“I have never seen a beach. I want to see the beach” says Erum to Imran while resting herself on him. Imran and Erum rubbing their hand on one another and talking in almost whisper.
“Really you have never seen a beach, an ocean. It is fantastic there. Calmness even there is hassle around, you can lose yourself in the sound of waves splashing on to the shore, breeze flowing around and you put your foot in a pit of sand and wave come and take away all the sand” says Imran and he closes his eye and find himself on the beaches of Pondicherry which he had visited once when his paternal grandfather took him there.
“Can we go there” ask Erum to Imran with desperation in her eyes
“Where? Pondicherry” ask Imran
“Yes, why not?” asks Erum seating up.
“I don’t know, we have beaches in Pakistan also. We can go to the French beach in Karachi, we have a beach in Baluchistan. We can visit there sometime”. Says Imran who cannot afford to go to Pondicherry but does not want to upset Erum. Because they have just got married.
“Yes, but it would be so nice if we could go to Pondicherry,” says Erum looking down to the floor and entangling her fingers in one another.
“Will you be able to seat in the plan. It flies high in the air, very fast. Will you be able to manage, you are so afraid of heights. You can’t even look down from the terries of our house. And the plane will be as high as 40,000 feet!” says Imran try to look in eyes of Erum but she is looking down constantly.
“How much is 40,000 feet high” ask Erum and Imran start to laugh uncontrollably.
An announcement is going on in Pakistan International Airlines. “We will be landing at Chennai international airport in zero five minutes. The time is 755 according to Indian standard timing, the temperature is 30 degrees Celsius and humidity is 60 percent. Please do not remove your seat belts until the seat belt sign is switched off. Thank you for flying with PIT have a good day”
Erum de-board the plan and the exit the Chennai International Airport. There is no excitement on her face of the first international vacation. She goes through customs and now she is waiting for her luggage at the luggage counter. Her luggage arrived, she takes off the luggage from the counter and gets out of the airport. She needs to go to Pondicherry which is around 200 km from Chennai. Even most of the Indians cannot understand Tamil. And Erum is from Pakistan there is no chance of her to speak Tamil but English will do.
“I want to go to Pondicherry, how can I reach there?” ask Erum at the counter “May I help you” outside the airport.
“Madam. you can go to Pondicherry by booking a cab from your phone, the train will take you. The last option is a bus which will take you to Pondicherry in almost 3 hours,” says the lady at counter.
Erum watching the view from the window. The cool breeze flowing around her face, she blooms, like a flower is watered after very long. Coconut trees going by, people in lunges riding bicycles. Beautiful water bodies coming in intervals.
“Ullava ullava munadi va!” yelling the conductor of the bus which is taking Erum to Pondicherry. More than limit people are stuffed in the bus. Some ladies are carrying fish in their wooden buckets, the smell of fish is dispersed on the bus.
“Ninkal enku cella virumpukirikal?” ask the conductor to Erum in Tamil Erum make such an ugly face that the conductor understands.
“Where you want to go?” ask conductor in English
“Pondicherry,” says Erum
“140,” says conductor without looking at Erum and busy cutting the ticket.
Conductor hand over Erum a ticket, Tamil has written everywhere.
“Erum come down, see what I have brought, come down fast!” Imran yelling in desperation and a smile on his face like a surprise is about to reveal.
Erum comes down galloping and taking long breaths because of exhaustion.
“What is it why are you yelling, you are yelling like allah himself come to see me,” says Erum
Imran pointed at a new brand two-wheeler without gears, shining, and plastic cover still intact. Erum runs to Scotty and kept looking at every grove and every corner like a baby look at his/her toy. With such excitement.
“Can I drive?” asks Erum
“Can you drive?” asks Imran, looking little quizzical.
“Well than teach me, I want to drive,” says Erum
Imran comes up to Scotty and makes Erum seat at the driver seat and himself seat at the rear seat. Holding the handle from behind along with Erum holding the handle. Imran starts the engine.
