In The Air At Juhu
Elizabeth V. Koshy
© Copyright 2023 by Elizabeth V. Koshy
Photo courtesy of the author.
It is raining hard when we reach Juhu Chowpatty. We walk around the little shops selling kulfis, faloodas, ice golas, momos, noodles, bhelpuri, shev puri, paanipuri, chaat, misal, pav bhaji, potato twisters and a feast of other mouth-watering treats, flummoxed by the sheer variety. After a round of the stalls, we finally share a veg. manchurian starter and veg. hakka noodles and then treat ourselves to a delectable malai kulfi with custard noodles and sweet rabadi.
It is still drizzling as we venture onto the beach. There are a lot of tourists enjoying the rain and the breaking waves. Only a few carry umbrellas. Holding a sea-blue umbrella with yellow and pink flowers and green leaves printed on it, we walk towards the water. Professional photographers approach us as soon as they see us. One promises us twelve photographs for 250 rupees. He takes our pictures: with the umbrella, without the umbrella, walking towards the camera, looking into each other's eyes, holding each other's hands, holding each other, a few with the backdrop of the beach, a few with the backdrop of the sea. He sends the pictures to our Android phones and we are pleased with his efforts.
Taking off our shoes and rolling up our trousers we walk hand in hand, zigzagging up and down the watermarks left by the waves, the sand squishy where the water has just receded and firm after drainage. The crescent shaped five km. long Juhu beach stretched before and behind us till the rocky outcrops at the tips of the crescent on the horizon. The waves deposit powdered shells, fawn coloured sand and black clay onto our feet. We hear the rising crescendo of the long wave crashing onto the beach like the sound of airplanes taking off into the sky from Juhu and then dissipating into a moment of frothy silence before the next wave hits the shore.
Is it because of the drizzling rain? Or is it because of the cool breezes from the sea? Is it the ebb and flow of the sea waves? Or is it because only lovers, friends and loving families go to beaches? Whatever the reason is, love is in the air and everywhere: in the laughter, in the squeals of delight as friends and family splash each other, in the posing for photographs and selfies, in the hand thrown across the other's shoulders, in the holding of hands, in the proximity to each other, in the shy glances and warm smiles.
We sit on the soft, almost dry sands after about three quarters of an hour of walking. The rain has stopped drizzling a while ago but the sky is still overcast. It is almost three in the afternoon now. Hawkers selling roasted peanuts, popcorn, fritters and tea approach us and we have tea. We sit propping ourselves with our hands behind us, legs spread out on the sands, watching helicopters flying along the coast and airplanes speeding to Western shores. I draw a deep huge heart pierced with a Cupid's bow on the sand and write our initials in it. I imagine the sign filling up with water at high tide and am happy to think that it would take a couple or more attempts by the waves to wipe out the work of my hands. I wish it was past sundown. We could have lain on the sands. It would have been nice to look at the night sky and the watch the play of the moon and the dark clouds.
We watch a young couple trying to take a timed picture with their mobile phone balanced on the boy's sandals on the sands. The waves are too quick for them as they walk hand in hand towards the sea. They save their mobile from the waves thrice. In their final attempt, the girl races with the wave and grabs the mobile just in time but the receding wave takes the footwear into the sea. The boy rushes after his floating sandals. Getting hold of one, he frantically looks for the other and has to wade into knee deep waters to retrieve it. When he gets hold of the other, he lets out a whoop of joy and the girl rushes toward him in happiness. Laughing, I signal a thumbs up. They wave back at us before walking away, his arm wrapped lovingly around her shoulders and her arm tightly around his waist.
It is past four now and another two and a half hours to sundown. The sun is nowhere in sight. The firmament is a uniform grey. We decide to leave. Shaking the sand out from our clothes and feet, we walk towards the boulders near the boundary walls of the sea-facing apartments, to wear our shoes. We follow the tarred road opening out into the beach to reach the bustling intersection of the Mukteshwar Devalaya and the ISKCON temple. We find ourselves engulfed by and moving with the flow of devotees who had come for the early evening worship to the ISKCON temple. We decide to keep the ISKCON temple visit for another less crowded day.
We hail an auto rickshaw after having walked away from the temple for a few minutes. We whizz past the houses of the rich and the famous and the iconic landmarks of Juhu like the Prithvi Theatre, the Chatrapati Shivaji Monument, the Gandhi Statue, the Mermaid statue, Friends Cross Juhu Shrine and places like Crawford Market, Fashion Street and Chor Bazaar that figure in most books set in Bombay, places that are an inseparable part of the Juhu ethos. Though the air in the city is heavy with exhaust and the cacophony of voices and vehicles inescapable, our mood is upbeat, as the softness of the sands, the rising and falling crescendo of the whooshing waves and the memory of the love in the air on the beach remains in our consciousness long after we walked away from the warm sands.