I spent a couple of months in the latter half of 2011 living in a shack in a beach town called Puri. It was an interesting time. Living alone, working half the day and having the rest of the time to myself to swim if I wanted to, watch groups of tourists, pilgrims, locals, resident fishermen. I noticed the flow of tourists - seeing a group for a few days and then not seeing them anymore. And then another group on a different weekend and so on. I also noticed the presence of the local vendors. The regular sellers of badaam and tea and cutlets, the familiar voices carried by the breeze. Constant in their presence. I read occasionally, sometimes I stared out into the sea at the lights on ships far off the coast and tracked their movement across the horizon. I was lucky to have that chance. I found something I had written during that time. To me it is a great indication of what moved me the most amongst all the things I saw and experienced there.
As the afternoon disappears into evening I decide to walk off to the beach. The wind has turned chillier by a few degrees than when I’d first gotten here; about a month ago. I put on a light sweatshirt and flip flopped onto the sand past through the gate that opens onto the beach from my hotel. My aim is to see the day turn to night on the beach, to see how the colours drain from the sky, the sea, the tiny thatched roofed stalls selling tea and biscuits and the boats lined up on the sand. I’ve missed sitting out on on the beach these past few evenings and I feel like I need a refresher on the transition of afternoon to dusk to night.
Usually I head out every day to my chosen tea stall for a few cups of tea. I prefer it for its isolated location away from the other stalls with fluorescent tube lights that jar the darkness on the beach as night falls. The stall owner, an old man, who knows my routine rather well now, prefers kerosene lamps and I find the orange glow from the naked flames a more preferable a punctuation to the evening darkness as the sun sets far on the horizon.
Today though, I do not head to the tea stall right away. It still is light and I prefer to sit on the sand a few meters from where the surf dies, peters out into a thin film and the residual water recedes into the sea only to break a swell into a wave tumbling over itself roaring and splashing its way towards the beach, towards me. There has been a steely winter haze blurring the view out from the beach. It forms a solid mass of grey melting boundaries of sea and sky making either indistinguishable from the other - surprisingly, the haze is absent today. In fact the air is crisp and the horizon is clearly marked out. From where I sit on the sand, I see the swells rise slowly and gradually roll towards the shore – they seem bottle green in colour as they rise. Further in the distance the sea swells gently, the water assumes a deeper blue colour. The wind buzzes past my ear, a sound constant in its presence but variable in its intensity. It’s like having an open window in a car speeding on a highway. I look searchingly for the sun light as it gradually dims and steals away from the sand, from the darker deeper waters far in the distance and the boats that are lined up next to where I’m sitting. But, the surf, the milky white frothing surf, captures tiny minute shades of orange as the waves tumble and roar eventually dying out on reaching the shore. For a minute I think I’ve imagined up the colour, the almost imperceptible traces of orange on the white froth. And yet again the next minute it seems very tangibly real. My eyes deceive me. The sun has disappeared off the horizon and there are little flecks of orange still lingering around as if fighting the arrival of night.