“Now slowly release the brake and slowly rotate the accelerator. Be careful slowly” explain Imran holding the handle but controls in hands of Erum. Erum did as told and Scotty started moving and Erum is so excited. Like seating in a swing for the very first time, her mouth opens all the while.
The ride on Scotty is still on. Erum do not know how much to accelerate and when to break. While they both on the vehicle, Erum accelerate and forgot to break while stopping. Imran yelling to break but Erum did not know what to do, there is too much information to process. She hit the two-wheeler to a wall and they both fall down. There is not much damage to the vehicle. Little scratch here and little scratch there and they both are also safe. What is not safe is the confidence of Erum to drive ever again.
“I am so sorry, I will never drive again,” says Erum very regretful of her action
“You better not, are you hurt,” says Imran, holding his anger
“I am fine, what about you?” ask Erum, looking very regretful and could not match her eyes with Imran.
“Its fine, it happens, not to worry, just a few scratches,” says Imran to console Erum.
The bus stops at the Pondicherry bus stand. Erum wakes up from her thoughts and gets off from the bus. Looking around. Noise everywhere, conductors are yelling to attract the travelers, auto-rickshaw driver yelling to give a ride. The auto-rickshaw driver surrounds Erum and started listing the places in Pondicherry.
“Rock beach, Aurovil beach, The French colony, Basilica church…”
“No I don’t want auto,” says Erum and somehow come out of the drivers’ crowd and take her phone out and type “The best way to roam in Pondicherry” and click search
Result clearly shows that the best way to roam in Pondicherry is two-wheeler Scotty. Erum reaches at the address written on the site. Rickshaw driver dives off and Erum is standing in front of a Vehicle rental shop.
“I want a Scotty on rent,” says Erum in low voice looking all around in the shop.
“Ok, for how many days,” ask the shop owner
“For three-four days,” says Erum
“No problem, 450 per day,” says the shop owner
“Fine,” says Erum
“Which one do you like” ask the shop owner
“This yellow Vespa,” says Erum
Erum seat on the Vespa and start the engine, rotate the accelerator while still breaking and engine starts to roar.
“Now slowly release the brake and slowly rotate the accelerator, be careful, slowly” Erum remembers the instruction.
Erum did exactly what she remembers and Vespa started to move and after a few meters Erum again stops the Vespa and smile appear on her face, she closes her eyes and again give some gas to the engine, opens her eyes and zooms off. She is driving the Vespa smoothly and she feels like she is free and nothing is stopping her to do anything. She is laughing and after driving for a few kilometers she takes her phone out and types
“Famous beaches in Pondicherry” and click search look at the result, load the direction of Auroville beach on google maps, and dives off.
She keeps driving, the beach is around 10km away from her current location. Erum drives the Vespa smoothly and in half an hour she is at Auroville beach. She parks the Vespa. Sound of wave splashing the shore welcomes her. As she moves toward the bay of Bengal her sandals are full of beach sand and she takes them off and keeps moving forward and reaches the shore and seat down and enjoys the moment she remembers the words of Imran.
“Calmness even there is hassle around, you can lose yourself in the sound of waves splashing on to the shore, breeze flowing around and you put your foot sand dig a pit in the sand put your foot into the pit and wave come and take away all the sand”
The experience of the moment is much intensified when you are at the very place and remembering those words and find that each and every word is experienced in itself The calmness, the sound, the water touching your feet, and the cool breeze. She seated there for hours, it is like she is living her dream.
“How are you feeling? Coming to the beach, was I right about the place. Are you living the word that I had told you?” says Imran to Erum, seating right beside her, looking at her.
“I am feeling like my dream come true, you were absolutely right about the place this place is fantastic, everything you said is so true and come real when you experience it yourself. It is like an oasis in the desert, the bus stop and the city are very noisy but this place is calm” says Erum looking at Imran.
