I did not see him.
I swear, I did not.
Few people were staring at me with accusatory looks, as he lay on the sand, with a look of disbelief in his eyes. I knew that he must be hurt but did not know it just yet, for I was at least ten times bigger and stronger than him, and was feeling much more than just a tinge of pain. After all, he had rammed his little head on my back quite hard.
He sprang back on his feet a second later and started running again. I saw him jump into the waves and splash water on his friends, laughing hysterically.
I looked around to find the small boy’s family sitting on a mat, and eating mangoes.
“Lagi toh nahi?” His father asked me.
“I am fine but I think your kid just suffered a concussion.” I wanted to tell him, but I decided to just nod and move on.
I did not want to ruin their little picnic. I looked back at the boy one last time and seeing him doing another mad run into the Arabian Sea, I was convinced that he was okay.
If you are looking for a quiet, pristine, untouched beach, where you can spend your evening sitting quietly, watching the sun take a dip into the sea, Juhu is probably the last place you would want to visit.
I wanted hail an auto rickshaw and leave within five minutes of walking on the sand. Plastic bags, fruit skins, cigarette butts, waste papers lied around on the beach, while the blue plastic dumpsters, placed just a few feet away, stood ignored.
The whole place was buzzing with people. Some were sitting on the sand, talking, eating, laughing, arguing, and taking pictures, while others played around with the cool water with their families and friends, beating the Mumbai heat. It was almost like half of Mumbai had decided to show up at the beach to relax and unwind that evening.
Within a few minutes of walking along the sea, dodging the cotton candy, peanuts and balloon vendors, I started to get used to the activities all around. Juhu beach is as much about the people, as it is about the sea and the sun. You could get a taste of the essence of Mumbai by spending an evening there. Juhu, like the city of Mumbai, was full of contrasts.
People from all around the country were there. Punjabis to South Indians to Biharis to the local Marathis, were all queued up for a round of spicy pani-puris.
Ladies wearing burqas were sitting next to ladies wearing the latest beachwear.
Some were strolling leisurely, while some still busy on their business calls, pacing nervously.
Some were trying to burn calories by jogging along the beach, while some were instructing the pav-bhaji chef to slather an insane amount of butter on their breads.
From families with un-pampered kids to families with over-pampered dogs, they were all there.
Every now and then, a local photographer would come running, and ask if I wanted a picture of myself. He would showcase his photography skills through his portfolio of laminated pictures of young couples posing awkwardly, families flashing forced smiles, and happy wives who had just convinced their unwilling, grumpy husbands to hire the photographer’s services at Rs. 100/- a picture.
I walked through the crowd, carefully passing the chanawalas and chaiwalas, determined to find a quieter spot to sit. My priorities changed when I heard a familiar sound. A sound that I had not heard in a very long time.
The sound of a damru.
I looked around to find a monkey charmer in the middle of a small circle of kids. I stood there, nostalgically, for a few minutes as the monkey did its silly tricks. Few steps ahead, I found another thing that brought back old memories.
The game of rings.
I saw husbands trying (and failing) to woo their wives by winning a bottle of cola or a packet of biscuits. The quality of prizes seemed to have gone down drastically over the years, as I remembered wasting all my rings aiming at a five hundred rupee note at some fair, almost a decade ago.
Soon enough, my quest for finding a quieter and cleaner spot continued, as I passed lavish bungalows and high end luxury hotels. I finally found a spot, near a group of old men in shorts, who were sitting on plastic chairs, sipping tea.
The sky was bright, sun had mellowed down and the waves had turned golden. My mind had blocked away the buzz all around, I was finally at peace.
I sat there peacefully for a while, looking at the changing colours of the sky, until I started hearing drums in the distance. It seemed some religious ritual was happening on the far side of the beach. People were gathering around, as the drum beats grew louder.
I realised that my curiosity would not let me sit quietly much longer.
I stood up, patted off the sand from my jeans and started walking towards the gathering. I did not realise then that I would be seeing something incredible within the next few minutes.
I stood on my toes to see over the crowd, trying to find out what this was all about. A man stood holding a metal rod with a sharp tip, while a few feet away, another man was standing, his left cheek marked with a small white spot.
In the next few minutes, I saw the rod going through that spot and come out of the other cheek, in two quick motions.
I cringed. The crowd cringed. But the man, who now had a metal rod going through his face, stood calmly, as a priest chanted prayers and sprayed his cheeks with milk.
He was not the only one with the face accessory. Many like him stood and sat around the gathering. A small group of them were dancing in a state of trance.
As I hailed an auto rickshaw back home that night, I did not know how to feel about Juhu.
I loved seeing so many different types of people in one place, yet I hated the crowd.
I loved all the sounds, yet I hated the noise.
Did I love it? Or did I hate it?
The answer seemed to lie somewhere in between.
But one thing was for sure. I could not wait to go back there and experience it all over again.