Almost, mainly because his mobile phone buzzed. It was a message from Sreeshma. “Starting from Office. Should take an hour”, read the message. Reality always had a way of interrupting every serene moment of life. His thoughts wandered over to Sreeshma. They were engaged and were to be married in five months. They had been colleagues and after common friends and known family circles came into the picture, it was not long before Mukundan, found that he had to change from being a friend to a fiancée. Sreeshma seemed much more comfortable with the sudden changes that swept their lives than Mukundan, who was still learning to cope with it.
The waves were relatively calm today and Chennai seemed calmer and cooler than usual. A few children jumped vigorously into the incoming waves and splashed hard. As he wet his feet, he turned back and looked at the beach. He was unsure of what was tormenting him, but he knew it was mainly because he was not sure of what love was like. There were a lot of couples on the beach. Some seated very intimately, happy in each others embraces, some holding hands and some just sat together and looked deep at the ocean as some words would slip their mouth ever so often. He wondered whether all of them deeply loved each other. Had all of them found true love,or is that they had submissively resigned to the fact that fate had brought them together and were now playing their parts, honestly and devotedly aspiring for perfection in their pretense.
In his childhood, he had often visited the beach with his father and they used to walk the stretch of the coastline from Ashtalakshmi temple, past Velankanni Church till the fisherman huts and back. There never used to be so many people back then and certainly never so many people in love. It was as if, like changing times the people of the conservative city had suddenly embraced romance and decided that love was the toast of the season.
Mukundan had got a better job in Parrys and it had been Sreeshma who convinced him that, he should take it up. So he had shifted, while she continued to work at his old office in Nungambakkam. The two of them met every two or three days at the beach and for Mukundan, he did not know whether he genuinely looked forward to it, or was it that it had become a part of their routine lives. He did not know, but the thought of walking by the sea shore always gave the necessary impetus to the outing from his side.
A distant ship moved on the horizon. It's red body floating on the water just at the horizon. It seemed like a mirage to him. As if the sky was infusing blood into the earth. As he looked from side to side, he could see the whole expanse of the sea and feel the roundness of the earth. He felt small and little, a small inconsequential part of a much larger elaborate, intricate and frustratingly complex design, but one that still worked. He thought about walking in the water again, when his mobile started to ring.
“Where are you ?. I just reached. I'm on the road, near the police check post.”, she said. Mukundan started walking in her direction, lifting his sandals in his hand, trudging his wet feet along the sand. She was smiling and waving as their eyes met. She was wearing that same green churidhar that she had worn two weeks back. She walked towards him and they met near one of those little makeshift shops that dotted the beach, selling bajjis and chutney. He always thought that though the bajjis were tasty, those shops themselves took away the serenity of the beach.
“I almost got delayed. You remember Nandan.? He is leaving in a week and they were planning a team outing.”. Mukundan nodded. He remembered Nandan telling him, of wanting to shift to Bangalore.
“Well! Not surprising. He had talked to me about leaving.” “Oh!. He told you. You never told me.”, she queried. Mukundan bit his lip. He smiled and muttered “Well!, I guess it skipped my mind”.
“Anyway, come let's walk”, she said as she wound her hands around his elbow, leaning ever so delicately on his shoulder. The sky was now turning a shade darker and brighter, as if the sunlight had anticipated it's death for the day and was shining brightly as it's clutches loosened upon the sky. Mukundan's heart raced. He wanted to be near the sea again. He wanted to feel again that last bit of solace that the sea offered him, to breathe in the air near the waves and touch the wet sand with his feet once again.
“Slow down! I'm tired, I can`t run”, she said. He controlled his urges, as he slowed down his steps and tried not to think about the nature that engulfed him. They had but walked a few more steps, when she remarked, “This should be fine. Let's sit here.”. “Don`t you want to see the waves.?”, he asked with an hesitant air. “No! Come let's sit down. Look at all the people around and feel the love.”, she replied, with a distinct naughtiness in her eyes.
“I wonder whether all these people here are sitting in love. Some of it might just be lust.”, he sighed. She laughed aloud as she untied her hair and let it loose. It waved and flowed in the breeze. She looked beautiful and he realized, he was staring at her. “Well! Lust is always there, all around, but so is love.”. “Sreeshma, tell me, what is love?. Is it the knowledge about a loved one. Is it being witness to a loved one's life or are we all actors playing our roles, you know like the Shakespeare Poem – 'All the World's a Stage'. What is it, in your opinion.? ”, he blurted out
“Wow!, so you have been giving this a lot of thought haven`t you ?.”. She sensed a feeling of desperation in Mukundan's voice and was hurt by it. “Don`t you love me? Don`t you experience love?, and you still dont know what it is”. Mukundan dragged his feet on the sand, as his mind was filled with remorse. He had noticed a hint of sadness and anger as her voice trailed. He looked at the waves and the children far ahead, sighed and then turned back to look at her.