“How did you reach here?” ask Imran
“I rented a Vespa and drive myself, it is easy and so much fun, in my excitement, I hit the wall that day, I even took flight from Karachi to Chennai, there is nothing to be afraid of, and flights are safer than cars and train. I wish we both have come here together, it been so long without you” says Erum looking at children bathing in the sea, couple hugging each other and taking photos to capture the moment forever, friends enjoying together.
“Where are you going to leave?” asked Imran
“Let’s see I have seen so many hotels on the internet, but I want a beach view room and something authentic, like a hut or something like that,” says Erum scrolling her phone.
“Where you will go after this” ask Imran
“Don’t know, let me google, there are few more beaches and many other things I have time to explore this city?” says Erum standing up and moving towards the Vespa.
Erum ignites her Vespa and starts driving towards the next location on her google maps.
“Listen Imran I have got a job offer from a school,” says Erum to Imran in a manner to convince him, like children do to convince their parents to buy them toys.
“What kind of offer?” asked Imran? Busy in his work, fixing a cooler.
“To teach students social science in a school,” says Erum in shay manner
“Why do you need to do a job?” ask Imran nodding to Erum
“I always wanted to be a teacher, I like teaching students,” says Erum with enthusiasm.
“There is no need of you to do any job, I can handle my family, am I not earning?” says Imran in a little higher voice.
“It’s not about money, it’s about my existence, I want to work, contribute to society,” says Erum with a tense face.
“Why, what is the need of woman working when her husband is alive, it will vary shameful for me if you go to work,” says Imran reluctant to accept her wife working.
“I want to go high, I want to see myself working, I am well educated what the use of such education is if I cannot share this with anyone else,” says Erum reluctant to withdraw.
“You will not work, that’s final understand, no discussion after this,” says Imran with determination.
Erum reaches a lighthouse after a half an hour ride on Vespa. The lighthouse is 151 feet high and hexagonal in shape. She takes the ticket and takes off her sandal as instructed and start climbing the lighthouse. As she reaches the top of the tower, there is a viewer’s gallery from which she could see the whole city and the sea spread till infinity. She takes some photos and saw that there is one more floor above the viewer’s gallery. She gets to the top of the lighthouse. Air is flowing with high speed, her hair floating in the air like wind blowing on mustard crops and saw Imran standing beside her.
“Are you enjoying your freedom?” asks Imran looking at the infinite sea.
“Why do you ask me that?” astonished Erum ask Imran.
“You remember one day you were fighting with me for the job offer you got” ask Imran
“And you denied it,” says Erum mockingly.
“This happiness could have been there on your face if I would have accepted your wish. Isn’t it?” asks Imran
“Yes, I cried a lot that day, this was the freedom I was talking about” Erum got sad, she remembers the agony she was going through that day when Imran rejected her offer.
“Please don’t spoil the moment, I apologies for that day,” says Imran
“It’s too late Imran for an apology,” sobbing Erum says
“Hey, don’t cry. Ok I am going” says Imran and disappears.
Now it starts to get dark and Erum thought to move from here, she still needs to figure out where to live. She scrolls her phone and a name appears “Muthu beach cottage” she load the location on her phone and follow google maps and within an hour she reaches Muthu beach cottage, which is a sea view cottage. She enters a bit of metal gate and there are wooden huts covered with banana leaves. There are only 4-5 huts and guests are already in the huts. All huts are full, she is lucky, she reached on time.
“I want a single hut with one bed and it will be better if it’s sea-facing” ask Erum to the hotel owner.
“Come follow me,” says hotel owner.
On the way to the hut and Indian man is staring at her for quite a while, he then makes his eyes view something else when she caught him staring at her. She reaches the hut and the owner show her the hut. There is nothing to show. On matrices with no bed, one fan, charging plug, the floor made of bamboo trunks, celling with banana leaves. And when she steps out of the gate when the owner returns she can see the endless sea and never stopping waves splashing on the shore and that produce music most soothing to ears, no artificial music is required.
