A Day at the Beach - Vidya Shergil
My friend, Vidya, grew up on the island of Fiji in the 1950’s. She attended a private girl’s high school. She is working on an autobiography. This is one of her memories and an essay she wrote about her experience.
For our annual hostel picnic, Miss Hodge, and the team, took us, by the bus loads, to Saweni Beach. Nothing like a day on the beach with 50 or so girls. We had only a few hours, but we made the most of it. Any amount of time by the ocean is a treat. The simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, and water on the beach seemed like a gourmet feast.
Another time, they rented a flat-bottomed freight boat called a barge to ferry us across the shallow waters to a nearby island. Our music teacher played the tapes of ‘The Viennese Waltz’ for us. ‘The Blue Danube,’ which is the English title of a waltz by the Austrian Composer Johann Strauss, takes me to that trip every time I hear it.
Just imagine listening to those beautiful waltzes while gently gliding through calm and serene waters. Heavenly!
That island, like many others, is small, low lying park-like and generally not habitable because there is no fresh water source. If you try to drill a well you simply get salty sea water. But these islands are great for a day’s outing.
Again, we asked for and got the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana and plenty of water. The sandwiches were made from thick slices of crusty, sourdough Fiji-bread.
In the few hours there, we were able to walk around, barefoot on the sandy island many times. It was practically all beach, but ringed by many coconut palm trees. After lunch, a bunch of us lay around under a cluster of these trees and snoozed away.
In one of my college English classes, we were asked to close our eyes, to visualize a special day from our childhood, and write about it in a timed assignment. I recalled those two high school picnic days on the island and here’s what I wrote:
SEA OF LIFE
When life’s hurried pace gets you off track and you feel caught up in a whirlwind of strife, what could be better than a leisurely stroll on a wide expanse of a sandy beach? Better still would be lying on that beach napping lazily as the sunbeams melt your cares away.
You slide into a delightfully hypnotic state, listening to the endless breaking of the waves on the shore, centered and completely at ease. It’s time to relish the fact that solitude is not synonymous with loneliness.
Intermittent sprays of briny mist coupled with sea-kissed breezes cool and soothe both mind and body as you watch the delicate swoops and dives of the seagulls, the living kites, playing out an improvised ballet on the coast below.
You sit up for a moment to gaze at the ocean, an implacable azure entity, heaving and recoiling tumultuously as if to flex its impressive muscles in arrogance. Surely, a subtle reminder from the mighty Neptune of our place in the hierarchy of things.
A day at the beach is all one needs for a renewed zest for life. The seemingly endless ocean could well be a testament to man’s mortality. A feeling that life needn’t be simply about existing, but rather about filling one’s sails with enough passion to successfully navigate the ups and downs of life’s temperamental seas.
Isn’t it fun to look back on the thoughts of a teenager raised in a different culture than our own? Perhaps I’ll publish some of her other experiences as a teenager in Fiji during the 1950s. (Elaine)