wet sand that yielded easily to pressure and sucked in my toes when resting on it, like sea-silt.
I found a small zebra chichlid fish that was dying at the beach, wriggling in the soft, damp sand and people passed it by easily for it was so small and easily unnoticed. Desperate for want of water, it was flinging itself with all its might to leap back into the sea.
I took a sea-shell that was poking its head out of the sand, dug out the fish along with a soft bedding of sand underneath it and flung it straight off to the waves, far and far away. It made me happy.
I found this strange looking black rock infested with beautiful white shells sticking out from every corner. However, take note of the shiny, concentric circular embellishments, that seem to hug the edge and the sides of the rock, sparkly in the sunlight, adding value to the background dull black rock making it well finished for an admirer’s view.
I saw these arrowhead-patterns through the crystal-clear water, patterned water-formations, created by laps of sand overturned in layers over the shore by wave-foam.
I created a butterfly out of shoreside-shells and finger-prints
I found these shells infesting a discarded cigarette-lighter, claiming it their own and building a little home in it.
Billions of baby-crab holes (misnomer probably) dotted the beach straight from the foam-line right upto the trails above.
My first self-created sea-beachside sandcastle, more like sand-caves and pyramids over it. I have always wanted to create a sandcastle all my life. I have finally been able to make this dream of mine come true.
I lied behind on the beach to stare up at the skies. Then turning my face to my side, for the first time ever I noticed the elemental detail of every sand particle. See for yourself!
Found a broken-coin dunk inside the wet sand. So I gave it a name
Noticed the farthest stretch of the wave-foam before it began retreating, and it was every bit as beautiful as the advancing ones.
To my surprise, as I looked up at the sky, I noticed something extremely beautiful. A couple of cirrus-clouds had gathered and formed a realistic angel shape. I had read that seeing angels in the clouds indicates that spiritual insights and guidance are in the offing and that I must pay extra attention to my intuition and insights. Probably that is exactly what I feel I am going through right now. A certain awakening.
In the interest of honouring my artistic skills, I poured my heart out to the shore and used my finger as a paint-brush, sketching crudely in patterned-trenchlines producing sandheaps by the sides – A momentary-memoir, but a memoir nevertheless, till the high-tide advances and fully levels it out.
Saw this Tamil graffiti-art by the promenade which is fascinating and colourful. There is something about opening up to a world of another culture. All at once it seemed there was so much I had never really seen around me, that all I did was do a job. So many people to meet and come by. All at once I felt so much smaller in a vast world!
Noticed a son and his mom walk about the beach
I found a Tamil lady sit at one corner with five or six dogs around her, each of them, handsome in colourful collars. “They come to the beach all by themselves. Alone. Those five are the male dogs. I taught them”,she sat pointing at them. And for the last one, “…and this one is female. She doesn’t like being disturbed” I realised I was facing a daunting Tamil lady, self-supporting enough to have trained her dogs so well.
Funny names she gave some of them though— ‘Mukesh’, ‘Ambani’, ‘Beach’ :P, the three that I remember.
I never knew such pretty flowers grew at beaches :O Always saw coconut trees only !!
So, I gave them a name!
Tamil Romance Story (etched in time and wood, far away at a lone beach ):D
As I closed in over the bougainvillea plants, I saw an unlimitable collection of dispelled, loose bougainvillea flower-petals lying scattered below, evenly strum in a variegated carpet. There this blue-collared stray dog began following me. I felt scared at first but then I noticed it meant no harm, only kept following me all around the promenade, panting with its tongue stuck out. At a corner of the bougainvillea carpet, I stopped, bent below to click a photo of some white and yellow-sprinkled flowers. Here, as I stopped and the the sound of my footsteps quelled away, I heard the dog’s whine softened to a quiet whistle, rising and muting in separate breaths. It melted my heart. But I had no food to offer and there were only fruit shops around and dogs don’t eat fruits.
