I had wished they would all go away….and they had. Every last one of them.
My over-talkative colleagues, my clingy boss, my non-existent boyfriend, my ever-questioning maid, the ever ringing phone, the overflowing mailbox.
And then, with a snap of a finger, someone’s cruel idea of a joke, I was there. I was away. On this island, with not a single human in sight. And a very very hungry stomach.
If I were in a finer mood, I would have seen things differently. I would perhaps have seen the waves thrash on a bed of rocks, spraying fountains of glistening green and frothy white. I would have imagined the sand lying beside it like a well-oiled woman because, in my brighter moods, I pretend I have an imaginative mind. But the sand did bask in its watery glow, reflecting the silver of the rising sun, the palm trees and the rocks galore. I knew this because I saw it later in the photographs.
For now, my eyes were fixated on a dog. A big scrawny one, with a pink patch on its belly that reminded me of diseases I could catch that would have me barking as wildly as that mad dog.
To be honest, the dog wasn’t barking. It had come to me, sniffed my legs and crotch, and returned to its very serious business of chasing birds with its other dog friends. But there definitely was an angry cow. Now, I have never seen an angry cow. I have read of mad cows, like in mad cow disease. But a really pissed one, that walked exceedingly fast, stopped before you, stared you down, and mooed at you with as much disappointment and anger as your father on your wedding day. That’s the cow I am talking about. This cow was disappointed in me and clearly showed it. I looked at it apologetically, but the cow tottered off, waving away my apology with its tottering ass, off to I don’t know where, but definitely in speeds that I had not associated with cows hitherto.
That was when I realized that I could eat the cow. If I could get an axe, I could cut its head, and I could rub stones together, get a fire going, and cook the cow in it. Was I that desperate? I had never held an axe in my life, but somehow facing that cow again in all its anger, seemed to me a bigger challenge than convincing it to be my lunch.
Then there were the crabs. Not blue big-fleshed wonders that could be soaked in masala gravy, and sucked messily in the privacy of your home. No, these were black, Black as the rocks that got thrashed by the waves and clearly alive. They scrambled around, like giant cockroaches, busy in their task of dodging the waves while living a life that seemed much like mine in the city. Dodging, surviving, and nothing much beyond really. I couldn’t eat those cockroach-crabs, because I had to catch them first, which meant touching them. I moved an uneasy hand towards them, and then I imagined how they would be in my mouth. Squiggly, writhing, scampering about like my tongue was a wave and my mouth a rock. The effect wasn’t very appetizing. I pulled my hands away.
I wasn’t suited for this life, I decided, as tears threatened to streak down my eyes. It wasn’t that I had been deserted by civilization. It was just that civilization was taking a break from me. I walked away from the beach towards the few empty huts and houses, weirdly wrapped in blue tarpaulin sheets, like meat packaged for future use. I walked away further ahead, as I had done almost five times already, the sun oppressive on my head, reminding me of dehydration and headaches. Suddenly I noticed a restaurant. At least, it said Restaurant. Goa’s finest sea food restaurant. I ran to it, opened the gate, walked into it and waited. It was empty, save for the dog that had arrived to greet me. It was like a village of dogs, and cows, and crabs, and nobody else. I said Hello, loudly, clanging the gate a few times, wishing that the very violence of my act would awake the civilization that had taken to sleeping around me. Wake up, everybody. Feed me, I wanted to scream. A small movement caught my ears and send me to rapt silence. What was that? A lady stepped out of the restaurant, sleepy but surprised. “Yes?” she said, the surprise clear in her voice.
“Are you open?” I asked, pitifully.
She looked back at me, smiling, and shook her head.
“When will you open?” I persisted, encouraged by her smile.
She looked upwards, as if calculating something, then looked back at me and said, “October?” and grinned.
I sighed. I looked around. “Are there any other restaurants around?” I asked.
She shook her head, sending my heart into a sinking hole. This was it, I thought as the woman returned inside, back to her endless sleep. I had not eaten for almost an entire day and perhaps I was going to die. My choices were as follows. Kill a cow, catch a cockroach-crab, beg for food. What would I do?
My legs collapsed, and I found myself falling into a broken chair beside me in sheer exhaustion. My head fell to my knees, bobbing up and down like a pathetic doll. A surge of gastric phlegm threatening to rip my throat, but it was just emptiness. Just my stomach letting out another thunderous growl. This was when it flashed to me that perhaps I had a fourth option, beyond any of this, that would fill my belly and retain my pride. I could faint, and someone would take pity, and I would be fed on a hospital bed. Back to the civilization that would save me, take me back like a prodigal son. With this thought, my head swayed upwards, to the beach beyond, the ray of light dancing in my eyes, and the single dog before me, And then I realized. Life was beautiful. But Civilization even more.
Photo Credits: Prasenjit Chaudhuri.