Today is the third anniversary of my father’s passing, and I wanted to take the time to share a few memories with our readers. It is my sincere hope that the nature of the story is not depressing to the readers, but some memories simply have to be shared.
Puri was my father’s most favorite place in the whole of India, and he had some compelling reasons for that. By way of my dedication to him this day, and the place he would love for me to share with you, let’s take a ride on the Puri Express one last time with my dad.
It was Diwali (the festival of lights) as I remember. I was lucky enough to get a scarce ‘sick-leave’ from my college to accompany Dad on, as it turned out, his last trip to Puri. As I recall, we scrambled to board the train at Howrah station in Kolkata, 10.30pm sharp – we breathed a sigh as the train departed – we reached Puri 8.30am the next morning. The pre- Diwali celebrations had already begun, November is a superb time to soak up rays on the snow white sands. We opted for the rickshaw ride from Puri station to our Puri Hotel. As it usually turns out, far quicker than by taxi or on foot.
Along our way, I could see my father’s familiar smile at seeing the seashore again. Continuing down Marine Drive, we finally reached Puri Hotel, where we were offered a room on the eighth floor, one with an unhindered view, much to Dad’s delight. For me personally, I had come with an ardent desire to imbibe the glorious environment every single moment and pray to Lord Jagannath for blessings to produce outstanding results for my Final Exams. Guess what, I was not disappointed on that account either.
I remember distinctly asking my dad why he liked Puri, to which he replied; “I have seen many seas in India, but none of them is like the Sea of Puri. The wild waves thrashing and tormenting the hot-sandy beaches, this way and that. The experience I get is indescribable daughter.” Well said, “I thought,” for what is it about places for any of us? Always, some indescribable element residing in our favorite places, in our vision of them actually.
Puri is a remarkable place. Witnessing a sunset or sunrise here, along the long sandy beaches, a phenomenal sight. The place is perhaps the perfect spot to witness what I call ‘the beauty and the beast’ of sight and sound, wind and water – the crashing of waves upon the unrelenting shore.
On this trip, when night fell, the beach looked so ominous, dark clouds mounting all around. It was at this moment I began to understand what my father was trying to relate about Puri, the pure majesty and the wild magnetism the place exudes. Not to sound too ethereal here, but a microcosm of life itself – at least for us here in India.
Not many outside India know, but Puri is also the holy abode of Lord Jagannath and one of the ultimate pilgrimage destinations of Hindus. A sacred place not only in terms of being a wonderful natural destination, but spiritually as well. Dad and I had a great visit on this occasion. How could I know it would be our last excursion to Puri. Not much would have changed I guess, had I known, Dad was so sweet and kind each time, buying me little trinkets, sea shells, some pearls, and a traditional coconut water to soothe parched lips out in the sun all day.
The fantastic and luxurious hotels lining Puri beach attract millions each year probably. Leisure activities compare with most any place I expect. The Bay of Bengal is one of India’s true gems, a holiday paradise for so many. But for me, it will always be a more than a vacation destination. For me going there will always be a spiritual journey, a place to say a prayer; “Thank you for this wondrous place my father loved so much, and for the time spent here with him.”