Every time we go to Chennai, we make it a point to visit the beach as many times as possible. Our last trip was no different.
We visited the beach mostly in the morning, when it was empty. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore, the softness of the moist sand between the toes and the pleasant sea breeze worked together to create magic.
The water was cold and I was quite content walking beside the waves. The sea, though, seemed to have other plans!
This is a painting of the brooch we bought as souvenirs in Kohima. Instead of photographing it, I thought I would try sketching it, but on the spur of the moment, decided to give it a shot with paint – my first attempt at painting still life.
We travelled for three days on the crowded train – there were more than two hundred of us, and only a hundred confirmed tickets. A bus journey from Dimapur brought us to the campus of Nagaland University, located atop the hills, in Kohima. Exhausted after the journey, we didn’t bother about blankets, as we fell into deep slumber in the dormitory.
During our stay, we discovered the ‘passion fruit’. We devoured them like wild beasts. We had never heard of them, and we knew that we may never taste them ever again. By the time we left, the locals had made a handsome profit!
The nearby hangar served as the venue for talks and concerts. The music and dance performances mesmerised the large audience, and the atmosphere quite literally came alive when clouds filled the ‘auditorium’!
We had the privilege of attending workshops conducted by national artists. And the highlight of the entire trip was the ‘classical overnight’. Beginning after dinner, continuing till dawn, the all-night programme held us in a state of trance. We didn’t sleep during the concert, and yet, ‘woke up’ feeling refreshed, without a hint of exhaustion.
We spent the last day in the main town, visiting the War cemetery, and the Museum.
Due to the insurgent outfits operating throughout the North-Eastern Region, we were forbidden to travel at night. That meant that we had to reach Dimapur before sunset. The last night of our stay was spent on the railway platform at Dimapur Railway station.
We had to board the early morning train, which would stop only for fifteen minutes. We collected all the luggage in one place, and hauled every bit of luggage inside the train as fast as we could, irrespective of whose bag it was. After a chaotic hour or so, we found out that along with our baggage, two large boxes of RDX had found their way into the train. The train we boarded for our return journey was even more crowded than the one in which we went. The mood in the train was dull.
That didn’t last long, however, when we tasted the freshly cut pineapples that were being served by vendors in the train. Juicy and soft, they simply melted in the mouth, and there was not a hint of fibre – you could be forgiven for thinking that they were mangoes. The exotic produce of the north-east, it seemed didn’t end with the passion fruit!
Eventually, we bade farewell to all the people with whom we had shared our entire experience. People who were strangers only a few days back, and people whom we would probably never meet again.
It is unlikely we would ever be a part of such a trip, ever again.
We didn’t carry a camera to capture the great, and the not-so-great moments (and there were plenty of both!) Our stock of passion fruits lasted no more than a few days, and the trip became a distant memory, within just a few months. Looking back, it all seems like a dream. The details of the trip are blurry, and there is little record of us ever having been there. I never wrote anything about it, to remind me of the time.
However, we do have some proof of it being real – a pair of brooches that we bought as souvenirs.
And a painting.
This painting was made in Kohima. I had attended the workshop being conducted by Padma Shree Anjolie Ela Menon. Perhaps there was something in the air that made me draw this – I had never before drawn something abstract, and even after the trip, I have not dared to venture into that territory.
Upon returning, I discovered, to my horror, that the acrylic paint had actually not dried up, and the foam plate I had placed over the canvas to ‘protect’ it, got stuck, and ruined the painting.
Several months passed, and I never fixed it. After over four years, I finally painted over the bad patches. While the scars are still visible, the picture is more presentable.
For the past few days, I’ve been in Chennai, and its been quite a stay. To me, Chennai is synonymous with the sea. Perhaps it is because it is the one thing Delhi lacks. On every visit to Chennai, I eagerly look forward to go to the beach. This little post is something I wrote a very long time back. But the sentiments remain the same even to this date. The title of this post was given by my grandfather, who submitted it to a local magazine for publication. Hope you enjoy 🙂
Date: 14 July 2007 Time: 2:22 pm
Going to the beach after two years was something that I was most excited about. For two years I had not stepped out of Delhi. I was definitely suffering from nature deficit disorder. Being the kind of nature lover that I am, living in the urban jungle just did not do me any good. I had all the symptoms – stress, depression, poor attention… So when we went to Chennai, the first thing we had to do was to go to the nearest beach.
