Puri & the Pacific
We Bengalis swear by Puri when it comes to the sea. For us, Darjeeling is the highest among hills. Our world and its wonders are gauged and judged against these metrics. Thus, when I landed on the Pacific coast this summer, naturally I wondered whether it would match our Puri. And I wondered aloud..
To put things in perspective; I am part of the global software trade. There is nothing much global about the hourly hack at office, but that broad, general tone sounds sublime. I am among the underlings who deal directly with the machine, and we give poor computers the hardest time we can. Now and then come summons to the New World, we reach helter-skelter. After few months of consummate slogging, it is back to square one; and then again an encore.
The Bear Trail
Seattle I Know
Arabian Nights & Dates
South by Virginia
Land of Rising Sun
The U.S.of A. seemed to be moving around Memorial Day. Orange, or some such alert, coloured the show and they searched me to the skin before boarding. After a short flight I landed at San Jose, without an assault on public or private weal. I was received by the husband of my sister, the right honorific Jamai-Babu (or the alliterative Jijaji, if you prefer) and along with him, Aarushi. Aarushi remains my singular niece, and she bears the mantle with grace. Aarushi (the name, that is) was culled after much research and Google search; it means the first rays of sun. Near about her arrival, it was raining buckets at Pune, but then, on the morning of her birth, clouds cleared and the sun smiled sweetly. Her name was poetic justice.
Aarushi immediately announced,"Mummy is cooking chicken for you". On the way home Jijaji and I discussed cricket, the Indian economy and my project. Upon reaching, Rupadidi greeted the return of the prodigal brother! On the lines of Ray's Agantuk, I countered in jest that I was neither repentant nor wasteful. And then we settled down to dinner. It was a sumptuous meal made tastier by all the gossip we gobbled. I commended the cooking and the welcome break after months of self help.
We started planning next morning. I hoped to see the Pacific this time as that would close the trinity for me. The Indian and the Atlantic oceans, I had already bathed and gazed at, in that order. So, Pacific ho! was the cry. .
Joined by other friends of my hosts, our convoy went north from Santa Clara, cleaving up the Silicon Valley. Great names dotted the road; super shops had hawked their wares here. Slump had seemingly hit hard, lights burned lightly at some places; at others only the wicks withered. Those who lived to fight another day, bragged so in their banners. Santa-Clara, Sunnyvalle, Cupertino, Mountain-View; these hamlets hosted wholesome hope in the nineties. Many Indians had flocked and settled here; exuding desi aroma and the eternal American dream. Suddenly Stanford University sped past us in arboreal aura.
We followed Freeway 1 along the coast of California. Intersticed by the sea and shore, the turns were tortuous and the declines downy. This differs much from the typical American highway, there is less of speed and more of saga.
The Californian coast is hilly here. Cliffs rose seemingly to the sky in giant crescendo, falling to the sea. The occasional beach peeped but without endless miles of sand. We were headed towards Point Reyes to an old light-house. The Pacific hemmed our way. Yet there was no hint of the sea; a misty veil engulfed us, our sight and our senses. This side of California is often foggy, water and wind play duet nearly all year around.
A signboard announced we had reached Point Reyes. Parking our cars, we walked towards the actual point. The path looked gently steep and fog lay all around. We were being lead slightly ahead of the adjoining coastline, the land jutted into the sea like a shark fin. The rumble of waves against the rocks sounded like clouds on a distant night. This sound reached us from the base of the cliffs far below; we heard a little, imagined the rest. But we felt a presence, something dense and deep surrounded us. We could only see few feet around, but sight or the lack of it, didn't matter much. It seemed a strange stunt, Pacific so near, yet so obscure.
A fog-cloaked Kanchenjungha at Darjeeling had long been my idea of romance. However, I never had never pre-supposed such vapoury vanishing of the ocean. Was there a hint of the dark blue waters, was that the Pacific quivering in the winds? Was it only my wild imagination?
Aarushi had slept all the way strapped safely in her child seat. She suddenly woke up and asked, "Where is the sea?"
"Why," I said, a trifle flustered, " it is all around us!"
She snubbed me, "But where is the water?" I kept quiet, quelled. True, there were imputations of water galore, but no water to be seen. I had often wondered earlier, how Beethoven or Binodebehari lived beyond the worlds of silence and darkness, in their creative cosmos. An answer perhaps flitted past there, amidst the filling fog and ceaseless sea. Maybe, our mind too has eyes, like the body!
The trail ended in a tumble of steps. Three hundreds stairs went down to the sea, to the lighthouse doors. These waters are notorious for fog and many a ship has met its rocky rupture. From 1870, this lighthouse beckoned voyagers to safety. It still does, but more for heritage than help; as ships, like children, are smarter now. They have technology. Usually the sentinel is open to be admired by a paying public, but only when the mist is not as much. But today it was mucher than the usual much and entry was denied. Jijaji said, Oh! we missed it, the lighthouse. I was not particularly perturbed, for we also missed what Man sought to tame through this brick, wood and lamp, the Pacific too. Seeing is not just the sight of it.
But Jijaji's qualms continued, for we hadn't seen the sea. He said we would head to a real beach. He added, "In this Golden State, the beaches are a sight."
San Gregorio State Beach lay along Freeway 1, but further down south. The air cleared and whetted as we neared, with a distinct tang. Point Reyes seemed lost like the limbo between sleep and sense. We took a turn and I started at the blue, beaming delight: the Pacific. We had reached San Gregorio.
Even the sky in its boundless blue seemed to have joined the sea, for fear or fealty. The absolute azure hurt the eyes as the ocean's coming and going lay etched on the white sands. Our rolling way dropped to the beach and we descended.
Typically there were sun bathers in warm rapture and children with sand castles of high hope. The beach was swathed by a little twisted rivulet meeting the sea. Few hundred feet inland the crags rose in stony surge, straight and sober. The sun shone bright and Asia looked only a wink away. I fell into a reverie and then, inevitably, came the comparison with our Puri.
The water was bluer here. And calmer. The waves roared mildly diffident and broke in one and half tiers on the sand. The sea at Puri is flippant, in its deafening coda rises Youth, unfettered and unchaperoned. The Pacific stands buffer between the Orient and the Occident, filtering each shore from the other. It conducts the world, and its poise is natural. The sea at Puri can afford to flaunt, it only commands a cove, the Bay of Bengal.
The Pacific was all over our eyes and ears, I wanted to engage my sense of touch. But with the first touch of water, I quailed. It was infernally cold. Maybe this was why the sun-bathers far outnumbered the sea-farers. I faintly recalled some distant Geography. It said the waters on these shores remain perennially cool; some nexus with the polar ice caps was hinted. How diverse Nature could be, Point Reyes and San Gregorio were only a few hours distant.
I stood aloof and scribbled a name on the sands with a shell. The waves were advancing in full foam and then retreating, how long will the rubric remain? The cell-phone cooed: I spoke of longing and the Pacific. I could not even deliver my couplets from an eternal poet, about surfy seas and a mystic muse; the signal snapped.
Rupa-didi with sisterly concern and curiosity asked whether there was a girl in this telephone congress. I smiled in reply. It could have meant aye or no or abstention. Turning around, the name was no more; a ripple receded, unctuous and winning.
I asked Aarushi, "How do you like the ocean?"
Aaarushi replied, "Good!" And then quizzed in caveat, "But how does the sea mix with the sky ? "
How? I pondered. No answer came. Yet the Pacific kept coming. Bringing along the sky.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.