Last month, we took a drive down to East Coast Road. As a day trip. Yes, I am aware it sounds faintly ridiculous that we drove all the way from Bangalore to ECR and came back the same day but there were extenuating circumstances. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment urges to hit the road and keep driving. I had a longing for the sea. And there was nowhere we could leave our dog at such short notice. So we decided to pile into the car and drive towards Mahabalipuram and drive back when we were done with the drive and the road and the sea.
I confess I’m a bit of a journey junkie. Nothing feels quite as good as the miles in between here and wherever I’m trying to get to and there is a strange disquiet when the place has been reached. Of course, this is provided I am traveling by car and by this I really mean, my own car. Otherwise, I’m prone to motion sickness so I spend a good amount of time breathing, looking green, clutching the person next to me and trying not to upchuck. Don’t ask me why, miraculously, I feel like doing none of these things when I am being driven in my own car by someone I trust, with my own music on the stereo and the windows down. In which case, I rate a road trip as one of the top five pleasures of life and said reluctance to reach destination takes over.
A viciously foggy morning, a wrong turn and several kind but misleading people conspired to make us reach later than we had anticipated. So we decided not to go on all the way to Mahabalipuram. Instead, we stopped near one of those gorgeous clumps of trees on ECR and ate kebabs and chips and drank white wine. We had missed the lunchtime rush hour of picnickers from Chennai and we were quite alone in that little grove.
I’ve always loved East Coast Road for its particular bleak, cold sort of beauty which is so different from the sunnier mood of the western coast. The sea looks mournful, the sand is greyer and full of shrubs, and the coniferous trees stand like watchful sentry guarding the secrets of men who come to weep here at eventide. I mean, they don’t really. Or I don’t know if they do. But they probably should. It’s that kind of sea. If I lived in Chennai, I’d definitely exorcise my blues on its shores.
It reminds me of Matthew Arnolds’ Dover Beach, especially these lines.
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
Which makes me think about how poets have always been fascinated by the sea, its gloom more than its frolic. Other poems about melancholy seas includes Sylvia Plath’s Full Fathom Five, Edgar Allan Poe’s The City in the Sea, Derek Walcott’s The Sea is History and Carl Sandburg’s Sea Slant. On this particular day, we were in a sunnier mood though so there was no melancholy. We ate and talked and watched the sunset and later, the ants came.