Erum is resting in her hut after dinner and then suddenly Tamil music piercing her ears and she wakes up and go out to see the source of the music. She is flabbergasted by the scene, all the guests from their hut come to the common area which is covered by coconut trees and banana trees, a big speaker is being played and all guests are drinking and dancing. Erum thought to join them and enjoy with them, she goes and a seat on wooden coconut tree trunk table and coconut tree trunk long bench and enjoying the moment. The man who was staring at her when she arrived is also present and looking at her in intervals.
He comes to her after a few minutes and seat beside her and keeps seating there for a while, he is also hesitating to talk to her but with all his courage.
“Do you need a drink?” man ask to Erum with hesitation on his face.
“I don’t drink,” says Erum was taken by surprise.
“What about a cold drink” ask a man
“Hmm.., ok,” says Erum after giving it quite a good thought.
Man stand up and go to a table where all the drinks are kept, pour some cold drink in a disposable glass and hand it over to Erum.
“Here is your drink,” says the man
“Thank you” replied Erum
“Where are you from?” ask the man
“I am from Karachi Pakistan,” says Erum with a little smile on her face.
“Really” first reaction of the man
“Yes,” says Erum and giggles.
Then someone from the dancing people called that man and he goes on the stage kind of thing, which maybe half a feet above the ground and started to dance and keep glancing at Erum in intervals. After a while, he again comes up to Erum and asked her to join the dance.
“I don’t know how to dance,” says Erum giving the best excuse.
“No worry, nobody here is Prabhudeva, everyone is just enjoying beside you,” says the man requesting her to join the dance.
“No I can’t,” says Erum
“Go, why are you not going and dancing, have you come all the way here just to see other people enjoying,” says Imran appearing suddenly and insisting her to go and dance. Erum gets up and comes up to the dance floor and everyone just cheers her up and encourages her to dance.
“Now tell me how to dance,” says Erum to man
“Just lose yourself and move in whatever manner you want, just dance feely,” says, the man
“Ok,” says Erum and started dancing. She started moving her body while staying at her feet, moving her hands in all directions, moving her legs, and dancing along with the man. She keeps on dancing and forgot everything, she is dancing as she dances for the very first time in her life.
“We will get late for Heena’s birthday, get ready we have to go, come out fast,” says Erum to Imran who is bathing and as usual he takes a long time to bath.
“Yes I am almost done,” says Imran and after a few minutes he comes out wrapped in a towel and starts to get ready and after half an hour Imran got ready while Erum is already ready. They go to Heena’s house, Heena is a 16-year-old girl and daughter of Imran’s sister Raziya.
“Khaala, please come and dance I know you are a good dancer. Please please” says Heena insisting her to.
It’s a fact that Erum is a good dancer. She looks for Imran and found that he is not around and starts to dance solo and everyone is cheering her up. Erum is just lost in her dance so much that she could not see Imran coming. Imran saw her and instantly got angry.
“What is this Erum, is this the way, a woman of reputed family behaves, dance in front of so many people,” says Imran, scolding her in front of everyone.
“It’s nothing, she was just dancing, what’s the big deal,” says Raziya trying to explain Imran that married woman dancing is not a big deal.
“What’s a big deal!” says Imran and left.
“I will not dance ever again,” sobbing Erum says. Raziya hug her and console ger.
Erum is lost in her dancing that she does not notice that when everyone got off the floor and she is dancing alone, solo like she was dancing in Heena’s birthday, and keep dancing until she realizes that she is alone on the floor. After a few minutes, she got tired and get off the floor and seat beside the man.
“Thank you for inviting me for dancing, I haven’t dance like this for years,” says Erum controlling her breath.
“Can we go out for a walk on the beach” ask the man to Erum
“Yes, why not,” says Erum looking at the man for few seconds and then replying. They both go out for a walk on the beach, Erum removes her sandal.
“I am so sorry I forgot to ask your name,” says the man
“It’s ok, my name is Erum, what is your name?” says Erum to the man.
“Erum my name is Ashwin” replied Ashwin.
“Where are you from Ashwin” ask Erum while they both walking on the beach.
