Thursday, October 4, 2007

Beached whale blues

My third step on Marina Beach ended in a semi-concealed pile of two-day old vomit. This was largely symbolic of the way things were going. The current holiday to Chennai (or what used to be Madras) wasn’t turning out to be the exotic, battery charging sojourn I had hoped.

For one thing, half my luggage had refused to disembark the connecting flight, deciding to spend its vacation in Goa instead. Then I learned that Reema, the only person I knew there, lived half a day’s drive away in a city with perhaps the most fine-tuned traffic jams in the country. And now here I was, standing ankle deep in the remains of someone else’s indigestion.

A stroll down Marina beach in the evening has been described by many a travel guide as the highlight of every Chennai trip. Looking around the panorama, I had to ask myself one question: Did they ethically deserve to be in print? Even if you did manage to dodge the vomit booby traps, didn’t have your picnic held hostage by a gang of marauding crows or weren’t hit on the head by a well-aimed ‘stray’ football, whatever you were left with wasn’t much of a beach. The sea, for one, was this unique shade of gray, best described as the only conceivable chromatic counterpart to its smell. There were no coconut palms, and there was no sunset, for the beach faced east. Dusk was no orange fireball’s theatrical demise, just a bland, boring sumo-wrestling exhibition between two gray giants – the ocean and the sky. When they weren’t piddling in it, kids in varying stages of nakedness squealed their Tamil
squeals and ran in and out of the water, competing to fish out the most interesting piece of washed up garbage.

In the usual rosier frame of mind, I would have found all this colic-inducingly hilarious. But not today, when a place just as chaotic, restless and confused existed in my skull. The past few weeks had been amongst the worst in my life. I’d been wrenched by as bitter and unexpected a breakup as I believed possible. I was having grave doubts about my vocation, my place in the family, and at times even my sanity. A healing getaway, I thought, would be in order. But this definitely wasn’t it. The worrying part was I didn’t have a clue what would have been.

I felt like the loneliest, most stupid and rejected person alive. Then just when I was about to cry

“You know, I’ve been ripped to shreds ever since my boyfriend broke up with me. I hate my job so much. And sometimes, at night, I get so scared that I might be going crazy” Meera said, perched next to me in the sand.

And then, as if on cue, Marina Beach switched on its lighthouse, and called home shoals of sardine-shaped fishing boats. Stalls materialized from thin air, selling salvation disguised as coconut water, cold drinks and coffee. Magic and telepathy mingled with the fried fish and Tamil film songs in the air, turning Meera into the one person giving perfect answers to questions I’d framed but would never ask. I looked
at her face, and saw creases of worry bobbing up and down like marker-buoys on a face she tried to keep a smiling sea. The breeze, observing she felt alone too, half-pushed my elbow up against hers and made us hold mental hands.

Things were so different now from before. I saw kids sprinting out of the sea into waiting, warm towels held by mothers eager to dry them off. Crabs scuttled out of holes my gloom had kept me blind to earlier on, probably venturing in search of sustenance and sex. And then, in a final gesture of spirit bandaging, Marina sent forth one of her most loyal subjects: the parrot/guinea pig fortune teller.

Clad in a diaphanous kurta with an Iron Maiden t-shirt clearly visible underneath, for a measly fifty rupees, he offered me a choice between having my tale told by a bird or a rodent. I chose the former, and looked on in awe as the green critter strutted out of its cage, sized me up for a few seconds, picked a card from the stack piled up in front of it, and then obediently walked back in. The teller fished out a seedy looking book and read from it, becoming the bridge between a piece of cardboard and everything I needed to hear. In Tamil. Once again Reema proved she was my savior in the here and now – she translated.

As we got up to leave, a middle-aged couple asked me to take a few pictures of them standing arm in arm in the surf. Paying homage to Marina Beach, I made sure that one of them also featured a skinny little naked boy gleefully leaping into the frame.


Ga-Joob said...

Good stuff sir! Though, i still regard Chennai as the arsehole of the Earth. Good luck with post break-up blues... it seems to be in the air these days.


The Red Queen said...

So are we seeing anything else from you yet? Or have you discarded this old thing?