The waves accepted Vidhi just the way she was: without any discernment and contempt. Do the waves and the like provide more solace and comfort to us than the world around us?
By Bhumika R | Illustration by Manpreet Chadha
Rows of hotels with flashy signboards and neatly painted exteriors lined the beach road. A little further across the lane, small tin-roofed and blue plastic sheet roofed dhabas, closet aligned to each other and resembling cubicles, neither seemed bothered about the incessant yelping of hungry puppies nor by the unending and loud arguments of some customers who sat eating and talking. The ones at the counters of these dhabas simply did not seem to care about it as they went about smearing generous amounts of butter on slices of bread which were lined next to each other just like the dhabas. They went about toasting bread and wrapping them in thin slices of spice-laden omelette, brewing tea in aluminium pans and then pouring them into thumb-sized paper cups, and selling a bidi or toffee lying inside glass jars with round plastic lids. Milk tea and black tea were being ordered almost simultaneously by the customers. Even before one took a sip or two, the thumb-sized cups would be emptied of tea and left one wondering and embarrassed whether they drank a bit too fast or too much.
The fourth cubicle sized dhaba with a middle-aged couple at the counter was quiet. It seemed as if no one had bothered to notice its existence. Vidhi, a lone customer at the dhaba, sat sipping her cup of tea on a narrow wooden bench. Neither she nor the middle-aged couple at the counter seemed to care about the presence of each other. They just simply seemed to cohabit that dhaba, insulating themselves from anything beyond themselves. The middle-aged woman wrapped a slice of toasted bread with an omelette and placed it in front of their lone customer.
Unlike the other dhabas, there were no shiny plastic packets sealed with air and chips hung on a plastic twine thread. Toast and omelette had to be eaten without the crunch of chips between the slices of bread. There was a thin twine of plastic that ran between the two ends of the pole upon which the tin roof and blue plastic sheet were covered. Instead of crunchy chips, six or seven tiny pouches of shampoo were hung with small plastic clips. Vidhi who had just lost her lone customer status seemed unperturbed by any of the occurrences around her or about the presence of another customer in the same dhaba. She ordered her fifth cup of thumb-sized tea and sat with her back turned towards the kerosene stove at the dhaba. Vidhi did not seem to be in any kind of hurry. Either she was feeling lazy or was simply tired or had actually nothing else to do that day. Her ill-fitting, blue coloured, baggy t-shirt fluttered as a breeze blew from the sea across the tall building opposite the dhaba.
The sharp noon sun rested on her hair quite comfortably. A strand of grey shone beneath the thick mixed tinge of black and brown hair which she had neatly tied up in a bun-shaped knot. Perhaps the sticky, salty air of the humid coastal town necessitated it. Somehow, a thin strand or two of grey hair seemed eager to be noticed as they lay in between the brownish-blackish hued hair of that until recently a lone customer at dhaba number four on the beach road.
The half grey, half mossy green waves with random streaks of blue in between, crashed on the shore and receded monotonously. A small group of crabs seemed irritated with the waves crashing onto the shore and intruding into their homes and privacy. Little did the waves care whether someone was delighted with their existence or irritated or even angry.
Conversations seemed easier with the waves. They heard it all with (seemingly) rapt attention. They even listened to unspoken, soundless words. Vidhi walked on the grainy sand on the shore. It was only slightly ahead of the cubicle like dhaba. She felt nicer to not be scrutinised by anyone, either a stranger or familiar face.
The waves calmed the chaos that had stifled her through the day. She walked aimlessly on the grainy, smooth sand on the seashore. Evening conversations with the waves might be nicer and exciting, she thought. They never mocked or rebuked her. The waves just let her be, listened and spoke with her in a language that she deciphered.
A bored fortune teller, jhalmuri wallah, mirchi pakodewallah, ghodawallah, chaiwallah dada, spoke with the sea while no one else heard them uttering anything. Crashing and receding rhythmically, the waves listened to it all, even the unsaid and unspoken words.
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A Ph.D from JNU, New Delhi, Bhumika P. taught English in Surana College, Bangalore and IIT Jammu. She has also contributed articles to Cafe DissensusEveryday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She loves to write poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse, platocavesonline; her short story ‘Nameless’ has been published in the borderlessjournal. Bhumika is currently an assistant professor in the school of humanities at Shiv Nadar University, Bangalore.