“I am from Karnataka and you are from Pakistan,” says Ashwin
“So what brings you here, all the way from Pakistan?” ask Ashwin
“I was suggested by someone to visit here and I like the calmness here, even right now there is no noise only the music of these waves splashing on the shore, isn’t it,” says Erum
“Yes it is so quiet but I know a place even calmer, even more, quit and peaceful from here,” says Ashwin
“Really where is it?” ask Erum with excitement
“Gokarna in Karnataka, it is a most beautiful place with very little elements to elaborate its beauty, very beautiful beaches,” says Ashwin
“I will definitely go there,” says Erum
“Even I am going there day after tomorrow if you want we can both go together,” says Ashwin
“Yes, we can go together,” says Erum after giving it significant thought.
Then they both go to their respective hut and go to sleep. It has been planned that they both will go explore Pondicherry together tomorrow. Next morning Erum wake up and waiting for Ashwin, Ashwin takes a little longer to get ready and they both ride on the same vehicle, it is Erum’s Vespa. Ashwin knows the places as he had done his research on the city already.
First of all, they go to the French colony as it is the most colorful colony of India, such beautiful colors and very old structures. They take some photos and alongside the French colony is the Rock beach, a beautiful beach. After that, they go to The Sacred Heart Basilica church. It is an 18th-century gothic architecture. Then they go to paradise beach. From there they left for their final destination Auroville Ashram, its shape is like a golden ball, it a township for people all around the world to live peacefully. The next day they left for Gokarna from a car owned by Ashwin.
On the way to Gokarna comes the beautiful villages of Kerala, a house surrounded by coconut trees and vegetation. Then comes Karnataka and beautiful sceneries. After a drive of almost two days, they reach Gokarna. The parked car at a parking area and take a walk to the beach where Ashwin has to arrange for their stay. A narrow pagdandi(footpath) between the farms and then comes the never-ending Arabian sea and facing that is their hostel made up of wooden completely and the long sandy area between the sea and the hostel.
“Welcome to trippy,” says Ashwin smiling
“This place is exactly what I had imagined before coming to India for this trip,” says Erum looking all around like a writer come to the whole new library.
“I own this place, this is my house and my business,” says Ashwin
“What do you mean?” ask Erum taken by surprise.
“This hostel is my business, I rent beds to the foreigner who wants to spend less and experience more,” says Ashwin
“So you brought me here to increase your business, this how you market your business” ask Erum
“No, only for you,” says Ashwin coming close to Erum just to ensure that she hears it and get that intension are not to market his place just to make her experience even better, especially to one who has come all the way from Pakistan.
“So where is my place” ask Erum
“This way please,” says Ashwin guiding her to her room or better guiding her to her bed which she will share with other people mostly foreigners.
The place has absolutely minimal furniture and fewer elements but that’s the beauty of Gokarna.
“You go get fresh,” says Ashwin and leaves
Erum takes shower and change, after some time Ashwin comes in and asks Erum to go out with him.
“Did you take bath, if you need anything just tell me, ok?” says Ashwin in shay manner coming to his point.
“Yeah, I want to thank you, this place is beautiful,” says Erum
“Do you want to come to the beach and see the sunset” ask Ashwin
“Yeah absolutely” replied Erum.
They get out to the beach and very low and reddish light showering from the almost set sun and they go near the sea. Foreigners gather to see the sunset. Absolutely beautiful scene.
“The sun is looking beautiful, I have never seen the sun this way,” says Erum.
“I have grown up watching the sunrise and set almost every day, but I don’t miss seeing the sun going down and coming up every day,” says Ashwin
“ You were right about this place, it speaks for itself, beauty with such fewer elements, it’s like a poem with less word but when we find the meaning of those words you can write the entire book,” says Erum
“Will you come out with me tonight for dinner, and there is a restaurant a few hundred meters ahead. Serves delicious seafood and authentic south Indian food and even north Indian food” says Ashwin hesitatingly.
Erum didn’t answer and lost in her thoughts.
