I walk down to Juhu Beach, Mumbai, down the back road to the entrance that leads to fewer cricket and football games on the beach, the area where there are more fishing boats offshore, where the shore is less beach and more rock. I walk past the usual traffic, dodging a vehicle coming from behind me and over here, a motorcyclist coming straight at me until he turns away at the very last moment. It’s fairly busy for an evening, this back road. Someone behind me taps me lightly but just as I guessed, he doesn’t need anything from me, he’s just trying to quickly walk past. By now, after a few months in India and after having lived in New York for half my life, I’ve realized that it’s not that a sense of personal space doesn’t exist in India. It’s simply that the sense of personal space, or distance, is different in India compared to the United States. Neither ones trumps the other, it just depends on one’s accustomed level of cultural and spatial comfort.
The back road has a couple of vegetable carts, a general store with numerous cats snoozing on the porch, crows cawing loudly above, and a man on a bicycle with about fifteen empty, commercial-sized water bottles strapped to the bicycle’s carrier. On the left, by a vegetable stand, I see a man raising his hand, a stone in it, toward a medium-sized, black dog not far from him. The dog is cowering. It backs away from the man – a sixty-something year old man, big forehead, beady eyes, a black, dyed mustache and dyed black hair combed back with enough oil to make his forehead shine. The man raises the stone again, the dog backs away again, continuing to cower. It appears to be a game for the man, an amused look on his face. I’m bothered by it but I keep walking. I’m concerned he’s going to strike the dog, not sure if he’ll do it or what the story is over here. It makes me want to stay and see what he’s going to do.
As the man moves close to the dog, his hand raised and the stone in it, I realize I have to say or do something if he strikes the dog. The dog backs away from the man again. The man notices I’ve stopped to look and smiles at me with amusement. A bizarre spectacle. I decide I’m not going to wait and see if he’s going to strike the dog. I go up to him and ask him, politely,
“You’re not going to throw that stone on the dog, are you?”
“No, it’s my dog. I’m going to church and he follows me to church until I give him a biscuit. This is our daily game, man,” he says to me in English, in a Koli Catholic accent punctuated with a lisp. Kolis, both Hindu and Christian, are a fishing community and the original inhabitants of Mumbai. “Holy Cross Church I’m going to. Same story every day with him.”
“How old is he? What’s his name?” I ask.
“He’s five, six years old. Shadow, because he follows me everywhere. You see? He always follows me.”
As we talk, the dog comes closer. I pet him, he’s enjoying the love. Five, six-year old Shadow. Nuzzling up against my leg. White paws, whitened from age. I introduce myself to the man. Clement Fernandes, he responds.
“Don’t pet him,” he cautions me. I continue petting Shadow, who’s now turning this way and that so I can get that spot.
The street traffic continues unabated, most of it navigating away from us, except one red car that comes dangerously close. As I take hold of Shadow’s collar to guide him away from the street, he lightly mouths my hand, with perfectly managed bite control, not enough to tear skin or leave an imprint but just enough pressure to say Don’t touch my collar. Instinctively, I know that this dog has been hit or yanked before. I let go of Shadow, he moves to the side of the street to sniff a potted plant in front of a shop.
Clement Fernandes asks me if I’m going to church as well. I say no, I’m going to the beach. He apologizes for Shadow nipping me. Not a problem, I say. And, I’m on my way. And that’s that. Shadow and Clement.
The beach is not too busy, the sand is wet, suitable more for bare feet, not for the flip-flops I’m wearing. Planes taking off overhead, departing from the nearby Santacruz airport. Below me, tiny holes in the sand from where little crabs and other marine life emerge early morning and late at night, when humans aren’t around. Some garbage on the rocks, broken beer bottles. A small crab darts below a rock, into a pool of water, at the sound of approaching footsteps.
In the distance, the sun is setting. The sky is a mix of light blue and orange and purple, and the approach of dark. On the left, a fishing boat is moored not too far offshore. A white and red striped fishing boat with a couple of flags. Further away, another fishing boat, also moored, also with flags, painted in saffron, white and green – the colors of the Indian flag. And a blue and white striped fishing boat. Far off on the left, the most beautiful boat this evening – a solitary, tiny red boat rocking gently in the Arabian Sea, anchored to a bigger boat. Forward, way off on the horizon, the sun moves down, moving into someone else’s daylight.
On the right is a long, curved pier – families taking an evening stroll, a little girl showing off a cut paper flower to her big sister, a cyclist trying to navigate through the walking families and getting cursed out a couple of times. Designer puppies being walked by their working class handlers. Fawned over by the walking families, not getting cursed out. And people taking photos of each other against the departing sun.
By the edge of the water, where it’s craggy and there’s no sand, a young man is taking selfies with the sun. A couple of minutes here. The sun leaves. The young man leaves. Day ends here, a new day somewhere else. The sun is gone, all that’s left behind is the most beautiful force, the most beautiful thing. Waves of sea water, operating with an energy of their own, moving on a force of their own, touching the shore and going back to where they came from.
Touching the shore and going back to where they came from.
Touching the shore and going back to where they came from.
Bigger than everything. Bigger than the rocks they touch, bigger than stones in men’s hands, bigger than people and dogs and animals on land and animals that live in the sea. Bigger than the experiences on the shore and far away from the shore, in cities and villages where people and other beings live. Bigger than all of human experience.
Waves of sea water, touching the shore and going back to where they came from.
Uncontrolled. Beyond power, beyond free, beyond you and beyond me.
Beyond everything we feel, beyond everything we see.
Beyond everything we seek to be.
Waves of sea water, touching the shore and going back to where they came from. Back and forth and back again. Beyond you, and beyond me.
Happy are the sailors, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.