It was perfect. Beaches these days rarely are. What with the swarming crowds and the careless tourists and hotels and water sport agencies. But this time it was perfect. Pristine. Clear blue sky meeting the clear blue sea with the sun shimmering on the endless waters as if it was tasked to make it shine, sparkle, polish. Turn water into silver. Maybe that was the sun’s job.
The pandemic had created this. This beautiful solitude and peace. This fairy land like expanse of sand and sea and the sun and faraway dhows, each idling in the calm sea, social distanced. No tourists, no sellers, no plastic, no noise, no endless camera lenses capturing fake smiles and dolled up faces.
Tiny sparrow like birds fluttering all around. Criss crossing around me, like they showed around the Disney movies’ princesses. Paradise.
And to add to this beauty, was the spirituality of it all. Every beach around kissed by a temple or a mosque. Piety adorning each wall of each structure, as paintings, as inscriptions, as saffron dhoti and “bhasm” donning bearded sadhus sitting cross legged chanting and clicking away at their beaded “malas”. Bhajans and aarti bells filling the air at dawn and dusk and quietening the crashing waves for a little while.
And just like that, I walked on the beach, barefoot, dragging my feet through the shining sand, leaving footprints, scratching my feet over the corralled rocks that hugged the beach. Smiling at the tiny crab like creatures scuttering away from one hole to the other, waking up the sea shelled snails with my crunching footsteps.
Perfect beauty or not?
As I stood there, feet adamantly stuck in the sand between the corals, wading in ankle deep water, staring at the sun, challenging him to break this spell of pure ecstasy, a huge wave crashed in.
I laughed, like a child. I love seeing the white foam on the wave as it forms, like a million water particles getting together for a moment, rushing in, growing tall, just to crash at my feet and go back to being themselves. I laughed.
And then I saw it, a hand, a tiny little hand, just the hand. Bent at the elbow, fingers curled as if they were holding something. Broken, torn away from the larger body. A tiny plastic hand. It lay there, alone, making a small print in the wet sand where the fingers seemed to have clawed to try and stay in the water. In the hope, perhaps of being near to the whole body. Now defeated, lying there against the shining wet sand, in-between two corals. Abandoned. Unscarred but abandoned.
Maybe it belonged to a doll once, a doll that belonged to a little girl. A little girl somewhere far away who had lost a doll who had lost a hand. Torn apart. By the pristine sea? This sea I was just going nuts about? The brutal waves? These waves that had just made me laugh?
I once had a doll, the same size as this one perhaps. Two and a half decades ago. A doll I loved. A doll I carried everywhere. A doll that when squeezed at the tummy sang a rhyme. A rhyme I have forgotten. But a rhyme nevertheless. A doll I cherished because dad had gotten it from the mela, for me, only me. I never got a new toy or new clothes. They were always hand me downs. Not that I minded. So this one was special. This one was mine and mine alone.
And so I carried her everywhere. Hid it in my school bag, put it at the bottom of the “theli” when mom sent me to buy vegetables. Made her sleep next to me on my pillow. She made me feel safe and loved. She was mine as I was hers.
And then one day, the mean floods came. It rained forever. The schools were shut. The shops were shut. The homes were shut. Slowly, outside the window we could see the water rising. I used to stare at the high rises across the street. And wonder if the little girls in there were as scared of the water as I was. I used to clutch my doll close. The food ran out. The drinking water got over. Dad’s worried frown stuck to his forehead. Mom’s nagging and wailing kept getting louder.
And then the radio shouted the worst news ever. “They” had decided to open the dam gates. The dam gates that stopped a mountain of the river just a few miles away from us. Dad started packing whatever he could in the only “peti” we had. Mom began crying. The neighbors around started swimming out, wading out, once scared of the rising water, now frantic…jumping right into it. The fear of the dam gates and the river they stopped was driving everyone crazy. I clutched my doll as dad took the other hand and dragged me out of the only home I had known.
I looked back once and I saw, a wall of water…not unlike the waves, barging in on us. People started shouting…fear in their eyes…some froze…some ran. Dad clutched my hand and started running wading faster…mom followed…. I clutched my doll tighter.
But we couldn’t run fast enough….the angry wall of water caught on to us and didn’t crash…It just carried us apart, one big sweep. One strong big sweep. Like a big hand swooping in little people. The force of the water was tremendous. It broke everything including my dad’s tight clutch of my hand and my hold on my doll.
I saw his eyes, wide open, mouth open, trying to say something…we were afloat…but not for long. The flowing river was throwing us all around. Like my paper boats did when I put it in the flowing stream nearby. I turned to find my doll. I was scared. I wanted her. She would also want me.
And I could see her floating away….parts of her…She was shattered, torn, mutated. Head, torso, arms, legs….all separate now. That is the last memory I have. Of that fateful day. My dad and my doll both drowning in an angry river that was taking a revenge on our town. That and the aghast faces in the windows of the high rises.
Maybe this hand was my doll’s. Two and a half decades later… Maybe it survived. To say goodbye. Who knows?
I bent down and took the hand. Dusted the shining silver sand off it. And tried to put my finger in her clutch. I looked at the innocent sun, playing with the endless sea, making it blush a translucent sparkling silver-blue and muttered “You win”.
**This was written as part of an exercise at Write Club Bangalore at a session on “Dismemberment”