I look again at that black and white photo from more than 30 years ago. I am 2 years old, sprawled on the sand at Foreshore Beach clad in tiny pants and full-sleeved top, busy with my bucket and spade. My mother is pointing her finger telling me to look at the camera. My aunt and mother are wearing similar nylon 644 saris in that photo. I recollect my mother’s sari, large purple flowers on a white background. My uncle was on the other side taking the photo.
I remember those vacations when I was two and three, going to my uncle’s house with my mother. My getting up early to hear the crows cawing and see them flying away from the clothesline. My getting scared if a crow came too close to me and my getting my grandfather to wave his hands and clap to make the crow fly away. For breakfast I used to eat the extra large idlis my grandmother served me and drink warm milk from the special small stainless steel tumbler with my name inscribed on it. Before 7 a.m. I would go walking to the beach with my mother or grandfather. The beach was just four blocks from my uncle’s house. I collected shells and made sand puddings by filling my small pail with wet sand using my spade pressing the sand tight in the bucket turning it over and releasing it from the bucket.
Fishermen with their big nets were there going to catch fish. If my mud pudding crumbled I went to work again to make another one. Soon I had two or three perfect sand puddings. I proudly exhibited these to my mother. After an hour the sun would be too hot. Then I stood in the waves with my little hand catching my mother’s large hand. She rolled up my pants and lifted her sari to her knees and we stood there letting the waves wet our ankles.
Then I went home only to come back in the evening to make more sand puddings. I would go further in the water when the waves were small and retreat when the waves grew larger with my mother always holding my hand or admiring the sand puddings.
But the summer vacation ended. My uncle moved to Thanjavur for sometime, my brother was born and I became too big for sand puddings. The picture has changed. That beach was one of the places hit by the tsunami this year and those fishermen I used to see who must be old men now and their families were destroyed.
Of the people in that picture of more than 30 years ago, my mother died of a heart attack two years ago, my aunt has terminal cancer and the innocent round face of the two year old has been weathered by rough roads. But once making a perfect sand pudding, feeling the wet sand in my hands was all that mattered and a spade was a spade.