I held his hand tight and walked fast, all the time checking to see that his face mask was covering his mouth and nose properly. The spouse walked a couple of steps behind us as we made our way through groups of people either walking towards, or returning from the Aksa beach in Mumbai.
The eight-year-old, armed with his sand toys, was super excited.
After all, it was after nine months since we had last visited the beach. The beach, which had become so commonplace for us after spending over fifteen years in the coastal megapolis.
It was in February, when the eight-year-old and I had hopped into an autorickshaw, carefree (how life should be!), and reached Juhu beach to spend an evening burying our feet in the sand and watching the sun go down into the Arabian Sea.
We had also played one of our favourite beach games, watching aircraft take-off into the sky, one after the other, over the sea, and then guess which way they would turn — left to go to south, or right to head towards the north?
How were we to know that that would be our last pre-COVID19 beach outing!
And, here we were, nine months later, our faces covered with masks, as the world had changed like never before. Rather than visiting Juhu beach, which is about four kilometers from our home, we decided to drive about sixteen kilometers to Aksa beach with the hope that it would be less crowded (not sure if the purpose was served though). If there is one thing the COVID19 pandemic has frightened us about, it is the crowd. And if the crowd is full of mask-less people, coughing and sneezing, then it can even induce panic.
As we reached the beach and I watched the large expanse of sea in front of us, a strange sense of calm seeped into me. I felt positive. I felt hopeful.
As I walked on the sand, my feet burying into it, each step forward a good exercise for my calves. I did not mind the sand getting into my floater sandals or sticking to my trackpants. The pandemic and the lockdown had made me appreciate the simple joy of walking on the beach.
The eight-year-old removed his slippers to walk fast. Holding hands, we laughed; he complained of fatigue (“How much longer are we going to walk before I can play with my sand toys?”). The simple act of walking on the beach, which we have done countless times, made me feel we were in heaven.
The sun was slowly sinking and I knew in half an hour, it would be engulfed by the sea. We sat on the beach, without any mats, and none of us complained about sand getting into our clothes, or our heads. In no time, the eight-year-old got busy with his sand toys and making sand castles, while my spouse and I watched the sun go down, bit by bit.
Some young couples sat at a distance, gazing at each other with love. The setting sun was no distraction to them. An old lady sat on a folding beach-chair watching her grandkids hop and play on the beach. At a distance, a pregnant woman posed for photographs against the setting sun. Young boys swam in the sea. A group of lads played cricket, while some practiced acrobatics on the beach.
After nine long months, we finally watched ‘life’! Life which had been around us all these years, but we never bothered to notice it, as we were either too busy running to catch the local train, or rushing for the next meeting.
In those moments spent at the beach, I fell in love again with the most ordinary activities and sights in life. It took a pandemic to teach me that! How many times I had taken visits to the beach for granted and often complained how dirty the beach was! How many times I had failed to notice the small happiness experienced by people around me — a young girl posing for a selfie, friends laughing uncontrollably at a joke. Almost every day, I took for granted that the sun would go down and rise again the next morning.
It took a pandemic for me to feel grateful for the day that was about to end with the setting sun and feel hopeful for a better tomorrow.
It is this pandemic that made me realise how beautiful the simplest things in life are — be it watching a young couple in love, or a lady in the evening of her life watching her grandkids laugh and play!
While money, fancy possessions, international trips, convertible cars, latest iPhones, expensive gifts, can provide momentary happiness, it is the ordinary, the most basic things, that continue to make us smile and calm our minds amidst the pandemic.
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