Trying to get 10 people to find a weekend together is probably one of the most demanding holidays I have planned. That sounds wrong on so many levels… Having the word demanding and holiday in the same sentence. But I kid you not, it was. Persistence, a WhatsApp group that many in the group muted (requesting for end-of-week updates once we were together) and several date changes later, we were all booked and ready to go. Now we just had to wait for the date to finally arrive. The week before was probably the slowest in all our lives.
I’ve travelled enough to be able to pack an hour before departure (literally!). And you would think I would be a little less stressed out about getting out of the house. But I have this vague feeling that this trait might stick with me till the day I die.
I wonder what that is all about it. Too much to do, in too little time? Maybe… It’s usually the same things – house key for whoever has been kind enough to stick around with the cat, spare keys to the neighbours, cleaning out the fridge and garbage, ensuring there are some basics for the day we come back, washing the dishes and most importantly – closing out work. That’s probably what hikes the stress levels up. Invariably, something uber important comes at the last minute. That’s life, right?
Finally, we are packed, ready to leave and then, before we know it, we are tucked into our separate compartments in the double-decker sleeper buses. This is my favourite way to travel. I invariably end up cocooning one of my friends and from there on personal space is a thing of the past. The lover in me is always pleased with this bond; it subtly creeps into a relationship. Sleep evades us for the best part. I can taste the excitement in the air. We have, of course, taken over the personal space of our co-travellers, who are both stunned and mildly amused by our palpable zeal.
It’s 6:30 am and the helper shouts out that we have reached the last stop. The door opens and I recognise that it has rained all night. As I step out, I can smell the wet earth. I never tire of the feeling that petrichor arouses in me. If I close my eyes, I imagine I am a plant that grows roots and can imbibe this scent to my core. Make it my whole being.
Gokarna is a temple town in Karnataka that is both a pilgrimage destination and a favourite among travellers for its breathtaking beaches – Kudle, Paradise and Half Moon. The most famous is Om beach named after the shape of the beach.
Situated in the Karwar coast, it is also home to many fishing communities. As we travel through the town centre we see colourful brahmins stepping out of their homes, making a beeline for the numerous temples peppering this quaint town. Their pious demeanour and a nonchalant expression on seeing us is a testament to the huge influx of city folk during the weekends to enjoy the cleansing nature of the ocean.
As we move closer to the ocean I also begin to discern the faint smell of salt. Born and brought up near the ocean, I can feel the child in me emerging, with the taste of salt in the air.
We had to take a tiny trek from the road to the property on the beach. We pass hastily made stiles preventing cows from joining us. Very soon we understood why – we had to walk through paddy fields to reach the shacks we were booked into.
The sight of coconut trees bordering fluorescent green rice fields can bring joy into everyone’s heart. A rudimentary bridge was the final hurdle before our long awaited beach shack.
I was very tempted to dip my feet into the semi-flooded field and test if the fish would nibble at my toes. I would make time for this I promised myself, silently. I turned around to look into the eyes and faces of my fellow travellers. It was, at this moment, that I realised that the logistic nightmare of a few weeks back, was all worth it. The joy in their faces was infectious. There is nothing that connects us to one another than a shared smile. A feeling we sometimes tend to take for granted. Or at least the few lucky ones that are always surrounded by reasons to smile.
One round of coffee, nicotine, shower and we are out and about. The day passed by with lots of laughter, spattered with deep discussions and a renewed sense of togetherness. It is amazing how many layers people tend to shed away on a holiday – where there are no to-do lists, no deadlines, no-carb diets and strict gym/yoga schedules to live up to. Just the repetitive sound of the ocean, our bare feet feeling the sand tickle our toes, the wind making our hair and dresses brush lightly against our skin.
A sense of freedom settled in on all of us. We laughed a little louder, looked each other in our eyes more, shared a moment that we all felt so blessed to be a part of. Everyone looked a little less at their phones, stopped counting the seconds and hours and just let it all flow.
I slipped into a dreamy state and woke up early the next day. I knew that moments of silence would be harder to come by, so I always make it a point to wake up with the sun. Slip away as quietly as possible. Being an extroverted empath is a struggle – always. I am forever troubled by the need to ensure that everyone is involved and in their happy place but I also yearn to make time to absorb everything around me and reflect on the moments of beauty. It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply.
I make my way to the ocean, greeted by one of the shack’s pups. A dog’s abundant joy at seeing a human – any human – always touches me. There is so much we could learn from this species. So much love in such a tiny bundle of fur. After the initial exuberance, she settles into a comfortable gait by my side, not caring that the water is cold.
There were more people than I had wanted to see at the beach, but all quiet and settled into their own rhythms. As I walk towards one end of the beach, I see the beautiful sight of fishermen in a large boat heading back from the ocean.
It is so easy to forget, that these are the men that feed us, when we are in the city and head out to the local store to purchase fish. Their lives – waking up at 4 am in the dark and braving the fury of the ocean – is what brings that lovely sear fish on to my Sunday afternoon lunch.
I see them, all wet from the water, tossing their oars and jumping into the ocean in one swift motion. Even in the mild light and low visibility due to the rains, I can see muscle, wood and water all working together and sometimes against each other to get back on shore. They are so in tune with the rhythm of the water. I can tell they know when to push and when to let the current do its job. There is so much grace in this vision that I feel humble.
My accomplishments and my dreams for myself seem to pale in comparison with what these simple, ‘salt of the earth’ folk have achieved with no formal education (usually a societal must in our culture).
How far have we all moved from the things that really matter? The rhythm that nature has to offer us, the space in our own minds that is unbound and free from any expectation – our own or that of others.
As a third culture child, the best decision I ever made was to settle down in India. Where we have the best of both worlds. Where I can connect with both nature and my inner peace with just a single night of travel. Where I can meet real people who shower us with unbridled care and affection from the early morning cup of coffee, that is at least an hour earlier than the one he makes for himself. Or the persistent warning on the bad decisions we were all making trying to swim in the Arabian Sea during the monsoon. There is an underlying sense of care and comfort in everything that we are given – whether we ask for it or not 🙂
I did, in the end, manage to take some time to dip my feet into the water in the paddy fields. The fish didn’t bite, which was a bit disappointing. You win some, you lose some, right?