Into the sea
Text and pictures by AIHIK SUR
The boat heaved and swayed to the tunes of the breathing sea. The waves crashed onto it as it slammed onto a five feet wave. The wind blew into my face in gusts disheveling my already half unkempt hair. Gathering enough courage, and after getting used to the near-violent swaying of the boat,I let go of the safety rope and dipped my fingers into the sea. My fingers contoured the surface as the boat heaved up and down. The coast then seemed far away, miniature in size and something out of an amusement park model. The sea stretched till the horizon, with the occasional ships and buoys scattered in between. The waves gleamed with a twinkle, and everyone on the boat had a smile on their face. At that moment, in the middle of the sea on a small fisherman’s boat, I felt infinite.
Our trip to Pulicat Lake started an hour late, at 7.30 in the morning. We were six of us — me, Ambika, Aradhana, Adithya, Annu and Ananya. The ride was thoroughly uneventful, with most of us sleepy and hungry. As we neared our destination, the urban cityscape squalor was replaced with a resplendent shade of green. Farm lands stretched for miles on either sides of the road. Small, wild jungles had sprouted in pieces of lands where it had been left for themselves to tend for.
The first sight of the lake was a humbling experience for us. The water seemed shallow, but it was vast in its area. Most of us had done their basic research on Pulicat Lake and all of us knew that it was famous for its migratory birds. “Hey guys!! Is that a stork?” asked an animated Adithya as he pointed out towards the lake where a few birds — white, thin and long legged with long beaks — had conglomerated. His question drew no reply, and I realized that others’ knowledge about birds were as bad as mine.
We finally reached Pulicat at 11 a.m. in the morning. Situated beside the lake, the town is filled with one storey-ed concrete houses painted in once-bright shades which have now faded. The lake, partially dried, evidence to the shortage of water in the area, laid barren in areas revealing plastics and other wasted materials. ‘Parked’ were numerous fishing boats which lay stranded and stuck into the hardened soil.
“Do you know, where we can go for boating?”, asked Ambika in rapid Tamil to a thirty-ish man cycling.
“You can’t mam”, said the man. “There was a boating accident a few months back and someone died. As a result this service has been temporarily stopped.” added he.
This was a major setback to our plan because our adventure trip revolved around this boating trip and because by then we knew that bird watching won’t be such good an idea for two reasons:
1. We didn’t know much about birds.
2. The migratory season was yet to begin.
So we decided to go to Pulicat Beach instead. The road to the beach was more of a clearing with the trees and the shrubs hanging over the road. After 10 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to reach the destination by averting potholes and after banging our head to the roof many times, we reached a clearing which led to the sea.
The sun’s glare was bittersweet. It was glaring on top of our head but it was not uncomfortable. The sea breeze balanced out the heat and injected in a spurge of energy into our sluggish minds. We then started for the sea. The beach was uneven and it was quite a way until the seashore. Adithya and I pushed Ambika’s wheelchair as far as we could and only when it dangerously swerved to a side that we realized that pushing wouldn’t work on a terrain like this.
“I’ll carry you to the beach”, said Adithya.
Ambika, terrified, said, “No! You’ll get hurt. Try pushing once more”.
And after many minutes of cajoling and convincing Ambika that the best way to go is what Adithya proposed, she gave in. Adithya picked up Ambika like a kid picks up her rag-doll and walked on straight to the beach. Bursting into giggles and terrified delight, Ambika had her hands wrapped around Adithya’s neck all the while. Aradhana and I followed behind them carrying her wheelchair. Annu and Ananya tagged along, taking pictures of the beach.
The beach was shabby and desolate. The terrain was uneven and made it tough for walking let alone going about in a wheelchair. We finally saw the sea after walking 5 minutes of laborious walking and carrying.
The sea roared and whooshed as the wind blew the hair out of Aradhana’s face. The water was greenish in colour and the waves were rough. The sky was clear and blue and the two shades seemed distinct when the sea and sky met in the horizon. Fishermen were drawing in their nets after a heavy morning of fishing. Ambika sat on her wheelchair, which was perched on a high sand bar, taking notes. Shells, conches, dead crabs and star fishes were littered on the beach all around. Annu sat on an abandoned fishing boat looking straight ahead onto the sea.
Adithya who was talking to the fishermen, came back after 10 minutes with a smirk on his face. “We are going into the sea with the fishermen”, said he.
The excitement was visible on everyone’s faces. This was way better than boating on a lake half-dry and shallow. The sea seemed to be inviting us with its sweet roar and we were drawn in to the idea of it without any hesitation.
Finally after fifteen minutes, Mohammad Elias, the fisherman, on whose boat we were to go into the sea, pointed towards a boat which sat on the beach kissing the waves and said, “This is it. Come forward, you guys.”
As we sat on the wooden floor of the boat, Md. Elias showed us a thick yellow rope which was attached from one end of the boat to the other. It went straight through the middle and divided the boat into two halves. “Hold that yellow rope tightly”, he said.
Perplexed and slightly amused and pleased at the fact that there won’t be any life jackets. Anyhow, there were 7 other fishermen who were on the boat with us, probably a ‘lifeguard’ of sorts for each one of us separately.
“I hope they don’t sell us to the Sri Lankans”, cried out a terrified Adithya, as the boat was being pushed into the sea from the beach. As the boat hit substantial amount of water the fishermen switched on the boat engine. The boat gained pace as it rode waves and faced them headstrong. One after the other, relentless and powerful, the waves hammered the boat. We were wet by then from the water. The sea breeze grew stronger as we fared more into deeper sea. The sun shone brightly and reflected on the water and the cresecent of the waves glistened like a pearl.
Once we were about a mile into the sea, the fishermen switched off the engine to the boat. And it just swayed like a calm swing on a windy day. Annu who was visibly sick from all the swaying seemed used to it by now. Ananya looked into the horizon, her glasses sprayed with sea water. Aradhana and Ambika were talking to the fishermen in Tamil and Aradhana just seemed to relish the situation. And it was at that moment, with my fingers dipped into the sea water that I felt infinite. I felt like diving into the water, to sync by breaths with the breaths of the sea. To heave and sigh as waves did. To be relentless and unforgiving in a pursuit in the same way they keep on crashing on the banks day in and day out, year after year and for times immemorial.