The sea became more restless as the sun turned crimson in the western horizon turning the distant waters resplendent with a riot of colours. Raghav continued to stare into those colours as if some genie would emerge out of them and solve his problems.
“Thief! Thief!” A middle-aged woman who was sitting a few feet away shouted. A commotion followed. The man who had snatched her handbag had already disappeared into the motley crowd on the beach. People asked a few questions like “Did it contain many valuables?” or offered some counsel like “You should be careful!” and then the commotion subsided. People returned to the sunset.
“Is there any way I can be of help?” Raghav asked the woman when the sun had vanished into the sea and the people started moving away. A few chose to settle down on the beach as usual.
The woman looked at him for a moment and said, “Yes, in fact. I’ll need the bus fare to go home.”
Raghav pulled out his purse and offered her a hundred rupee note.
“Will it do?”
“More than. How will I return it?” She paused a while, looked at him as if to assess him and said, “I’m Sheila.” She mentioned the office where she worked as a clerk adding that he could come and claim his money the very next day.
“Does one Anil Kumar still work there?” That’s how the friendship began. When there is a person known to two strangers, the strangeness melts away instantly and friendship blooms quickly.
“I noticed that you were not too much upset by the loss of your bag,” Raghav said gazing into her eyes inquiringly. Was he searching for something more than the answer to that question in those eyes?
“Well,” she said and gazed into the sea. “I lost some important things. Debit card, ID card, cash, ...”
“Why don’t you ask your bank to block the debit card?”
“The fool won’t be able to withdraw more than Rs 2000, thanks to Modi ji.” She smiled. Wearily. “I’ve already blocked it.” She waved her phone. Listlessly.
Her phone was saved because she was trying to photograph the sunset on the phone’s camera when the thief struck.
“Have you ever wondered whether life is just a series of losses?” She asked.
“Thousand times,” said Raghav slowly but promptly. “There are occasional gains, however. Like the music of these waves.” He threw a pebble into the surf which was approaching them rather quickly as the tide rose. “And the sunset.”
“God must have created human beings for fun’s sake,” she said.
“Man is a freak in the evolutionary process,” Raghav said.
“But a very successful freak!”
“Most freaks are successes though for a short while. The success of the human species is a miracle. A tragic miracle.”
“Sometimes I too hear the plaintive music of a tragic drama as I sit here watching the sunset.”
The surf had begun to wash their feet. The sea lay undulating in the moonlight. They realised that they had been sitting there for quite a while discussing the tragedy of the planet.
They got up to leave. To return to their homes and the usual problems of life. The beach was almost deserted.
A group of young men surrounded them. Their dress indicated that they belonged to some religious organisation.
“Who are you?” One of the young men asked imperially.
Both Raghav and Sheila were too surprised to make an answer. All the philosophy they had discussed so far sitting on the beach could not help them with an answer to that question. Who are you?
“We know that you are not husband and wife.” The young man who looked like the leader of the gang said.
Moral police. That’s what the group was. Self-appointed guardians of public morality. They looked more like drug addicts, thought Raghav though he could not see their faces very clearly.
The young men abused them, clicked a few snaps on their mobile phones, threatened them and one of them even planted a slap on Raghav’s cheek. Then they moved away in search of other immoral people.
Neither Raghav nor Sheila uttered anything as they moved away from the beach towards their respective bus stops.