Catching a sunrise.


I wanted to catch a sunrise from the balcony of our ocean front hotel room. I did not set any alarms to wake up at the time of sunrise, thinking my body will wake up in anticipation. It did, except it woke up just 10 minutes late. I saw Sahana sitting on the balcony, soft light of the morning sun gently illuminating her beautiful face. She turned her bright, happy smile towards me “I watched the sun rise!” This is what I got to see.

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Reflected

The sun had risen just above the horizon and the golden ball was reflected over the water. I missed sunrise by just 10 minutes. I consoled myself thinking it was the first morning of our last-minute beach vacation. We still had 5 more mornings to catch a sunrise.

The pandemic played havoc with our plans of going to India in May and Sahana’s move to college for her senior year. As each plan fell through, we shed a few tears and then hoped that that this year will pass, life will resume, perhaps in a reimagined way. We will see our loved ones in different parts of the world. Our children will go back to in person learning in a safe, virus free environment. Since Sean and I had both taken leave for a week to move Sahana in to her apartment in college (that plan fell through), we decided to take the time to replenish our reserves of patience, hope, resilience. We splurged and booked an ocean front room with a kitchenette. If I felt too anxious to go among people, I could simply sit on the balcony and count waves. Our previous beach vacation at the beginning of July was anxiety provoking for me. I wrote about it in “Kissing in the time of Corona”.

The day I missed my sunrise, we walked by the bay to catch the sun set. We were not disappointed. Nature, perhaps, knew that our soul needed some resuscitation and it suffused us with its glory.

The second day I missed the sunrise by 15 minutes. Why did I not set an alarm you ask? That is a good question. I guess I trusted my innate clock yet again.

My eyes opened on the third day when it was pitch dark in the room. I glanced at the clock to see the time. It was 6:05 am. The sun was supposed to rise at 6:10 am. I sat right up and rushed to the balcony. I open the door with care so as not to wake the rest of the family. Dense fog over the ocean dashed my hopes of seeing a radiant sunrise. Crestfallen, I went back to bed and slept till 8 am. I woke up to a sun kissed day and glistening sand. Fog robbed me of my sunrise but then the sun burnt away the fog to gift the ocean worshipers a gorgeous beach day.

Finally I viewed the glory on our penultimate day at the beach. Again, my biological clock woke me up. I looked at the time, whispered to Sahana if she wanted to view sunrise. She grunted something inaudible. The boys had no desire to chase sunrise, so I did not bother calling them. I tiptoed out to the balcony with my phone and witnessed the ball of fire making its journey to my part of the world. I found my religion in its splendor.

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My phone camera, of course, does not do any justice to the ephemeral beauty of sun rising over the ocean but the memory of that resplendent dawn is captured in my heart. This is simply a fragment of what I saw.

Life was at bay while I looked at the expanse of the ocean for 6 days, while my family kayaked in the still waters of the bay and I pulled my chair in the water soaking in the stillness and serenity in my soul. Life was at bay when we delighted in the sightings of wild ponies and walked the marshy lands to see unknown (to me) birds and snowy egrets, while we stopped at unexplored ice cream shops to taste homemade ice creams, while we ordered crab imperial and legs of snow crabs. The question “Do you have your mask on?” every time we left our hotel and seeing masked people on the road reminded us we were living through a pandemic. Those 6 days, from the safety of my balcony and sometimes from empty stretches of the beach, I simply sat and stared at the ocean. The hypnotizing crashing of waves, the endlessness of the ocean, the sand between my toes, the laughter of children playing on the beach, the comfort of a book in my hand and the closeness of my husband and children made me completely happy. The feeling of happiness was a conscious realization really. I said to Sean, somewhat bewildered, “I feel happy.” In these 5 or 6 months, I had forgotten how it felt to be completely happy.

We were masked for most part of our vacation. We cooked our meals and got take outs for some dinners. We never played miniature golf, which is our constant (apart from sun and sand) when we go to the beach. Yet, we found peace. Most importantly, perhaps, we filled up our reserves of hope that this phase of our lives too shall pass. We will reunite with humankind instead of going the other way, fearing contamination from my fellow human.

One day…..

In the meantime, I will look back to this memory for sustenance on a dark and gloomy day.

Before stepping off the mainland.


