The path between Half Moon and Paradise was riddled with huge black rocks that felt smooth under my palm. It was early in the evening as we made our way through those rocks – up and down, constantly using our hands to steady ourselves; putting our trust in the robustness of our slippers – and the advance of the tide had only just started to become noticeable. The sea lay on our right, undisturbed except for a small boat, carrying not more than five passengers and gliding through the water towards our intended destination. One of the five gave us a nonchalant wave.
“Why do people do that?” remarked Aryan, as he replied with a quick thumbs-up.
“Maybe we should sit down for a bit,” I said as Aryan continued to stare at the boat.
“The purple rocks are just beyond that cliff,” he replied. “Why don’t we sit there? The view is much better.”
For a little while, during which we continued to climb through the rocks amid the slow gushes of sea water, we could still see the boat being pulled by its sole oarsman, until it disappeared from view behind the very cliff that hid those purple rocks.
“Tomorrow let’s take the boat to Nirvana,” suggested Aryan. “We didn’t the last time.”
“We could,” I replied.
It took us another ten minutes before we found ourselves on the other side of the cliff with the patch of purple rocks staring at us from afar. The color of these rocks was in extreme contrast to that of the surrounding area, which was basically an envelope of green and blue.
“It reminds me of what you had said last time,” said Aryan as we sat down. “It is like falling down a rabbit hole.”
“I hadn’t said that. It was Kunal.”
“Oh, yes it was. I forgot.”
Little crabs scurried around on the purple rocks and through the little streams of water in between. I felt a little uneasy by their sudden bursts of speed between moments of absolute stillness.
“I don’t think I can get tired of this sound,” said Aryan, lighting a cigarette and pointing his fingers towards the incoming waves. “I am becoming used to it, but still not tired of it.”
I smiled and slowly shook my head as he held the cigarette in his outstretched arm, just a few inches below my left shoulder.
“When did this happen?” he asked as he retracted his arm.
“A few months now.”
“Well,” said Aryan, taking a long draw, “we can’t linger much longer. I don’t want to be going through those rocks after the sun has set.”
“Yes. Finish your cigarette and then we’ll go,” I said,” my eyes fixed on a crab that had just started to climb a rock after emerging from a shallow stream of water near my feet.
We left the purple rocks and I felt much better. Half an hour later, Paradise beach came into view, and our tired feet quickened until we could feel the softness of the cool sand beneath our feet. We removed our slippers and walked with them in our hands. I was happy to notice that the boat wasn’t present there. It must have gone straight to Nirvana.
“It is just as you expect it,” remarked Aryan.
It was. It was completely deserted, except for one makeshift tent that lay perched on a small cliff top towards our left where the beach met the hill. It was small and serene; just like it was last year. However, at that time, there had been three of us and we had expected nothing.
“The Israelis are few in number,” I said. “I see only one tent.”
“I can see one guy in the water,” said Aryan as we placed our bags containing our wallets, phones and sleeping bags near a rock. “There were more at Half Moon though. Anyway, let’s take a dip.”
We took off our shirts and walked towards the water. It was cold and I quickly took a few dips to make it bearable. I stayed near the beach but Aryan, being a better swimmer, went further. The Israeli was far deeper and towards his left. Aryan waved at him and he waved back.
The seaweed that would intermittently brush against my legs made me uncomfortable. I got tired of the water and waded back towards the beach. As I didn’t want to get mud on my shorts, I stood there for a while to let them dry. Aryan waved at me, probably wondering as to why I wasn’t in the water. I just pointed towards the sand in reply, as if to say that I was fine here. But I knew I wasn’t because all of these little things were annoying me very much; annoying me all the more because I couldn’t remember any of this annoying me last year.
I finally sat down and waited for him, thinking about things I could say when he came back. The sun was very near the horizon now, having reached the stage where I could easily look at it without hurting my eyes. I lay on my back and stared at the sky.
The sound of splashing feet woke me up. At first, I felt a little disoriented because the sun had set, lending a much different colour to the sky. I sat up and saw the Israeli walk towards me with a smile on his face. Aryan was still in the water.
“The crabs will start exploring you if you stay still too long,” he spoke in a very clear and concise accent.
