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Windows between waves


Back in 2009, during my last year in college, my friends and I used to take a three-hour train ride to Gokarna over weekends. It was a small seaboard town with a penchant for attracting people who listened to Bob Marley and chain-smoked cheap cigarettes. But what I remember most distinctive of Gokarna was the sea.

It was a beautiful sunny morning like any other and we had all woken up late. After a heavy breakfast of Nutella pancakes all of us headed out to the sea. It was calm and we all wore our sun shades into the waters, lying supine on our backs and floating with the sun in our eyes. Unlike other days, we had given up on playing pranks – no one went underwater to imitate a sea creature tickling a feet or neck, there were no sudden shrieks of friends splashing the salty sea water into each other’s eyes and mouth – we were pinpricks in the vast ocean drifting further and further away from the shore, blissfully unaware of how close to danger we lurked.

At first, we thought we were being pulled into a wave. Some of us straightened up only to realise that staying upright had become rather difficult. No matter how much weight we put down, the sea dragged us effortlessly into horizontal logs being further pulled into the vastness. A few of my taller friends managed to find their footing and we all grabbed one another – shades flying askew and panic in our eyes.

The waves when they came – they came at us crashing over our heads. It took only a second for the sea to turn from pin-drop silence to a raging monster, intent on robbing us of all our bearings. Someone gulped fistful of water and coughed uncontrollably but we were each concentrating on saving ourselves first, and no one could tell for sure who among us might be in greater danger. With each wave, we held our breath and barred our feet as firmly as we could into the soft sand underfoot. Each step we took towards the shore, the waves dragged us back five. We used the window between the waves to make haste – scrambling and breathing in lungful of air in anticipation of the next one. If we weren’t careful and lost rhythm – the sea smacked us in the face and turned us onto our backs, dragging us away like little pieces of weightless driftwood. For what seemed like an endless struggle – we slowly made our way to the shore. As we sat at the edge of the water, coughing and gasping, there was a palpable sense of relief. We had all made through what could have ended in tragedy. 

I recently thought back to this day from so many years ago when my family came down with the coronavirus infection in the third wave. It occurred to me that we all seem to be living a lot like we’re at sea. Between each wave, we have these little windows of calm – a moment to catch our breath and find our bearings just so we don’t completely lose our footing in the next wave. Sometimes, if we’re lucky the window affords us a holiday, a few weekends with friends or a birthday party - but the longer we stay out in the sun, the closer we come to danger - such has become the strange rhythm of life.

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