SPELL OF THE SEA
It spelt freedom from fear.
Balu had run away from home when he was just 12. His parents were migrant labourers in Bihar and could barely feed their family of seven children with their daily earnings. He was a middle child and was largely ignored. Balu’s dreams of a full stomach and a permanent hut made him restless. When he heard from a neighbour’s visiting relative about the ocean and its bounty of fish, he was hooked. Leaving a message with an older sibling, one fine day, he just took off for the lure of the ocean. Walking, taking lifts, a train journey, doing odd jobs en route enabled him to reach his destination in a few months.
The moist, salty breeze, the lingering smell of fish everywhere and
However, tragedy struck and the gas pipeline burst. The toxic fumes resulted in instantaneous death for all those present in the compressor room. Life now was even better for Balu. He had a steady income and a loving wife and home to return to after his daily toils. They were blessed with two sons Sooraj and Badal. The children also grew up loving the sea and all that it entailed.
the early morning activity of the fishing fraternity had Balu mesmerised. Also his dream of eating well seemed possible with fish so readily available. Balu took up work with a small fisherman in return for a square meal a day. It helped Balu learn the nitty gritty of fishing and he was quite content. He was still a child and any spare time he had spent being friends with the sea, running along the beach, swimming, building sand castles, collecting shells.
Sea activities were an endless source of joy for him. Balu was immensely happy.
Time elapsed. Balu was now a young adult. The fishing community was his family now. They pestered him to get married and found him a suitable bride, who was an orphan and, like him, had no family ties. Balu and Chanda got married and immediately after marriage, Balu took Chanda to the seaside and said, “Chanda, this sea is my family and my god. Let us seek blessings from the sea god so that our life together is joyous. May our union be blessed and our worries swept away by the sea”. Saying so Balu sprinkled some sea
water on Chanda as a blessing from the sea god.
Life now was even better for Balu. He had a steady income and a loving wife and home to return to after his daily toils. They blessed with two sons Sooraj and Badal. The children also grew up loving the sea and all that it entailed.
Balu’s happiness was on a high wave.
Sooraj was now 13 years old and helping his father on a regular basis. Whenever given an opportunity he would also take up work in the commercial boats and ships too. For a threefour-day trip the payment used to be quite good. If the tourists included foreigners Sooraj would be able to get hefty tips too as he could use a smattering of English words and was a cheerful companion. One fine day, Sooraj was working in one such ship. The compressor room developed a fault in the gas pipeline and he along with two other seamen was helping control the damage. However, tragedy struck and the gas pipeline burst. The toxic fumes resulted in instantaneous death for all those present in the compressor room.
Balu and Chanda were devastated over Sooraj’s death. They did not want to cry in front of their younger son Badal and would shed quiet tears at the seaside. Their salty tears mixed with the salt of the sea. There was nothing else to be done.
Life continued. The daily routine was a comfort in these trying times. In monetary terms things were quite comfortable. There was a decent income and not much of expenditure, as the sea could take care of most of their needs. Once again the family learnt to live and laugh. But fate had something else in store.
The tsunami struck and their fishing village was reduced to rubble. Balu, Chanda and Badal took refuge on top of a tree. High winds lashed mercilessly as they tried to cling on for dear life. They comforted each other that at least they were all together and could once again start life from the scratch as Balu had done many, many years back. The branch which Balu was holding tight, snapped with his weight and the heavy gales. His last breath was in the sea which he had whole heartedly loved. He became just one more morsel which the sea had swallowed.
Balu was now in the eternal embrace of the sea gods.
Overnight, Chanda and Badal had aged. All the joy and laughter had gone from their lives. It was now a monumental struggle to rebuild a life from the ruins; and it was a repeat story for almost all their neighbours. There was only shared grief all around. Food and water were scarce. The ocean was contaminated with the dead human beings and animals that had found a watery tomb due to the tsunami. Government officials warned against eating these fishes as they could be lethal. Chanda and Badal could scarcely heed this warning as they reached near starvation levels. They foraged for fishes, fruits and roots which they could cook and eat. Sometimes Chanda slept on an empty stomach so that Badal could eat. Other times Badal pretended that he had eaten so that his mother could eat a few morsels. Over a period of time the delicate stomach of the child could not digest the poisonous fish and he writhed in pain. The mother was helpless in the absence of any medical aid close by. She soothed her ailing child holding him close to her and giving him all the love she was capable of. It was to no avail. Badal succumbed to food poisoning.
Chanda once again went to the ocean front.
The entire village was witness to Chanda laughing hysterically holding forward her arms to the ocean. A kindly neighbour questioned Chanda about her action.
Chanda’s reply silenced all of them: “The sea gods have taken everyone that I loved. They have now lost all ability to harm me as I have got nothing to lose. From this moment on I have got freedom from fear.”
Government officials warned against eating these fishes as they could be lethal. Chanda and Badal could scarcely heed this warning as they reached near starvation levels. Chanda’s reply silenced all of them: “The sea gods have taken everyone that I loved. They have now lost all ability to harm me as I have got nothing to lose. From this moment on I have got freedom from fear.”