Days are long and hard. Life is passing by at breakneck speed, almost like a blur. I have little time to even check on my own feelings. After one such tough day, I woke up in Chennai and heard the soft rustling wind. I forced myself to get up and walk out to the beach. It’s probably the best decision I have taken in a long time .My grandparents ( both paternal and maternal) have lived in Besant Nagar. This suburb in Chennai has a lovely access to a beach. Nowadays, many of my extended family members live around here. I can vouch for so many beautiful memories are etched in this sand.
This beach is called the “Elliot’s Beach”, named after Sir. Edward Elliot’s. He was the Governor of Madras from 1803 to 1820. He was supposed to have been a very forward -thinking administrator. One of the main nodal roads, Radhakrishnan Salai, was earlier called as Edward Elliot’s Road. The beach also has a memorial for Kaj Schmidt ( Karl) who lost his life while saving an English lady in 1930. This memorial has been the distinguishing feature of this beach. It was heartening to see some restoration work happening on this heritage site after years of abuse.
On one end of the beach is the Ashtalakshmi temple. This temple houses all the eight Lakshmi and was built to imitate the Mumbai Mahalakshmi. Everyone believed that this temple will make Madras into a rich city, much like the glitzy Mumbai metropolis. Nestled close to these 8 Lakshmi s, is Mary Maatha. This temple is again replicated from the Velakanni Temple near Karaikal. The church pre-dates the temple and the yearly festival draws huge crowds from all over the country. The benevolence on the face of the Mary statute makes us ignore and forget the ugly concrete structure.
Photo sourced from the Internet.
There used to be an old abandoned bungalow on the beach. This used to be the Governor’s Bungalow before the independence. This has now got razed and there is a food mall on these grounds. Even as late as the early 90s, this ramshackle bungalow existed and we were told of innumerable murders and ghosts wandering in these rubbles.
As we walk to the other extreme of this beach, we would cross the “kuppam” area ( fishing village) and reach a broken bridge. This bridge was an attempt to bridge the estuary. In the 90s, we would walk upto this broken bridge and enjoy the uncluttered view of the ocean and the estuary from here. It was considered not very safe to be in this area and this belief seems to be around even now. The kuppam area behind the church and the beach is now used as a public toilet. There is only a stretch of around 500 metres which is clean for us to walk along the water.
Photo Sourced from the Internet
I remember rushing to the beach around 8.30 am on the tsunami day. I was not aware what it means to be hit by a tsunami and clueless on the ravages it has done to the coastline. The waterline was till the beach road, a good 500 metres inside. Thankfully the brunt was minimised as the full force of the wave rushed into the estuary gorge and waters ran upto the bridge for a few minutes. The tsunami pulled out all the garbage stuck at the estuary mouth for years. The estuary revived and the ecosystem is now flourishing as the water flow has started again.
This beach has an active fishing community and they set sail in the early evenings. The colourful boats, some with sails, some motorised, a few catamarans dot the horizon for a few minutes. They then disappear in the wide ocean and appear again in the dark mornings. Once, I got to the beach early in the morning ( before sunrise) to witness a trawler haul. The boat had docked and a huge number of people were hauling the trawler net into the sands. It took a good two hours for the haul to shore and it was quite horrid to see all these fishes die after giving a desperate shot at escaping from the trawl net. Once a whale shark washed ashore and the entire community worked to get it back into the sea. I also contributed my two bits in carrying buckets of water and pouring over this grey and white mammal. It was wonderful to be present and feel the sense of joy when the whale shark finally swam into the ocean after much struggle by the fisher folk to get it into deep waters.
Photo sourced from the Internet
This beach is also visited by Olive Ridley turtles. This stretch has been their nesting ground for centuries. The Student Sea turtle network is doing yeoman service in protecting this area. The students of this area walk the stretch ( from Besant Nagar beach to Neelagarai), locate the nests, pick up the eggs, move them to safe zones, look out for hatchlings and leave them in the waters. The students with some teachers walk the beach every night during the breeding season. I have been on a few of the walks and the magic of the turtles is to be seen to be believed!
Photo Sourced from the internet
The beach soon became the destination for youngsters to hangout. In the early 90’s , the small restaurant, Cozee , was the place to be in to catch all the action. This beach was also the favourite shooting spot for Kollywood movies. Car chases with Rajinikant, dainty dance movements with Sridevi, fights and tumbles with KamalHassan added more drama to our sedate lives. Today , this zone is buzzing with high fashion stores and world cuisine.
Visits to the beach with my granddad , standing on the waves for hours with cousins, eating sundal and murukku with muddy ( or rather sandy) hands, begging elders for a Rita ice cream stick and in later days, a softy cone, moonlight dinners with parents ,aunts and uncles, weekend walks on the beach with friends on Sundays during teens, enjoying the cool wind on a hot may day with my husband, teaching my son to build sand castles, lugging a reluctant dog to the waves , doing solo walks on dark nights to appease my muddled mind and just feeling the soft sand under my feet gave me immense joy.
The Elliot’s Beach will always be the best beach in the whole world, atleast for me!