• Mohana Das

Memories of the Sea

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

In the 12 years since my birth leading up to 2004, I spent almost every holiday with my family down at a beach in Orissa. It was the closest holiday spot we had to home, and it only took an overnight train to get there.

I clearly remember the defining moment during the car ride from the train station to the hotel. The car followed a long winding road as it drew closer and closer to the sea side, and in the swell of anticipation, children would stick their heads out the rolled down window. The smell of wet sand would inch closer and closer. One final turn at that climactic moment, and the sea would burst into view. The children in the car would scream and jump, including me, captivated by the vast ocean, shining fiercely under the summer sun.

To say that I was in love with the place would be an understatement.

We'd always check into the same hotel, right across the beach. The front had a small yard where there was a hand pump installed, designed to wash the sand off the legs of returning sea bathers. Our room would have a balcony that faced the vast open ocean.

The sea has always intimidated and fascinated me at the same time. It drew me in like an old lover. Even today, I am in awe of the great Bengal Bay waters.

We were eager to drop off our luggage and rush right into the waves. As a child, I always wanted to hold my father's hand when I was in the water. I'd beg him to come into the sea in the morning with all the women and children. We'd be in the water by 10am but that was when the uncles all started drinking. But by the time they'd emerge from the hotel room, it was 2pm - tired and hungry, we would start lining up by the showers.

We were young and fearless then. All you had to do was grab one of the big black inflatable tubes and charge into the angry waters. Our nulia would then swim us so far out into the deep waters, our parents looked like tiny dots on the beach. If you turned your head towards the water, you could caught a glimpse of the peak of a temple spire miles and miles away.

Our nulia was a tall, extremely tan, monster of a man we called Raghu kaku. He had a big moustache, a kind smile and was extremely muscular. His entire body had only huge bulging muscles. I suppose one needed that kind of body to take on an opponent like the might Bengal sea. As he swam, he held on firmly to our oversized floating tubes, as we clung on helplessly in the deep sea, without a care in the world.

In that place, there was a profound silence. The deep waters sloshes innocently, just before a gigantic wave started to rise. As it grew it let out a low moan before releasing itself into a flash of water crashing down on our heads.

One time when I ventured out there, holding hands with my cousin, the force of an exceptionally violent wave separated us. I remember somersaulting under the water two or three times before I was finally fished out by a powerful arm. Would I have drowned back then? Who knows.

After hours of playing in the water, we would emerge with dark, sunburnt skin stinging from the saltiness. There was no concept of sunscreen. We'd sit on the hot beach to dry off and stuff ourselves with cold, sweet rasgullas from a wandering sweet seller. My father would make sure each of us had at least ten of them, and then proceed to force feed the young man selling them at least ten more. After everyone had eaten, he'd hand over a 500 rupee bill (a large amount back then), and bark at the young boy if he tried to return any change.

I made memories with my first crush there, before I knew what a crush meant.

I was the quiet loner, while he was the outgoing, mischievous brat. To me, that was the coolest thing to be back then. Together, we'd dig up deep holes in the sand and cover them up with newspapers hoping someone would fall in. We'd laugh at our ingenuity and I'd desperately wish I was his favourite person.

After the tsunami in December of 2004, the coast of Orissa was completely destroyed. And we never went back there. At least, I didn't. That seaside hotel was probably washed away and renovated. I'm no longer a little girl crushing on her childhood best friend. And it's been years since I've felt like holding my father's hand.

Magic seems like magic only when you're a kid. And honestly, the way the world looks to an adult today, it's better to cherish any bit of magic left in your memory. Trying to capture it again, after you grow up, ruins everything.

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