“I didn’t mean to sleep.”
“The sand is like that,” he said with a shrug.“I’m Jaron.”
“Are you with that guy?”
“I’m here with my friend Yael,” he said and pointed at the tent that we had seen earlier. There wasn’t anyone to be seen.
“He’s probably asleep. You guys would be staying the night?”
“We will. We only just got here.”
“That’s good,” he said and felt around his shorts to see if they were dry. “You should join us later.”
“Thanks. We might.”
He lingered for a bit, glancing towards the sea from time to time, where Aryan seemed quite content at just being pushed around by the waves. At first I thought that he was going to sit down and I hoped that he wouldn’t. Then, all of a sudden, he just nodded at me and walked away.
I felt hungry but decided to wait for Aryan to get back. He took his time, like I knew he would, while I sat there in the sand, just looking at and listening to nothing.
He returned after a while and immediately fell on the sand beside me.
“You’ll get muddy,” I warned.
“It doesn’t matter. It’ll dry. Do you want to eat? I’m hungry.”
“I’ll get the food,” I said and walked towards our bags, returning with two burgers that we had bought at one of the shacks on Half Moon.
“We should have got something to drink too,” said Aryan as he took a bite. “This is great.”
We just sat there and did nothing, except watch the relentless roll of the waves and hear the water crash on to the rocks. It was what we had planned to; last year we had done the same. The beauty of Paradise had been enough and there hadn’t been any need for conversations.
“The Israeli guy met me when you were in the water,” I tried. “His name is Jaron.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Aryan. “What did he say?”
“Just that he is here with his friend Yael,” I said and pointed towards the cliff where their tent stood. We could see the two of them standing outside with a horde of thin wooden logs kept in front.
“They are trying to make a fire,” said Aryan. “We should give it a try too. It looks great. Maybe tomorrow.”
“We could,” I said. “By the way, he has invited us to come over.”
“He is a different sort,” said Aryan. “Last year, none of them even seemed interested to talk to us.”
“Yeah they didn’t,” said I.“I don’t know if he meant it.”
“It might be fun,” said Aryan. “It will get cold in a while. A fire would be nice.”
But before the cold, there were the stars. They always came before the intense cold and that was perhaps the best time to be on Paradise. This was a different kind of beauty than what the day presented. The blue of the water, the green of the trees and the black of the rocks all slowly went away. The colours didn’t matter much anymore. We could still hear the sea; that was the same. Now we were lying on our backs, looking at the stars and I was feeling much better.
“Until you come to a place like this,” said Aryan, “you would never realize the impact of pollution. They are just so many stars.”
“Can you make out a constellation?” I asked.
“I’m bad at that,” he replied. “I once memorized the layout of Ursa Major. It was the most obvious one. It’s all gone now. Kunal knows a couple. He is good at this.”
“He knows more than a couple,” I said with a laugh. “And he could never stop talking about them.”
“Yeah,” said Aryan. “It is funny what can grab someone’s interest.”
Their fire was burning nice and steady now and we could see the reflections of the flames in the water. I looked towards them and saw that the two were sitting outside their tent near the fire. One of them was playing a small guitar. Maybe it was a ukulele. I couldn’t make out whether he was singing or not because I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the sea.
“Can you hear what he is playing?” asked Aryan. I noticed that he too was looking towards them.
“No. He is playing too softly,” I said.
“Do you think it is cold enough now?” he asked with a smile and got up. “Should we?”
We stood up, searched for our slippers that were buried in different locations in the surrounding sand, and walked towards the cliff. It took a while for them to see us approach. Eventually, one of them, most probably Jaron, waved and pointed towards a particular section of the hill that we could use to climb up. It was difficult to see in the dark and we had left our phones in our bags next to where we had been sitting. We climbed slowly, using our hands from time to time, until the path was clear and wide enough for us to feel comfortable. We finally stepped on to the cliff and now I could clearly see their faces illuminated by the flames. It was Jaron’s friend Yael who had the ukulele in his hand. He wasn’t playing at that moment.
“It is good that you came,” said Jaron. “This is my friend, Yael.”
Yael stood up and shook our hands before assuming his position beside the fire.