I forgot to pack my notebook as I packed some grubby clothes hurriedly in a newly purchased tote bag to take to Cliff Island off the coast of Maine for seven days. My extremely outdoorsy husband had purchased two kayaks because the kids ‘needed’ it you see and was planning on bringing them. The children declared they absolutely needed their bikes to ride around the three and a half mile long island with their cousins. There was a tennis court on that tiny island, so how could we not bring tennis rackets and balls? There is also a baseball field, we could not simply leave behind baseball glove and bat, could we? I sighed as I looked at the accumulating junk and dictated folks to take bare minimum in clothes so we could each carry a bag pack and keep both hands free so we COULD CARRY JUNK! The island does not have a grocery store for provisions so we needed to plan and buy seven days worth of groceries, and then figure out a way to carry them!! I forgot to pack my notebook though, in the hustle bustle of planning. I planned to write down my stream of consciousness as I sat in front of the ocean. In the absence of tangible medium, I wrote and painted in my mind’s canvas. Before life gets steadily busy, I hope to put down those thoughts on these blogs.

Like many others on this planet with children, our lives are hectic and rigidly scheduled. As August came closer, all four of us counted down days to break free from work travels, deadlines, swim meets, baseball practices to reclaim our time together, doing what we love to do – reading, walking, talking, listening to music, swimming, playing. We planned a retreat from real life with Sean’s siblings and their families in a tiny little island off the coast of Portland. We rented a house for a week starting Saturday, right on the water. However, my family headed north early, on a Thursday morning at 5 am to jump start the vacation. The plan was to meet our one day old niece in Boston and then drive up north, find a place to stay for two nights, Thursday and Friday, and then get on the ferry from Portland to head to the island on Saturday.

We started our long journey before the sun rose. Sean had secured two kayaks on top of our minivan and two bikes behind the car on bike racks. I had a niggling fear that one of those would go free, go flying and hit fellow motorists. That did not happen thankfully. We arrived in Mass General Hospital with all our JUNK intact but went round and round the busy city of Boston to find parking for our heavily loaded car. We held and kissed our baby niece, full of joy at the miracle of life and hit the road again after bidding the proud and tired parents goodbye. We wanted to visit some of the beaches of New Hampshire or maybe Maine, get a couple of days of sandy beach fun before we met others at the ferry and headed over to Cliff Island. First stop was Hampton beach. We tried to get a hotel for two nights but nothing was available. It was coming up on dinner time and the day was slowly losing its luster. We decided to move on, drive up and find accommodation somewhere farther up north. We were not worried. Next stop was Ogunquit, Maine. The beach was gorgeous, the town seemed inviting. Four of us started to feel hopeful about finding lodging and eventually some dinner, but ‘no vacancy’ signs greeted us as we passed cute hotels, motels and bed and breakfast. A resort right on the beach showed vacancy sign. We parked and jogged to the reception desk. The children, cooped up in the car for 10 hours, ran to the beach to touch the water.

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The resort offered one night’s accommodation for almost $400. Friday night was full. Crestfallen parents called the kids back to the car to continue the journey, but the lovely restaurants and the handmade ice cream stores were too tempting to pass by. We stopped for dinner at Hamburger Harry’s. The kids got busy ordering while the parents desperately searched for lodging on their smart phones. The children, with their bellies full of sumptuous burger, kept reassuring us they could sleep in the van if needed. I glared at them instead of appreciating their effort to be accommodating 🙂 ! I recognized their effort later, when I relaxed finally in a comfortable bed. After several attempts, we found accommodation for two nights in a hotel in South Portland, only to find out later that the Boston Marathon bombers stayed in the same hotel before their heinous deed (the knowledge would not have made any impact on our decision of staying there at that point anyway). We drove up to our hotel, after ice cream of course, and crashed.

We woke up Friday morning ready for a beach day. We wanted to have the total boardwalk experience with all the glitz since we knew we will be in isolation in an island far away from the madding crowd. We found Old Orchard beach that fit the bill, complete with an amusement park, boardwalk fries, tattooed skin and crashing waves. The kids ran towards the amusement park before they said hello to the ocean.

