My first trip to the sea was as an almost-eight year old. My parents, my brother and I went to stay for a few days at Digha, which perhaps is the beach-with-the-most-Bengali-footfalls. In the early 1980s, it was also the only beach-developed-as-a-tourist-destination in West Bengal. We boarded a WBTDC (West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation) bus in the morning, and, after a couple of stops (one for food, one for a breakdown, both accepted as ‘nothing out-of-the-ordinary’), reached Digha after sundown. Though my father took us to the beach and pointed out towards the sea, my journey-tired eyes saw only darkness and heard a muffled, equally-repeated roar – my first sea-sensation.
The next morning, after an impatient breakfast at the guest-house where we were staying, we went down to the sea, carrying towels and expectations. And though I think we lost the towel during our stay there, my expectations were more than met.
Digha is a very ordinary beach along the Bay of Bengal – brown waters, small waves, brown sands. Nowadays it is spoilt by erosion and by hordes of hooligans who go there to get always-drunk and sometimes-drowned.
But in the early eighties, there weren’t too many people around. The repeated roar of the sea was companioned by the ceaseless whispering of the casuarina and pine trees lining the beach. The middling brown waves thrilled my new-to-the-sea eyes and I loved jumping up along the wave’s curve in waist-deep water, before the foam broke some distance away and rush-rolled onto the sand. My brother was too young to enjoy the challenge of the waves, though, and started screaming when I went into the water, fearing maybe that I would drown.
The brown sands were prettified by thousands of tiny, pastel-patterned shells in pink, yellow, peach and green – all scattered here and there for me and bhai (brother) to find and hoard.
Mornings were for bathing and building sand-hills-and-caves. In the evenings, we would stroll on the beach, collecting shells, drinking coconut-water, watching the sun set slow-and-orange into the sea. And sit quietly, gazing out into the distance, wondering about the other shores that the water touched, feeling the cool-salty breeze, listening to the loud-faint-loud-faint rumble of the sea…till it became too dark to see the waves.
That sound stayed with me, captured in a large, orange, conch-shaped sea-shell (purchased, not collected). We did not have a camera, so there are no photographs of that trip, only seashells and memories.
WHEN DID THE SEA FIRST CAST ITS SPELL ON YOU?