“He doesn’t speak much English,” said Jaron and Yael nodded.
My eyes fell on their tent, which basically consisted of a large piece of cloth hung over a protruding branch of a tree and then fixed to the ground using bricks. The entrance was uncovered, but the interior wasn’t visible because of the dark. It was much less impressive than the makeshift houses of the Israelis living on Half Moon.
“It’s a nice tent,” said Aryan.
“No no,” replied Jaron. “It cannot stop the rain and keeps flapping in the wind. But sit down, sit down.”
I sat next to Yael, who was keenly looking at his ukulele and gently plucking on the strings, creating a discordant sound that, when I started to focus on it, seemed very loud. He caught my gaze and held his ukulele out in front.
“Oh no,” I gestured. “I cannot play anything.”
The warmth of the fire felt nice and here one could clearly hear its crackle over the sea in the background. We were all silent for a bit and then Yael started to strum louder and slowly broke into a rhythm that Jaron, by the look on his face, clearly recognized.
“He is making a mockery of it,” he laughed and then spoke in Hebrew to Yael, who smiled but continued to play the tune rather seriously. “It is Od Lo Ahavti Dai. In English that would be I haven’t loved enough,” he explained to us. “It sounds so different on a Ukulele.”
It sounded ok to me and I looked towards Aryan who too seemed to be enjoying it. Yael continued to play, while Jaron passed over some sandwiches that were wrapped in a foil. I declined but Aryan took one.
“Have you guys been to Gokarna before?” asked Jaron just as Yael finished.
“Last year was the first time,” replied Aryan. “It was just after our graduation.”
“You get holidays after your graduation?”
“We had a month before our jobs started.”
Jaron nodded. “We get a holiday after our conscription period is over. We heard about this place in the army. That’s where we met.”
“Did you like the army?” I asked.
“Yael still does,” he said and Yael nodded in agreement. “He wants to join it again when we get back.”
“I don’t know. Not the army, though. For now I am here and this is nice.”
Yael picked up the ukulele once again and started strumming, but gently and without any real purpose.
“How is this place the second time?” asked Jaron.
“Different,” said Aryan and I looked at him. “The previous year it was new and there were three of us.”
“Our friend Kunal,” I explained. “He couldn’t get away.”
“But it’s as beautiful.”
“Yes,” agreed Jaron.“We have been here for two weeks now, half of which we have spent on Paradise. When do you guys leave?”
“We reached today,” I replied. “Another three days.”
“You’ll stay the nights here?”
“Today at least,” said Aryan. “That was the plan. We might go to Nirvana tomorrow.”
“Ah..we’ve been there. It is too long a beach. One feels very small there.”
By now the sand had swallowed my feet up to my ankles. The fire was dying a bit but the warmth could still be strongly felt on our eyes and faces. It was very comfortable there. I stopped talking and just heard Jaron and Aryan converse. They were doing it very easily.
It was only when Aryan put his hand on my shoulder that I realized that I had dozed off. Yael was still strumming his ukulele and the fire was now burning well. Jaron and Aryan were smiling at me.
“The sand gets to you easily,” said Jaron.
“Let’s go back,” said Aryan. “It’s late.”
I was a little embarrassed and quickly nodded to both Yael and Jaron before getting up. My left foot had gone off to sleep and it was a little difficult going down the same path we had come through before. Away from the fire, I started to feel cold and, on reaching the place we had sat earlier, we immediately unpacked our sleeping bags and unrolled them on the sand. Inside, it was not as comfortable as on the cliff, but it wasn’t that bad.
“They were okay,” said Aryan.
“I suppose,” I replied. “Yael was weird. It seemed deliberate.”
“Maybe it was. But Jaron was fine.”
“Yeah. You guys talked a lot.”
“It wasn’t much. You slept.”
I was glad he didn’t look towards me when he said that. But then it wasn’t so easy to turn our heads within those sleeping bags.
“We should definitely go to Nirvana tomorrow,” I said.
“It would be something different.”
He nodded and closed his eyes. I turned my head and stared at the stars, not feeling too sleepy. For a moment, after I had been staring for a long while, I thought that I made out Ursa Major, but I was mistaken.