As Sean and I stood in line to buy a few tickets for a some rides, a man walked up and gave us two passes for unlimited rides, FOR FREE, just like that. He had to leave the beach and had no use for those passes, he gave them to us. Before we could collect our wits to thank him profusely for his generosity, he left! The children rode every single ride till Ryan threw up and decided enough was enough and sometimes too much. After a mediocre lunch in a taqueria, which had an interesting name with a frog in it, we finally headed to the beach. My thin Indian skin can not tolerate the coldness of the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, so I slept on the sandy beach while my family rollicked in the waves. Completely satiated with our day of sand filled and sun filled activities, we headed to our hotel to get ready for our big preparation day on Saturday. The day we had to figure out a way to transfer our kayaks, Sasha and Hexel (yes, they are even named), our two bikes (no names), luggage, books, towels and seven days worth of provision across the ferry from Portland to Cliff Island. But before we did that, Ryan got lost. I will leave you here with a cliff hanger like mystery writers do, so you will wait with baited breath about the fate of my son, till I write the next installment. I am evil like that. 🙂

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 4, Playa Del Carmen


The fourth day was unplanned. We had run ragged since we arrived in Mexico, so we decided to take a day of rest. Fortified with painkillers and antibiotics, I peeked out at the sunshiny day outside from our hotel room and greeted it with a wide smile. The sun did the same.

Sean got roped into listening to a vacation share sales pitch. I grudgingly agreed to it since the deal was they would give us heavily reduced tickets to the eco theme park Xcaret if we gave the sales team our time. We sat through the sales pitch in a beautiful resort while the children played on the beach. We refused to shell out $20,000 to buy two weeks of vacation and came back with four tickets to the eco theme park.

Mexican food is delicious but after four days of tacos (the children disliked the authentic tacos there since the meat was chopped and not ground and the taco sauce was different than what they are used to in the US), pibil, guacamole, nachos we were ready for a change of palate. We craved some soul food – Italian! We lunched in an Italian restaurant on fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen where the food was delicious and the price was exorbitant. Sea food fettucine for me, gnocchi for Sahana and Sean, salmon and shrimp pizza for Ryan, which he did not like.

After lunch we strolled back leisurely to our hotel, nodding to the local shop owners, smiling at fellow tourists. We came back, changed in our swim suits and found our beach by 3:45 pm. While the man and his cubs frolicked in the water, I donned my hat, shades, sarong and went on a long walk along the beach. Beach attracts me for the blue ocean, the faraway horizon where the ocean raises to kiss the cloud filled blue sky, the spectacular sunsets, the salty tang of air, the gritty feel of the sand beneath my feet, the intricate carvings on an abandoned sea shell. It also brings me close to the stillness, the carefree joy, the familial bonding that my fellow humans bring to the beach. Very rarely do I see wo/men bent over their electronic devices. They either rest, play, sunbathe, walk, bond, laugh by the water or in it. This coming together of nature and mankind makes me happy. I am both the observer and the absorber of nature and man.

The evening was dedicated to the beautiful beach city of Playa Del Carmen. Locals lamented the loss of its beauty and simplicity with the booming tourism and development of this area. As Cancun got overcrowded resorts started buying up property and developing Playa. Gone are Playa Del Carmen’s sleepy days. The city now dons a new apparel every night and glitters for the people who come to visit. We dined at a 100 percent natural Mexican restaurant, which the grown ups loved and the children did not care for.

After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.
After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.

Then we walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue as Sahana and Ryan licked their double scoops of ice cream from a glittery Haagen Daaz. There were men on stilts, overpriced artifacts, trinkets, masks, designer stores with that homogenous smell of designer perfumes. There were ferrets, snakes and baby Chow chows to be petted and taken pictures with, if you paid. Local artists painted on the roadsides and sold their paintings. Musicians serenaded diners in open air restaurants. We ended up at Punta Playa (the port of Playa) where we sat with local families and watched street performers performing skits in Spanish. Sean drew me closer and flicked his head up at the sky. I looked up following his gaze to see the splendidly shining moon finally emerging from behind some dark clouds, over the ocean. Sean found my hand and held on. We stood there for a while, my back against my husband as the moon played hide and seek with us and slowly, ever so slowly, disappeared again. How perfect was that moment!

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We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Xcaret tomorrow – snorkeling, floating down secret river, flamingos, dolphins…

Going to the beach…


We drove down to the beach to expose my poor parents to some camping experience. We hyped up the trip, expounded on the ‘fun’ aspect of camping on the beach. The sun, the sand, the water, the blue sky, the roasting hot dogs on the fire, the camp fire songs and stories. My parents come from the congested city of Kolkata. In Kolkata, we don’t go camping – generally. In the pleasant winter, we go to the botanical gardens or the zoo for a picnic, at least we used to when I was little. So camping was going to be a completely new experience for my mom and dad. We conveniently forgot to mention the uncomfortable sleeping conditions, the bugs, the darkness, and the other negative stuff that non camping lovers highlight and true campers pooh pooh. I am somewhere in the middle. But this post is not about our camping experience. This post is about the stream of thoughts that I had on our way to the State park for our camping trip.

