India has a long coastline considering it is a peninsula and is bordered by three major water bodies, the Arabian Sea to the west, the Bay of Bengal to the east and the Indian Ocean to the south. It is hence no wonder that beaches dot the peripheral edges of the country and are generously scattered in all the coastline states.
Now the thing about beaches in India are that they come across more like fun fare carnivals rather than quiet pristine havens of nature. The post card picture beaches with fluttering trees on the edge, clear waters and endless surface of undisturbed sand are a reality in some parts of the country, such as, a few recluse beaches of Goa, Gujarat, Daman and Diu and Kerala, however, for most other beaches the picture looks quite different. This is especially true for beaches that are situated in major cities of Mumbai, Chennai and so on.
The universal deal to visit any natural spot is to be one with the larger landscape and have a laid back introspective attitude; many beaches in India offer just the contrary. Taking a stroll across the Juhu or Chowpatty Beach of Mumbai can leave you dazed to say the least, if you are looking for some ‘me’ time. Because for many beaches in our country the undisturbed huge terrain with a high potential of tourist influx usually leads to it being converted as a public property combining noise, mirth, shopping and a general vibe of a collective circus.
There is of course nothing seemingly wrong with this. The beach canvas becomes the backdrop to paint a large social and economic milieu that transcends divides of age, sex, caste and creed. The pauper and prince meet the same treatment, kids and adults are on equal footing as the sand, water and moonlight shine and shade all in the same breadth. The twinkling stalls, the musical lights and the aromatic hubs are open for all, and no matter who you are or where you are from you still eat those delicious pani puris waiting your turn in line or suck on the baraf golas making slurping sounds all the time. The common beaches of India are thus a wonderful leveler of sorts.
Besides, the huge expanse of the tract for public use makes the beaches excellent resources for group activities and discussions. The recent Jallikattu issue saw the Marina beach in Chennai turn into a social and political center where groups of all kinds merged together to find a common ground of protest. On a lighter note, an early morning stroll on any of the beaches, will encounter various fitness clubs, laughter clubs, social gatherings and so on. The fact that people can plan, organize and use the beach space for myriad activities without having to pay compensation or get into too many legal or authoritative permissions, make the beaches a convenient center for low scale collective and group events.
Very much like central parks or squares in other countries, the beaches act as meeting grounds and the open natural space provides for a fresh insight and outlook.
However, what makes the crowded sweltering and noisy Indian beaches apart from any other types is its countless innovative ways to utilize the area into a commercially viable zone. With numerous hawkers, food stalls and children games the beach often reminds one of a school fest. Forget sunbathing or taking exotic dips in the clear waters, but one is often encountered with floating paraphilia of different kinds as one stands in the cool expanse of the bluish grey waters. The sands are littered with tiny stalls selling toys, favorite street food snacks, hot bhajjis, ice creams and balloon shooting, merry go rounds, Ferris wheels. The squeal of laughter blends with the hawker’s yell of candy floss, and the sparks flying off from the roasted maize sprinkle on the brown sands just as the moon crawls over the dark sleepy sea to rise from its slumber. Yes, the busy beaches of India come to life in the early evenings and after sunset because the heat during the day can get quite unbearable.
But it would be unfair to say that if you want to look at clear blue waters, lie on the sand and experience the quiet and tranquility that only a beach can offer, you need to go far. The exotic splendid beaches of Andaman, certain Goan beaches, or the breathtaking beaches of Lakshwadeep as well as some remote beaches in Maharashtra, Diu, Andhra, Kerala and Karnataka are wonderful abodes for sporting activities or leisure walks. The humdrum of humanity ceases considerably and there is much peace and pleasure on the mind.
However, some of the major city beaches continue to be congested and populated. They also continue to amaze at how seamlessly the economics and social mixes find expression and sustenance. Of course, there are the exotic resorts, the secluded islands and the private beaches, but often what makes the festival of life on our beaches more enjoyable and relatable is the people. These beaches hence in some way symbolize a unique blend of culture and societal mix, churned together with resilience of economic benefits, tossed with family bonding and friends gathering and heavily garnished with plain simple fun.