“Sreeshma, I 'm sorry if I hurt you, but I have these doubts and who else can I ask but you ?”, he said, looking into her deep eyes. He still did not want to tell her that he loved her, not without full conviction.
“It`s ok.”, she smiled. “I guess I over reacted”. The darkness had set in and with the first rays of moonlight trickling in, the tide started to rise and the breeze was faster, saltier and seemed to attain an aura of earthy benevolence as it embraced them all around.
The moments lingered as the beach slowly started getting accustomed to the slow darkness that pervaded the atmosphere. Sreeshma was quiet and kept looking at the horizon. She seemed to be lost in thought, which was quite uncharacteristic of her. She ran her fingers through the sand as if she were wading in the water. She then suddenly turned and remarked, “Tell me, what do you feel about love. ? Since I'm sure you must have reached here early as usual. I guess you thought about it a lot. So tell me what are those doubts.? Let's hear them”. She smiled when she saw that Mukundan was surprised.
“I accept that love is still some sort of an enigma as far as I am concerned.”, said Mukundan, as he looked into her eyes and at her fingers which were still playing in the sand. “Think about it. The world is such a big place, with lots and lots of people. Does everyone fall in love. Does everyone have a partner.? Even when one finds a partner, how does he know that he can truly love her.? What if it is just lust.?”. Sreeshma was quiet and looked at the waves in the distance and slowly inched closer to Mukundan. The air was a little cooler and darker around. “Continue!”, she said, her words revealing a sense of interest in her voice.
“I am just thinking that we humans naturally submit to destiny and place our faith in our lives and believe that what we have found is love. We perhaps never know love in it's purest form. I was just wondering about this. Only wanted to know your opinion. Not that I suspected your intentions ever”.
Sreeshma sighed,took a deep breath. Her eyes glistened in the moonlight. She finally turned to Mukundan, looked into his eyes and patted his shoulder. “I guess these thoughts are bound to happen. Marriage is a big decision and it is bound to cause turbulence in our minds. I too had my doubts, but truth is that every single day, my view becomes clearer and clearer. It is perhaps like the sea. The farther we go from the coast, the calmer, more serene and more deep are the waters.”
Farther away, a couple closely embraced each other. Mukundan and Sreeshma glanced at them and then smiled at each other. “What is life and nature if man and woman did not allow themselves to be carried away by the natural instincts that god has bestowed upon them. Lust, though I believe, is just one dimension of love. You remember, Nandan used to have this concept of Marriage.?”. “Oh yes”, recalled Mukundan. “Nandan and his wisecracks. I remember, he said Marriage is like an housing loan. Like how you initially pay interest more and then slowly principal starts becoming greater, likewise as marriage progresses lust diminishes and love increases.”. Both of them laughed, as they recalled those moments in the cafeteria long back.
“Though it was a weird joke, back then, now that I think of it, there was some sense to it”. “How.?” Mukundan, looked intrigued. . “Because, I don't believe in love at first sight. For me, love is an ongoing process, a never ending journey into the wide open sea. You keep exploring, keep learning about your loved ones, discovering all that is there to discover. Yes fate brings us together and we set sail. Sometimes our journeys don't end well, but that did not necessarily stop ships from setting sail again. We have to have faith, in ourselves, in our loved ones, in our love.”. Sreeshma, then turned and and took Mukundan's hands in her palms. “I have been discovering you, learning about you and loving you as we make this journey together. I know there might be moments when things may not feel right for both of us, but let us have faith. Let us keep learning. I can wait for you, as I am still learning every single day to love you”.
The full moon now looked resplendent in all it's glory and shone on both their faces. “Thank you, Sreeshma. I don't know why, but that is reassuring.” His tone, tranquil and relaxed. “Come let's leave. We will get late”, he said as he got up, dusted his pants and lend his hand to Sreeshma.
“No! Wait.”, she said as she got up and smiled naughtily at him. “Not before we go and touch the waves. I know you have been dying to go do that. I can see it in your eyes”.
“Sreeshma, you...”. He was pleasantly surprised and suddenly his eyes welled up with tears. He embraced her and gasped as the words “I love you”, escaped his mouth.
Hand in hand, they walked towards the sea. The silent dark sea, seemed to welcome them with the salty cool breeze, the musical humming and the colorful streak of moonlight that lay scattered on it's surface. The waves beckoned to them with their white surf upon the dark brown sand. They rushed to touch the waves.
P.S : This story, I dedicate to Suchithra, my loving wife, for persisting upon me to start writing again.
Paintings Courtesy : "Framed Painting Litchfield Beach", by Mimi Gula (http://mimigula.com/), "Marina Beach, Chennai", by Ramesh Jhawar (http://www.rameshjhawar.com/), "All Luvved up Seascape Painting", By Stuart Kirby (http://www.itsromanticpaintings.co.uk/)