The back roads that led to the beach flashed some images of rural Bengal in my mind and how different the two settings are. What different emotions these two very different scenes evoke in me. Last year, Sean and I took a road trip to Shantiniketan, famous for the Viswa Bharati University that was founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore envisioned a different kind of education for the young, malleable, open minds that children have. The minds with endless possibilities that can achieve great things only if they were set free to think outside the box. He created open air class rooms where classes were held under chateem trees, the teachers taught in the open air, under the sky, amidst nature. I had seen the university a few times but I wanted to show my American husband what my favorite poet, visionary and educator, Rabindranath Tagore had envisioned and created.

Our car sped through the controlled chaos – unplanned, haphazard greenery, chaos even amidst the resplendent green, mud huts, small plots of land being ploughed by man and oxen, brown-skinned people, scantily dressed children looking on at the passing cars, collecting water, playing marbles. Little ponds in between, women drawing water for household chores, the earthy smell mixed with the smell of cow dung and manure. Thin cows and water buffaloes grazing, stray, mangy dogs, squawking chicken, songs of Rabindranath Tagore playing in my mind – the familiar, soothing feeling of a scene from home, a feeling of belonging. It will be presumptuous of me to assume that the people that we saw in those surroundings were happy. I realize that thought would be naive and idealistic. But the aura was one of simplicity. I will also say this, it was easy for us to feel that way sitting in our air-conditioned car, looking out at the hard-working men and women and enjoying this feeling of being relaxed and carefree.

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The contrast to here is stark. The planned stretches of farmland, picturesque houses far in between with white picket fences, healthy looking lonely, dappled horse flicking its tail, fattened cow grazing. An Amish gentleman trotting steadily on his horse-drawn buggy in his traditional Amish clothes; tall, shiny silos raising their proud heads high up proclaiming the prosperity of their owner, automatic, giant pivot irrigation systems irrigating the farmland, a farmer on a tractor – occasionally spotted. Images of apple pies and fried chicken flood my mind’s eye and make me desperate to taste some. It is neat, orderly, slightly clinical but a sense of peace and quiet, a sense of calm.

As I said earlier, the two scenes in two very different countries evoke two very different feelings in me, both positive, both peaceful in different ways.

Since I was already in a mood for comparing, the beaches brought out different feelings as well. The beaches here mostly have clean yellow sand, relatively less polluted water, lots of skin, umbrellas, beach chairs, sun lotions, beach toys and sand castles. Bathrooms and concession stands to make one’s beach experience pleasurable. I love to just get up and go for a long walk by the ocean feeling the spray on my face, the sand under my feet and the sun on my shoulders. People generally bring surf boards, go surfing, swim, eat their food, put more sunblock on, read or sleep. When I go to a beach in this country, I mainly look out at the horizon and try to fathom the expanse of the sea, and expand with it in my mind. I notice the changing colors of water more, I notice the blushing red sky at sunset, I look up at the full moon up in the sky, I notice the sand dunes and the shadows they cast as the sun changes position, I am more in tune with nature.

In India, nature for me takes a back seat since there is so much entertainment and people watching on the beach. Girls in their full traditional outfit, salwar kameezes, giggling at the edge of the water, daring each other to go in. Men in their underwear, a little deeper, in the water, maybe up to their knees, urging their respective wives to come to him. The young couple gets some sweet moments of shared intimacy in the water as the waves crash them against each other. The newly wed bride holds on to her young husband and laughs a happy, content laugh. The elders in the family, if present, look on with a bemused, indulgent smile on their faces, happy that the man is taking care of his woman. All this touching will be frowned upon as soon as they leave the safety of the water. A married woman of mature age wears a salwar kameez instead of her regular wear – a saree and revels in the guilty pleasure. The pictures will be her only memories of this change once she goes back to her regular life. She will never wear anything but a saree there. The hawkers sell their ware, photographers try to take pictures of you and make you buy them. Food sellers cook food right by the beach making the air aromatic with the heavenly smells from their smoky woks. People buy cheap shell jewellery, eat road side food, it is a carnival every night by the beach. In the midst of all this, the sun rises with the same splendor and casts brilliant light on the sea, the sea changes different hues of blue and aquamarine, the sun sets with resplendence. I sometimes get a glimpse, often times don’t, since my eyes are glued to the mass of humanity.

I am at a good place. I find my sense of balance by belonging to both these countries. I need my simplicity, and I need by orderliness, the beauty of nature refreshes my soul and my fellow humans make me feel a part of a huge plan. I need it all and lucky me, I get it all.

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