Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Seashell Seller Girl

I consider life much more dramatic than our legendary Raj Kapoor’s films and similarly more varied than the mighty Mahabharata. Luckily human brain preserves only the creamed part of it and the rest keeps on getting recycled each and every moment. We all are rolling stones and keep on striking with other rolling stones in different locations of the globe starting from those fanatic days of infatuation to this robotic timeline I’m living off late. I was reflecting on such rolling interactions along my bygone timeline.  I remembered glue stuck gazing at the blue eyed school girl named Manali in the Shimla tour in my schooldays to the grey haired British gentleman whom I had come across very recently in my trekking to Mukinath. But finally when I decided to blog about it, an incident crept up and crawled out like the lettuce seeking larva of a caterpillar. The venue was beautiful but not among those glamorous ones of its type… well many of you must be familiar with the beach city Puri of Odisha which is undoubtedly more appealing to Hindu pilgrims than crazy beach lovers. It happened long back… long before I had the lethargy of Mastercard… even before the rising trend of digital photography…

One day back we had devoted the full day in bus trip to Sun temple at Konark, Lingaraj temple, Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneshwar, Caves at Udaygiri, Khandagiri etc. I don’t know exactly how much the Kalinga School of architecture or the aesthetic sculptural arts of Jainism and Buddhism could occupy my teenage mind but the English speaking guide’s narration about the sexuality in engraved contemporary life had certainly made me an avid listener along with a European travellers’ group. It was a hectic day of sight seeing, so me and my friend both had decided to allot the next day for some beach relaxation or in a young man’s word we both were panting for some beach fun. Like good souls we warmed up before the crack of dawn to witness the mesmerising sunrise on the beach with my modest Yashica fixed lens film camera. The sparsely populated beach comprising hand few enthusiastic tourists and some hat clad fishermen looks more photogenic with its wet golden sand. The freshness of the daybreak even masks the coarseness of the otherwise sand and one feels like standing still on the unruffled territory of neglected oysters for hours and hours in bare foot. With the first glimpse of rising sun when I fixed my eye behind the viewfinder to trap the red molten iron like curling waves, a na├»ve voice distorted my clicking spree, “Sir, take these beautiful seashells… only a rupee Sir…”. I was displeased for the unwanted interruption and turned my head to find a seven-eight years old girl with a packet full of shells pleading my friend. Oh it was not for me… at least the girl in the shabby frock had that much sense not to interfere in a photographer’s study. But once I put down my camera I need some recoil time. I became vengeful for a moment and thought of taking some fun out of my silly concentration breaker.
“Eh listen… what are you selling?” I tossed to the girl.
“Sir these are beautiful sea shells… look at this one…” she promptly handed over a somewhat large, pearly shining oyster shell to me.
It was mind stealing but I was determined not be fascinated by her goods, so I put my next query, “So what would I do with these shells?”
Her eyes widened as she replied, “You can decorate your house… like wall, mirror, handbag… Elder brother you can even make collection of these rare ones in my packet… trust me all your guests will be amazed by them…”
The ‘elder brother’ instead of ‘sir’ made me angrier. How dare the unknown idiot addresses me brother. The ragging spirit in the higher secondary boy rose to a higher level and so I said, “Can you show me some pieces which I can make with these useless shells?”
“Yes brother I’ll show you a Ganesh my mother had made out of these seashells yesterday…” she said.
I was enjoying it more, “Oh good… so where’s your house? Will it take much time for you to bring that?”
“No… no… just give me fifteen minutes… I’ll go and come back like these waves… meanwhile you can take some nice pictures of our sea…” she tried to assure. Now her advice to me felt like a harpoon at my back and the two words ‘our sea’ sounded like headmaster’s miser permission. All these similes were making me more and more unkind towards the little girl.
She ran few metres and again came back to tell something she had forgotten, “But one thing… even though you’ll like that Ganesh piece you can not buy it from me because my mother won’t sell it until my father returns from the sea… Ok?”
I found this hurting my ego more than ever before. How can a poor girl decide my buy who is supposed to beg me for the same! I simply nodded my head to let her run again. The second she vanished in the sand I called my friend, “Sanjay let us go back to our hotel… we can have some tea”
Sanjay relaxing few yards away in the coolness of the morning was totally unaware of my negotiations and plans. He looked surprised, “Why to the hotel buddy… we can take tea from these beach hawkers…”
I didn’t have time to explain him my vindictive action, so I dragged him by his hand and headed to our hotel which was just in front of the beach, may be some two hundred metres from where my ego was wounded. I was satisfied with the utter thought how that girl would react to find her morning customer vanished. I swore to myself to watch her face searching for me through binoculars from the roof of our hotel.