Unfortunately beaches are not what they used to be… Even before we could step on the sand, all kinds of vendors were trying to sell us something or the other. We did not take off our foot-ware for fear of any glass pieces pricking our feet. As we got closer to the water, we saw more and more plastic bags, wrappers and all kinds of garbage thrown about. People eating carelessly threw the packaging on the sand.
But the beach is huge and even though there are all kinds things and shops spread all over, nothing can hide the beauty of the sea. The sun had started setting and one could see the horizon. It was not the picture-postcard kind of sunset in which the sun bathes in the sea. We could not see the sun because of the overcast sky. It was a pleasant dark blue sky which merged with the sea in the distance. There were many tiny sea-shells all over the beach and we picked up as many as we could. The beauty of nature is simply amazing. Although the shells are the size of the nail on my little finger, they have such unique, intricate and colourful designs. There were smooth ones as well as ones with ridges. Most were flat molluscs but there were also the rarer long spirals and snail shells.
Everyone in my family for generations has had some kind of shell collection to boast about. There are so many shells the size of a human fist. What really amazes me is that my grandmothers and my mother hand-picked these from the beach! There are also shells which my father brought for us from the Andaman Islands which are the size of human heads. There are even clam shells that measure one metre across. My father saw these kinds of shells being used as bathtubs! Today, due to increasing human population on the shore, not many big shells are found on the beach. But there are many small ones washed up on the shore. Though there are many stores selling big shells on the streets of Chennai, there is nothing like the joy of picking shells from the beach.
Soon we were very near the water and the warm, soft and slippery sand became firmer due to the water content. There were tiny crabs crawling all over the place. It appeared as if there was a boundary line separating the dry sand from the water. This ‘boundary line’ was made by garbage strewn around. Beyond this divider of dump, the sea was clean and clear. Every time the waves came crashing on the shore, they would take away any dirt thrown by uncivil humans.
We left our foot ware further away and stepped into the approaching water with our bare feet. It seemed as if the sea was welcoming us by washing our feet. In the distance we could see huge waves – waves that were perhaps 2 metres high. But by the time the water reached us, the level was just high enough to reach our ankles. This was because as new waves came towards us, the receding waves pushed the incoming waves and reduced their force. The clash was as if there were two armies running towards each other to fight and although the approaching waves won the battle, their numbers were significantly reduced. We went further into the sea till the water level reached our knees.
When the waves came, they brought along with them many molluscs. But these were not like the empty halves of shells we found on the dry part of the beach. These were closed with live creatures in them. From what I have heard, these creatures can only survive underwater. Against their will the water brings them ashore. When the waves receded, the water took them away into the sea. Every once in while, I could see these mysterious creatures peep out of their homes in the shallow water and duck back inside. More than once did I see them ‘walking’ on the sand under a thin film of water. I might have even felt one on my foot which was buried under the sand. There were also small holes in the wet sand which were created when the water receded. These were, I suppose, for the unknown creatures underneath so that they could breathe.
There is something friendly and scary about the sea. On the shore, the cold water came in a friendly manner and washed our legs-pretty much in the manner a dog would welcome its owner. Sea water has many different salts which are good for the skin. I have personally seen cracked heels get healed completely after just a few hours of exposure to the sea water. As the waves came crashing down at us, the sheer force of the water felt like a massage. But the force with which the water receded was greater than the force with which it approached us. Every time the water receded, we could feel it trying to pull us towards it as if saying ‘come, play with me, like those other people who are having fun swimming in me’.
The scarier side of the sea is its unpredictability. Every now and then, a huge wave would come and drench us even more. Sometimes while receding, the waves would change their course and instead of receding in the same way that they came, they would take a kind of U-turn. As a result, these receding waves would bump into the incoming waves at an angle. This caused a huge splash and sprayed water all over us.
We spent almost two hours at the beach in this manner. The sky became darker and darker and before we knew it, the evening changed into night. We could see a faint light in the distance. It could have been a lighthouse, or a ship sailing – no one could tell. The moon was out and we could see its light through the clouds. Cloudy skies are always beautiful during the daytime. But cloudy nights are sometimes spooky. For a little while, the moon came out of its blanket, which gave the clouds a silvery colour. But it was not at all scary. In fact, it looked magical. It may seem very ordinary to most people, and me too, on most nights. But this sight, on that day, seemed extra special. Perhaps it was the sea that had passed on its charm to the sky.
Back in the car, our legs all covered in sand and beginning to itch, I could not but help recall the song, “Somewhere… beyond the sea…”