Last evening I was overcome by an urge to eat chana masala, the buttery over-spicy type, all covered with raw mango chunks and unidentified (but delicious) stuff on top. The Juhu beach variety. And while at it, bring on a naariyalpaani as well. Why not I asked myself (and oh forgive me for even having to ask in this day and age of the liberated woman et al but I did anyway).
My first thought when I got into the auto was “I don’t think I’ve ever been to the beach by myself…well, not in ages anyway.” Oddly enough I’ve almost perfected the practice of shopping on my own, solitary book-browsing, sipping a glass of wine at a table for one and buying a single movie ticket. I do all of these by myself and even the pride and novelty have worn away and they’ve become routine leisure activities for holidays and weekends.
The beach is one of my favorite places in the world. Bangalore can keep its pubs and Delhi can flaunt its lavish lifestyle. But neither one has aamchi Mumbai’s beach. Yes, I know that Juhu and Chowpatty don’t boast miles and miles of sunbathing bikini-clad bodies reclining on golden sand. You don’t come to Juhu beach expecting Baywatch, you come because it’s a Mumbai beach.
For a crowded, overpopulated, dizzy-with-its-neon-lights city like Mumbai, the beach is about the only place for a lot of people. A refuge for those who crave proximity to nature. A haven for parents with restless kids and no open spaces. An oasis of relief for lovestruck couples with zero privacy and permission to love from their families. The only option for those who can’t afford to frequent malls and multiplexes (which is pretty much a major chunk of the city’s population).
Many, many memories have I of this very beach.
Driving in a plastic spade to empty into a matching bucket (aged 6). An early morning visit with my childhood chums the day after our final exams, valiently ferried by my father. We built a castle with a moat around it, then waged a war over the moat, tried to destry our respective works and ended up with what we unanimously call a ‘swimming pool’. Flashback to the photographs (some black-and-white) taken on this beach, in the water, on the sands, with my family, with friends.
‘Hanging out’ at the beach with my newfound college gang. Eating panipuris and golas, and groaning at the mortification of spotting one’s crush a few feet away while clad in stained tee-shirt and involved in extremely uncool activity of gola-guzzling. Sucking on imli for comfort on the walk back to the main road. The one birthday celebration (eighteen) that ended on the beach because I insisted on it. Photographs with our wind-blown hair topping smart party clothes, a snazzy bag cradling a bhelpuri plate. A lot of laughter and fun.
The long walks and talks and much else with the ex-best friend/ex-boyfriend/ex-love of my life. Oasis for penniless students, isn’t it? Ask anyone who grew up in this city…you haven’t been a teenager in Mumbai unless you’ve kissed on the beach.
More recently, another birthday celebrated with a solitary walk on this very beach. (So yes, it’s not my first time, just the first in a long time). I had had a very bad year and my birthday signalled a new start. As my spirits soared (as they do every single time I catch sight of the sea), I knew I’d be alright. I am a Cancerian through and through. A different person, a completely new being when near the water. Moonlight helps.
Not much else have I to add here, except that visiting the beach always has the effect of cleaning away all my worries. Maybe it’s just the open air, maybe it is the proximity to the water. Perhaps it’s just that looking into a horizon unfettered by any manmade structure and a sky with stars visible in it reminds of how much bigger, more awesome and breath-taking is the universe than the tiny cocoon of daily annoyances and joys that I call my life. Maybe it is the thought that even in such a crowd, I have a place in this vast universe.
I had a lovely evening at the beach.