As soon as we approached the counter to ask for our room key the receptionist told politely to Sanjay, “Sir there’s a telegram from your home”.
What followed next was one of those worst nightmares. Sanjay was sitting on the floor, with a piece of paper washed out with streaming down drops of intense pain from his eyes… I was shocked and helplessly sitting beside him with an arm over his shoulder, ignorant of how to console a friend who has lost his father. Our trip had ended for sure… our belongings were eagerly waiting in our room to be packed up. Sanjay was speechless… his father didn’t die of any disease… it was the saddest death… he had committed suicide in the midnight! I was dumping our clothes and other goods one by one into our bags and simultaneously patting my silently moaning companion. I knew my duty at that point of time but had no single word in my lips to soothe the lamenting soul. It didn’t take long after that to checkout from the hotel. Seeing the graveness of our situation, the hotel manager himself arranged for a taxi to drop us to the railway station.
When our taxi left the hotel gate the seashell seller girl almost clutched our open window and screamed, “Hey brother stop… stop… how can you go like that?”
The manager sitting in the front row yelled at her and ordered the driver to ignore her. I don’t know what had overpowered me… I requested the driver, “Please stop the car… only a minute”
“Sorry sister for keeping you waiting for us… we’re leaving because something very bad has happened in our house… you keep this…” I told her while holding loosely a five rupees note.
The disappointed expression in her dry tanned face took a concerned motherly shape… without looking at the money in my hand she asked, “What bad has happened brother?”
It seemed to me that I had found a quantum of solace in those few words of sympathy. I really needed someone to talk to… to tell what we were undergoing. “My friend’s father has passed away” I spoke out like I was ready for it.
She quickly ran and came to the other rear window where Sanjay was sitting with a mountain of grief. She quickly offered a colourful showpiece of Lord Ganesh built from oyster shells of different size to Sanjay and told, “Oh brother don’t cry. Keep Him with you and He’ll manage the rest… my mother says that He never lets anyone to cry… He looks after all…”
May be Sanjay wasn’t touched as much as I was as he hardly knew of the morning incident and moreover he had something bigger to cry for, till then he was hesitant to take that gift from the girl.
The girl was adamant and he almost pushed it onto his lap, “Take Him brother, he’ll take all your sorrows and bless you all the joys… He’ll take full care of you”. Then she ran away from our car and got mixed with the crowd in the beach.
My voice had clogged… I couldn’t gather enough hatred to hate the selfish self embedded in me… I didn’t have enough courage to touch that poignant souvenir from the heart of a real human being… no I dared not… my hands were not so pure… I closed my eyelids as tight as I could but wild stream of remorse slipped out of them to touch my lips and remind me of my error…

Decades have passed… life has been through so many high as well as low tides as if rapidly filling up the pages of our individual Mahabharata… but within these pages dwell some stories those grab our heart… perspectives those make us stop our breath and think… and emotions those make us reflect. If we dig deep in some brave reminiscence we really find those true hidden gems, treasures worth rediscovering! Today, I felt so good narrating my bygone encounter with the seashell seller girl, whose name I wasn’t fortunate enough to know… but something I know for sure- I’m blessed to have met God in the seashore in those days when I was too small to recognise Him. God marks his presence in all those things which our ever growing immoral eyes fail to trace!

- Anunoy Samanta


  1. Replies
    1. What do you think Ms?
      BTW it was a contest entry which I couldn't win :-D


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