So I walked about not understanding what to do until I figured what the distant shop owners were selling round the corner, hidden inside their steel- utensils put on display. It was Sambhar, dosa and vada. I was myself hungry because the bananas I ate didn’t fill me so I bought a plateful of dosa and vada to eat for myself and for the dog. It hadn’t followed me the entire way and had stopped to crouch underneath one of the scooters parked by the side road, after noticing other more powerful stray dogs stand near the shops.
I walked all the way back to him and seeing me he sprang up from underneath the scooter and began following me again. I took it to the beachside and unwrapped the meal and offered it a large piece to eat. It sniffed and looked away clearly not wanting it. I wondered why. I gave it a piece of the vada , it didn’t want it either.
I realised then it didn’t want food, it wanted love, to belong to someone.
Poor thing! Every creature wants love. I sat there with it by my side for a while longer nourishing it with all the company I could give. I don’t know if it had any disease that was gnawing at its existence and I hope not. I just hope that if its suffering cannot end, it doesn’t survive too long after I leave it and simply dies.
I prayed for the dog and left it hoping my wishes came true.
As it became dark, I had a dinner of mutton biriyani and fowl-curry by the promenade with an expansive view of the sandy shore and glancing at these kind, well-mannered people at every corner who touched my heart so deeply. I seem to have fallen for the Tamils!
After dinner, I headed straight back to the beach and sat there at the shore and sank all of me into the soft sand, bag and shoes kept aside. A bunch of boys played flying saucer by the side of me while I lied down on my back, hand tucked behind me, looking straight up at the sky trying to make sense of the profundity of the beauty up above as clouds kept piling in, in patches, past the constellations, and a jet flew close to them. All at once I sat up and sank my hands into the sand, right upto the forearm, stared up above at the twinkling stars and stopped moving – a poise of surrender to the stars, you can say. And I felt it, their language not in words, but with every twinkle, inexplicable but yes, I felt it. And once again, I felt powerless.
After dinner I walked through the empty footpaths on the other side of the promenade and there I felt calm and quiet, being slapped by sea-breeze all the time. When I stopped to take photos of the peepal-tree leaves writhing in the wind, I spotted these two old timers (pic above) sit by their doorway, quietly. Looked like two old friends whose history together went way back in time. They sat there at the doorway and watched the world go by, a world ever changing and growing into another. Their calmness in a world so fast-paced made me stare at their silence for an hour long. They didn’t speak a word but the friendship felt strong. Another world of friendship I saw, something elemental again, soulful and illegible to a media-full world.
I walked past the fast-food restaurants and entered a calm locality next to the beach and it looked more mystical with the gentle sway of the little trees by the houses with the freshness of all the sea-breeze that kept filling it, in gushes. The street was dimly lit by the street lamps at distant intervals and I opened my arms wide apart as I walked through the streets, feeling the universe gush right through me, feeling boundless beyond words. Nobody saw me, but it didn’t matter if anybody did. I felt one with the world in that moment.
I walked back to the shore and found a strange firework-display next to the shore. Have a look at the pics! A helix of bright-orange sparks, originating from a central originating point, whizzed, to be blown away, oceanwards and be lost. It looked very strange but after closing in, I found a bhuttawala ( a person who sells roasted maize in their cobs) selling his stuff, the strong sea-breeze producing the helix out of the sparks of burning-coal. It was incredibly beautiful a sight to see, standing there in the dark.
To conclude the whole trip, I had a butterscotch ice-cream and sat at the central light-post right in the middle of the road, just before it bifurcates. I hadn’t tasted ice-cream for a long while so it seemed to taste even better. There, at the center I felt myself frozen in time. Little sparkly light-bulbs wreathed around the Gulmohar tree branches by the streets, swaying gently with the sea-breeze, people with pets passing through, and little wonder-struck toddlers held by their hands, vehicles full of Tamil people passing me by, some of them eying me in bewilderment at my choice of seating, and families, friends and couples walking around the promenade, eating, laughing, chatting and sipping. At that moment I realised the world is just as it is and it really is very beautiful!