There was a time long ago, when the Marina in Madras (India) was globally famous as the second most beautiful city-bound beach in the world, after the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). I don't remember the exact status of Naples in Italy, which also had a very famous sea-front.
There's another lovely stretch of seashore in Madras, South of the Marina, called Elliot's Beach, just a kilometre away from where I live now. I had written an article about this place 35 years ago, recalling my impressions obtained a quarter-century earlier when it was a very isolated spot beyond the city's Southern border. So today I have a marvellous sixty-year-old memory to share with you!
Although my column in the evening paper in New Delhi was called Delhiberations, the Editor had given me unlimited freedom to write about any place on earth or even in space which I found interesting, the only condition being that there should be some connection with Delhi, Old or New -- which wasn't very difficult to ensure really, as you can see from this sample!
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(in same order as in text)
Madras -- Metro city on the East coast of India, facing the Bay of Bengal. Now re-named Chennai, but still remains Madras in conversations.
Elliot's Beach -- Named after Edward Elliot, Governor of Madras in the British regime. On the sands here stands a historic monument called 'Kaj Schmidt Memorial', commemorating the sacrifice of a Dutch seaman who saved the life of a young Englishwoman on this spot in 1930, losing his own life in the process.
Rangarajan (alias RJ) -- My college friend who lives in Virginia, USA now, and who has figured in this blog before (Ochi Chorniye, 31 Oct. 2010, and Teach Yourself French, Italian, Spanish!, 7 Feb. 2013).
Bundle of beedies -- 'Beedi' is a native Indian smoking stick -- a small dose of tobacco rolled with a dry leaf into a tapering shape. Relatively inexpensive in comparison with cigarettes, beedies are never sold in packets, but are invariably tied up in cone-like bundles of about 20, in an amazingly uniform rustic tradition prevailing all over India, not only in rural areas but in the cities as well.
Tamil Nadu -- A State in South India, whose main city is Madras.
Jamuna -- Although actually it's a long tributary of the river Ganges, flowing down from the Himalayan mountains, we Indians always think of the Jamuna (or Yamuna) as a great river in its own right -- on whose banks are located India's capital New Delhi, and the world-famous marble monument Taj Mahal in Agra, 200 kilometres further downstream.
Sir Edwin Lutyens -- Distinguished British architect who made significant contributions to the design and architecture of New Delhi, a vast section of which is still informally known as 'Lutyens' Delhi'.
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Evening News, New Delhi
17 April 1978
Back to the beach!
I am not a house-building type of man -- and being an All-Indian rather than a South Indian , all my life I have neglected the question of getting a house of my own for my old age.
Some 20/25 years ago, when I was a young man, I used to spend a lot of time on the secluded Elliot's Beach in Madras. Those days, this was a spot rather insulated from the mainstream of the city's life, and only a few people used to go there for swimming.
A friend of mine called Rangarajan (alias RJ) used to go there sometimes for a swim, and I used to sit on the sands under a blazing sun and make friends with the fishermen. A bundle of beedies or a packet of cigarettes was the only investment necessary for striking up a conversation with those simple folk.
I used to tell my friend: "RJ, I don't think I will ever build a house -- but if I ever do, I would want it to be right here on this spot!"
And now here I am in Madras, 20/25 years later, taking over a lovely apartment built by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, just a kilometre from Elliot's Beach. Some more flats are coming up within 200 yards from where I used to chat with the fishermen, and I can have one of them for the asking; but as a sober middle-aged man, I now prefer to have my home a little farther away.
I can't say I have ever dreamed of owning a house near the sea (or anywhere else, for that matter); but I have certainly dreamed a great deal about the Madras beach. Time and population have taken their toll, and the Marina (which is the main sea front of Madras, north of the isolated Elliot's Beach) has lost some of its glorious sand; and the polluted air has made the sky and the sea more gray than blue. But even now the sight and sound of the foaming breakers remain more or less the same, and they stretch your imagination to eternity.
I have fully enjoyed the peaceful life I've led during the past six years in my self-contained South Delhi sector, and I've enjoyed the many splendid vistas of the Capital. But from time to time I have certainly wished New Delhi had a beach too!
A well-bridged urban river in the centre of a city can compensate to some extent for the absence of a beach. Haven't you seen lovely photographs of the Seine in Paris or the Danube in Budapest? But we in Delhi can't boast of our Jamuna as being anything other than a mere borderline.
No doubt it is just an accident of history that Sir Edwin Lutyens wasn't day-dreaming about the Thamescape in London when he went to work on New Delhi!
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PostScript, 2013Memories of Marina
The above reflections did not describe the Marina in Madras, which has many wonderful memories for me. Just wait till I fish out some other old articles (or write fresh ones) about some splendid views of sea, sky and sand!