A bomb exploded in the military camp of Pakistan army, Imran get seriously injure and a chopper flew right to Karachi military hospital where Imran’s family has been called along with Erum. Imran desperately wanted to talk to Erum. Erum enters ICU and looks at Imran with all the life-supporting equipment attach to him.
“Come close to me,” says Imran by a gesture from his hand, Erum goes close to Imran sobbingly.
“I was not a good husband to you,” says Imran with a very week sound.
“No you are not, don’t speak please,” says Erum sobbing heavily.
“Please let me speak, I may not get time. You deserve a better husband, who encourages you to pursue your passion, who don’t stop you from dancing, who could have taken you to Pondicherry. I wanted to, trust me but I was bounded by the laws of society, this society doesn’t give enough credit to women, you people work whole life selflessly for those who don’t even respect you, a woman makes a stone structure a house livable, give that structure a sole, give that structure her own breath and blood to grow, but the dwellers of that house consider her just and maid who don’t ask for salary” says Imran with tears and respect for Erum in his eyes.
“Please don’t say this, you are a good husband, just get well soon,” says Erum broke down.
“Promise me you will go to Pondicherry, you get a job of your choice, you will dance, you will drive, you will do everything that this society has stop you from doing,” says Imran counting his last breath.
“Yes, I will do it, everything but with you,” says Erum.
“You don’t need me, sorry but I cannot be with you, but I will come to you whenever you need me. You don’t deserve to be alone for whole life, promise me you will find a person to spend your life, my child will not stay without father, promise me” says Imran
“How can I promise this to you,” says Erum
“No you have to, I cannot see you living a life like a living corpse,” says Imran
“I promise,” says Erum, and Imran takes his last breath. Imran is dead.
“You don’t need to come if you are not comfortable,” says Ashwin
“It’s ok I will come,” says Erum
“Then go get ready,” says Ashwin
Both get ready and goes to the restaurant made of wood. The seat on a two chair table in candle lights. They order.
“One beer please and ask the lady, rest we will order later” Ashwin gives the order to the waiter.
“Make it two beer,” says Erum
“Ok two beer” Ashwin updates the order.
“You said you don’t drink” ask Ashwin
“I don’t come to Gokarna every day” reply Erum.
“I want to tell you something,” says Ashwin hesitatingly.
“What is it?” ask Erum reading the menu.
“I have fallen in love with you from the moment you arrived in that Muthu beach cottage,” says Ashwin in one breath.
Erum pretended that she didn’t hear it and Ashwin like frozen at the moment.
“What do you think of it” ask Ashwin.
“I am a widow and mother of a 12-year-old girl, above all, I am a Pakistani, by default enemy of yours,” says Erum looking at Ashwin.
Ashwin thinking that it’s a valid point but he cannot give this soon.
“I can bear such enemies,” says Ashwin.
Erum get baffled and fumble in her tone.
“I have a flight to Pakistan day after tomorrow,” says Erum.
“You can return from Pakistan,” says Ashwin
“It is not possible, why you can’t understand,” says Erum
“Leave what is possible or not, you tell me about yourself, what do you feel” ask Ashwin.
Erum stands up and moves to aside. Trying to look away from Ashwin.
“What’s the matter? Tell me I will resolve everything” says Ashwin.
“My country is Pakistan, I don’t belong here,” says Erum taking brisk breaths.
“I really love you, can you just tell me, do you feel the same for me or not” ask Ashwin.
“You are not making it any easier for me,” says Erum and leaves.
The boarding announcement for the flight from Chennai to Karachi is going on. Ashwin comes to see off Erum with a heavy heart.
“It was really nice to meet you, thank you for everything and sorry for that day,” says Erum.
“I will really miss you,” says Ashwin tears in his eyes.
Erum hands over a piece of paper to Ashwin and leaves for security checks and customs. Erum looks back one final time, Ashwin still standing to take a last glance of her, and then Erum disappear. Ashwin opens the paper, smile, and put the paper in his pocket, and leave the Airport.