Memoir / Book Excerpt: The Ocean and I

Sunil Kaushal

[Chapter 2 from Gypsy wanderings Part 2: Memoir]

Sunil Kaushal

The pandemic has bestowed the word corona with a deathly notoriety. The dictionary gives its synonyms as aureole, crown, circle, light, wreath, rosary, tiara; a part of the human skull between the two parietal bones is also called corona as is a long cigar and also a circular chandelier hanging from a church ceiling.

As a rule, I do not listen to the news, for I can do nothing to stop calamities or check a pandemic in its march of reaping lives. All I can do is be responsible in taking as many precautions and safety measures as possible, to protect myself and those around me. The news imprints my brain with images of calamities and disaster, violence and crime, injustice and suffering, hunger and deprivation besides a million other images of humanity wallowing in wretched misery. I derive no vicarious pleasure of suffering by proxy. But since the word keeps popping up more frequently than one blinks in a day, my mind also ruminates around it at times. For me it has a special significance, connected to an adventure in the past.

In 2006, August 1st, I was living in Chennai, India. There was to be a total solar eclipse that morning, over which scientists globally were agog with excitement for its great scientific import. It was of great astrological significance also. People were acquiring black glass plates or x-ray sheets through which to look at the eclipse.

My niece lived in Thiruvanmiyur, less than half a kilometer from the Breezy Beach, as it was called. I decided to spend the night at her place and go early in the morning to the beach where I could see the eclipse fully, having equipped myself with an old x-ray film.

On the way we met a family of three generations taking turns gazing at the eclipse through a black glass plate mounted on a stand. As we looked at them with curiosity, the older gentleman invited us to take a peek too.

It was a spectacular marvel not to be missed. There was a corona of wonderful oranges and reds all around, the clouds lit up, some dark in silhouette, some golden, glowing yellowy-orange in the distance. You could see the shadow approaching against the clouds and then rushing away.

Wanting to view nature’s wonders unhindered by buildings or other manmade distractions, we walked on towards the beach which lay ahead spread in all its glory.

Chennai is extremely warm and humid in August, but gusts of refreshing sea breezes kept cooling the sweat that rolled in droplets from our bodies. Normally, the beach is flat with the waves almost dying out at the waterline.  However, during the monsoon months, roughly August to October, the tides rise higher eroding the sand on the beach, forming a sand pit. That day the sea was almost seven or eight feet lower than the sand bank on top, almost like cliffs, but gradually sloping downwards. The water rose in small waves, reaching the edge of the sand below, where it became flat.

Because of the beliefs of harmful radiations from a solar eclipse, the beach was deserted, except for three pundits in white dhotis and topknots with a long white cotton scarf flung over their glistening, naked chests, except for the sacred thread. They sat on the sand bank getting some paraphernalia ready for a puja, perhaps for some astrological or spiritual benefits or to appease the elements.

Two other men stood at a distance of about a hundred metres, studying the eclipse through a telescope like thing. There were no boats visible up to the horizon. The darkness at eight in the morning reflected on the huge expanse of the ocean, gave it a surreal effect. I was mesmerized. My niece had her morning chores to attend to, so I told her to go home.

A few drops of water occasionally sprayed me when a wave rose a little higher as I sat down to meditate. It was a welcome respite from the humidity. Usually my chakra cleansing meditation takes about twenty minutes. I opened my eyes to find the sea appear a little sinister and mightier in that impregnable, secretive darkness which had grown denser.

The three pundits and two men had left. I could see the back of a man, probably a fisherman, walking below at the waterline, at some distance. Seeing him, it occurred to me that I had not dipped my feet in the ocean that day.

I usually spent some time walking, feeling one with nature, collecting some interesting looking shells while I jumped around, trying to escape stepping on small red baby crabs burrowing up from the sand, with the waves lapping at my feet. Climbing down was almost like tumbling down, for the slope was steep.

I strolled around a little bit and turned to climb up, calling it a day. The waves seemed to be coming a little faster. I was halfway up the slope when a large wave came from behind lashing at my body, throwing me face down on the sloping sand bank. I tried straightening, but the wet sand kept slipping under my feet and my body sinking in the wet sand.

As the wave receded, I struggled upright, discovering I had lost one slipper and started groping in the sand to find it. After a while I gave up, realizing the futility of it. Struggling and clawing, slipping and sinking into the wet sand, I somehow reached the top. As soon as I tried to straighten up with my upper body and thighs on top of the sand bank, my lower legs and feet still hanging down, another wave, much more ferocious and higher flung me down again.

Stunned but not beaten by the unexpected second onslaught, I stood up, dusting the sand off my clothes. My bottle of water lay where I had left it. Washing my face, I started for home. Then I realized I was still holding the single slipper in my hand. Not wanting to litter the ocean or the beach I had clung on to it, so inbuilt are certain habits. Seeing a dustbin, I chuckled to myself as I threw the slipper into it, telling myself that being meticulous beyond a point is no great virtue.

Walking back barefoot on the freshly laid melted tar in the torrid heat was a grueling punishment in itself and the dirt and stones on the side of the road made it difficult to walk there too. On reaching home, when I narrated the whole incidence, my niece was horrified and said, “Since nobody was around when this happened, we would never have even known what happened to you, had the waves swept you away. Expert swimmers and fishermen have been swept away.”

That night a few thoughts about what had happened started nibbling at my brain, but I slept deeply after taking a pain killer. My body felt thrashed by the beating it had taken. Next morning my niece said, “Auntie, do you know there were mini-tsunamis rising in the ocean yesterday because of the increased electro-magnetic pull, because the sun, moon and earth were in one straight line?”

It was then that the fear of being swept away and swallowed by the ocean started raising its head. A puny sixty-year-old woman pitted against the monstrous ocean which held the collective power of all the oceans in this world, as its might. I felt like an unarmed soldier come out victorious after a combat with a heavily armed enemy!   

Bio: Dr. Sunil Kaushal, gynaecologist, trilingual writer from India, published globally has won many awards. Her poems have been translated into French, German and Greek also. She has been conferred with multiple awards for literature, writing and her other accomplishments, including The Enchanting Muse Award (International), The Women Achiever’s Award 2019 (hosted by Literoma), Best Lioness President, Asia, among others. Her poems have been featured in the Limca Book of Records as part of the Amravati Poetic Prism2018. Recently the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi recognised her as one of the 150 outstanding poets of India.

Her book of memoirs ‘Gypsy Wanderings & Random Reflections’ has recently been awarded The Nissim Award by The Significant League (International) for its ‘Exquisite prose’. Besides writing she is fond of Sufi music, fine embroidery, sketching, baking and globetrotting.

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