Marina, at night, is sprinkled with people who are habituated to sleeping on a bed of sand

Imagine sitting by the window all night, looking out at the street. Does the night look any different at four in the morning than it does at the stroke of twelve? It doesn’t: the same darkness, the same stillness, the same lights flickering at a distance. But by four, even though the street is wrapped in the same degree of darkness, the air suddenly begins to feel different. The air bears the mild but unmistakable — and invigorating — fragrance of the new day that is just around the corner.

I smell the fragrance almost every night, only that I don’t stay up long enough to let it do good things to me. Four o’ clock is when I go to sleep once I am done with my daily writing, which begins around midnight.

But last Sunday, just as I prepared to shut the laptop, I thought to myself: why waste this precious hour in bed, waiting to fall asleep? Why not go to the Marina and watch the sun rise? I called for a cab.

Outside my door, I ran into my neighbour. He was picking up the milk packets. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Good morning,” I replied softly so that he didn’t smell my breath. “I’m going for a walk.” He hadn’t asked me where I was going, but I still gave the explanation, perhaps because I felt like a thief sneaking out at that hour. Sharp at four-thirty, the cab deposited me at the Gandhi statue. The cab company had sent an Innova to pick me up — too luxurious a car for such a frivolous trip. Since I was not charged extra, I did not complain; but it felt funny to be disgorged from the lap of luxury into the arms of aimlessness.

I could not muster courage to enter the area wrapped in darkness. So I walked on the service lane, where people going to the beach park their vehicles. Not a soul in sight. Finally I noticed the headlight of an approaching bike. When the bike slowed down, I got a bit worried. It came to an abrupt halt and a young couple got off. Lovers on Marina begin their day really early.

After a few minutes, I got tired walking on the asphalted road and decided to get onto the sand — the area of darkness — and wait for the sun to rise while the waves kissed my feet. The beach looked no different from what it looks at midnight, only that at midnight you have policemen chasing people out of the Marina but now there were none — what if something untoward happened? I walked in pitch darkness, up to a point where the whiteness of the frothing waves indicated I could go no further. I parked myself on the sand and kept my gaze fixed on the sky. But I couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began. It was all black. After about half an hour, a section of the black turned into deep blue — I knew that was the sky.

The deep blue then turned into royal blue, and seconds later, all silver — it was again impossible to tell where the water ended and where the sky began. Quite magically, two fishing boats materialised on the horizon, demarcating the boundary between the two silvers. I was tempted to take a picture. By the time I pulled out the phone from my pocket and put it on camera mode, an orange ball was already rising from the sea, lighting up the sky and the waters in breathtaking shades. It all happened in a matter of seconds. A new day had begun.

I looked around. I realised the area of darkness was actually a public bedroom. Marina, at night, is sprinkled with people habituated to sleeping on a bed of sand. Why should cops chase visitors out when they let certain people sleep on the Marina? I walked back to the main road, facing the sun-kissed historical buildings that defined the skyline of Madras even in an era when all arrived by sea. I could also see the floodlights of Chepauk stadium — something the likes of Warren Hastings would not have seen.

Back home, I ran into my neighbour again. He was returning from a temple. “There is nothing like waking up early in the morning, sir,” he told me with an approving smile, “You remain fresh all day.” If only he knew.

Keywords: Marina beach

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