November 20, 2012


Elliots beach, Chennai (Madras), India. It represents the character of a city that has changed slowly but drastically. As the tides rise and fall, the cycles of the days in Elliots are almost set in stone, though written mostly in wet sand. 

As the morning comes, the sun peeps through the blue sea. But already, we see a few fishermen are in their boats, ready to row into the sea. And before long, they are back in the shores with their catch, welcomed to land by the horde of obese and old joggers that flock the pavements and never touch the sand. Their sweats are just as salty as the fishermen’s, “but why” wonders the young Raja, a 11 year old from the fishermen community. “Why do they run like that, everyday?” And he slowly drags the boat into the wet sand, leaving trails of the sharp nose and footsteps.

As the day grows older, the beach forgets the sweat and the fish. The boats are upturned, the fish drying on the shore. And there are the few stalls, selling soft drinks and cigarettes. Yes, smoking isn’t allowed on the beach, but again, this is India and rules are always optional here. And thus, the wet sand gets burnt by the cigarettes being put off by the people who are lost and know only one place to go to.

In the peak of the day, the wet sand is mostly left alone. Except by the occasional visits from the boys selling snacks there and the old lady fortune tellers. Why do they hang there? For the couples of course. Those college kids and office goers who escape the society’s harsh looks and sit on the beach for some private time. India is still India, rules of law are broken, but rules of culture are rock solid. “Get a room” is sinful. The beach is the couples’ haven and the wet sand is (almost) the only witness to their private lives.

As the sun dies, the couples leave. The families run the show now. And finally, the shops can earn some money for the day. Fast food is selling and the balloons are flying. Kites are ancient now, it’s flying lights that the kids seem to like. And of course, good old beach cricket is on the southern part of the beach, mostly being played by the kids of the slum. But kids from the richer, northern parts are more into frisbee these days. Isn’t that beautiful? They sweat the same, but they don’t wanna play the same. And the wet sand enjoys the tender footsteps of the children, of course, it knows no difference between rich and poor.

Cometh the night, the families leave too. For it is time for the college kids. Those drunk insolents who flock by the dozen, come and dive into the sea. “They die all the time” says the wet sand. Of course, the sands have seen so many of them being dragged back to the shore. “It used to be only boys, but that was a long time ago. Girls are also visiting these days. Drunk.” Maybe the rules of the culture aren’t as rock solid as the afternoons show us. Times are changing. Women’s rights are mostly good!

Post dinner time, the wet sand is freed of the occupants by the cops and the friends of police. They drive everyone out. Like they should. “Because murders happen.” “and rapes.” “So, get out!”
And finally, by midnight, the wet sand is finally alone, to continue it’s perennial romance with the Bay of Bengal.

And Bessie gets ready for another day.
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