Sneha Subramanian Kanta believes all writing is a form of dissent. Her work has forthcoming in Fallujah Magazine, 7X20 mag, In Between Hangovers Magazine, Sahitya Akademi, Noble/ Gas Qtrly, Epigraph Magazine and the print anthology of Peacock Journal. Her work has been published in poetry anthologies such as Dance of the Peacock (Hidden Brook Press, Canada), Suvarnarekha (The Poetry Society of India, India) and elsewhere.
The sea at Plymouth was pristine and clear, except for some seaweeds that stood out like an odd hairpin. I was among peers and colleagues, standing like an outcast. Their conversation did not interest me. I had no appetite to engage with banter about the latest electronic gadgets or people our acquaintances had slept with in the near past.
I peered into the vast blue as the boat nudged onward. I instinctively walked ahead until I met the captain.
"It is a bright day for September," I remarked.
"Oh yes, it did not rain much this year. It gets easy to navigate this way — though at this stage of my life I have seen many storms" he laughed.
I saw his sun burnt skin loosened by the passage of years. The wrinkles on his hands were prominent. Sure, nothing would frighten a man that has lived on near the sea.
"Where are you from, young lady?" he asked me.
"India," I replied.
"Whereabouts in India?"
"Mumbai," I answered with a smile, since I knew the sea was synonymous with my city. This was turning out to be an interesting conversation.
"I would love to have navigated a boat across the Arabian sea, the Bay of Bengal ... I had a friend and his father served in the national uprising. My father had been to India during the British rule, and he spoke fondly of the people."
It is not rare to encounter a conversation about colonization in England. Some think of it with fond memories and the younger generation mostly uses it as a yardstick to measure the mistakes of the past generation.
"We have had ties," I smiled, and added, "Rather quite some deep past associations. Our countries." I had felt guilt at remarking the entire episode with such flippancy.
"Are there still British monuments in India?" he questioned, the inquisitive eyebrow half raised. I have been asked worse things, I thought internally. At least this seemed like half intriguing conversation hitherto.
"Many of the monuments erected by the British still stand strong. For instance, the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta is now a major site of tourist attraction, even the locals are proud of its whiteness." I was being ironic in my own way, and quickly added, "In my city, Mumbai, we have the CST station turned into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every time I go towards Crawford Market and the adjoining areas, I can taste the rust of colonial past in my mouth."
"I have heard about the glorious city, Mum-bhai," he emphasized. I wasn't going to make him into a stereotype. He seemed genuinely interested to know more about the country.
“There are so many people from India that have now settled in Britain.”
"Once upon a time, it was easier to get a visa to come to Britain if one had a driving license," I mocked. "So much for the association of Indians as engaging with professions that serve."
"You would get along greatly with my son," he smiled. "He is on a trip to Istanbul as an independent researcher. Individuals in your generation are quite forthright and informed. You have your own opinions."
"What do you study here?"
"English literature," I instantaneously answered. "now we go a-rowing in the turquoise."
"It is this way, each generation thinks theirs is going to be the last. My wife engages with a lot of yoga and meditation. She believes in Eastern philosophy and visits Varanasi every Dee-wali."
I did not want to deconstruct his pronunciation, at this time. There was enough of that being done to me. I was glad that India wasn't touted as the cheap land for foreign tourism. I had several requests, through my one week in England, for cheap tea and trinkets to yoga mats, et cetera. All so-inferred — not essentially true.
"I remember the tsunami India witnessed not so long back."
"The sea has a way of speech that is incomprehensible to mortals. Talking all the time, of great countries as though they are two different worlds. Organically, we are all the same. The sea divides, yet it binds."
"Yes, and we all offer much to celebrate to each other. Governments corrupt nations, my young girl."
"It is not all propaganda," I retorted, "though I do not entirely disagree, not all of it isn't."
We were reaching the end of our harbor boat ride. I looked onto the green pastures of small hills that made the sea look green. When the sunshine is dense, it reflects everything in the sea.
"We had a teakwood table that was brought by my father from India. Come here, I'll show you."
As I nudged forward, I saw a frayed but sturdy table, kept on a corner and used for keeping first aid boxes and other miscellaneous things. I looked closer and saw the words "1889. Bombay, India. Sultan & Bros." inscribed.
Something far from the place I lived seemed more familiar than ever — the scents of memory were teeming alive. I touched the inscription like the epitaph over a loved one's tombstone. My country had made this thus far.
"You must come to India sometime," I told him, knowing very well this could be our last meeting.
"I sure look forward, young lady, and you take care.”
"Thank you for safely getting us back," I smiled as I waved goodbye.
The sea was strong and fierce, and small brown rocks were full of cracks and visible holes. There were five small fishes that swam on the edge and quickly retreated back. The sea divided and yet it was an adhesive for those that knew how to bind nations. It was same for the seagulls that cried deliciously every dawn, to wake the entire town. Over the sand, there was a land drawn with the footprints of sea-turtles. Restless little creatures, wanting to travel far and there were no visa stamps or immigration laws. Once their journey to the sea was over, they returned to hibernate in the place they came from, their homes.
© Sneha Subramanian Kanta