The Red Beach
The beach that turns red in the evenings.
They loved that hour.
Father often went with him—to witness this red marvel.
The impressions are still vivid.
The beauty, ethereal.
How nature creates a daily miracle!
The sun going down. Scarlet orb, transforming the sky, earth and ocean into a red-covered reality, short, transient but uplifting.
Father would be awe-struck and remain silent as a worshipper in a sacred cove. Electric colours: Reds, pinks, oranges and yellows, swirling across the space.
Every object—dipped in red.
Cosmic painting in a staggering variety of the reds.
The right balance of intense and soft reds and yellows fires up the land, heavens, horizon and waters.
Enough to pin you down to a place the father-son came to christen as the Red Beach where gods come to play.
Father once remarked: A strange hour, this!
—Day is dying and night, birthing. Both merging seamlessly. Nothing beats it!
They felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the expanse; an al fresco collage, out on display for humanity that hardly bothers about such celestial works and the spiritual import of such elevated scenes.
Father often whispered: Mystical!
Prem, unable to grasp the profundity.
Under the palms, the pair sat and watched.
Father loved red. He painted the exteriors in red. The colour changed the look of the house and turned it into the Red Palace, as the family called their tenement.
Prem once asked him: Why only red?
—It is very versatile colour. Conveys variety of meanings. Symbol used by many civilizations from time immemorial. Unique. Same colour, different non-verbal messages.
—Courage. Change. Danger. Love. Sacrifice. Denotes fire and the sun. Aggression. Velour. Love. Marital status. Fertility. It goes on.
—Red stands out everywhere. Most warmly embraced by humanity. For me, it is sacred, as it was for many tribes earlier.
Prem could not understand.
Father smiled, saying: OK. Look up. That blaze there.
The red-pale-orange flames leaping in the sky.
—Now, look, there!
Gap in the empyrean heights, another reveal.
—There, Prem. The Mayan warrior. That gaunt face with streaks of scarlet- red.
The kid saw a face materializing before unbelieving eyes.
For him, Father was a magician.
—Yonder! The sky islands in the red sea.
—The Red Indian?
—Good! You have got the blessed eyes.
—The eyes of the Ancients.
—Were they different?
—Yes. They saw what we cannot see.
—Is it so?
—Yes, son. Few mortals see like them now. Earlier, whole civilizations possessed that holy vision.
Prem lost him—again.
Father was often mysterious. But Prem obediently drank in his every word. He adored him, despite friends mocking dad’s disability. And eagerly waited for his return. The lame salesman sold door to door, carrying a huge backpack on his bent back, a rod in hand. His voice had become hoarse, body weak but he never complained. Ate a simple lunch in the shade of a tree or a shop- awning and then moved on from one poor neighbourhood to another, his smile intact. Father taught him an important lesson: Nature is God.
He made Prem respect nature.
Before leaving for work, Father dabbed the Basil plant with red and put a small dot on his forehead.
—Let God protect me!
It took many years for Prem to understand the significance of this gesture.
Whenever in Mumbai, he makes it a point to visit the Red Beach.
On the way to the Red Beach, he takes a water bottle and red colour in a paper, keeps them in a cloth bag and reaches his fav place.
The connection starts.
The breeze is cool. On a working day, crowds are thin. He trudges down to the spot: His old shrine!
The evening is same—as it was earlier, in the company of Father. The Red Beach is same. The bend is there. At this strange hour, it is deserted. He sits on the sand and watches His hand paint the ocean, earth and sky in the same fiery reds.
Somebody is about to die somewhere; somebody to be reborn—in the daily cycle. As denoted by red.
Prem hears the old sounds again—a frail voice; the waves sing a dirge; the sea-gulls screech; the hoot of a fishing trailer in the distance.
And a scene that still haunts:
…they brought Father in an ambulance on a rainy evening. The sheet was covered in his fav red. When being taken out, the dried blood stains got washed by the furious rain. Father was kept in the wet front-yard, shielded by few black umbrellas. The slum-dwellers had come in hundreds. He stood motionless, unable to comprehend. Wet and shivering, his sobs getting mixed up in the torrential rain. The cops were kind but insisted the sheet be not unwrapped. Then they left. Rituals were done hurriedly. Prem had placed red flowers on the top of the bamboo stretcher and bid tearful farewell to a man, a constant companion for last 16 years of a happy life. Grandma had fainted upon discovering the still body of her dear son who had taken care of the invalid for many years. They cremated the dead near a swollen creek. Whole lives altered by an ensuing absence. Prem had become an adult overnight. He took odd jobs to look after the family and studied. On lonely evenings, he would come to the bend and listen to a voice, no more.
Prem’s startup Red.com works with this message:
No rash driving! It leaves only orphans! STOP THE STREETS BECOMING RED.
He feels Father’s presence around him.
He draws a father and son… watching the sun on a beach drenched in crimson…the waves wash the painting; the red-drawn figures merge with infinity—the ocean, on fire, at this hour.
Sunil Sharma, an academic and author-freelance journalist from the suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 19 books so far, some solo and joint.
He edits Setu: