Are you alright?” inquired a silhouette hunched over a woman’s face; she floated thigh-deep into the flush of sea froth. Books unwritten, babies unmade and sentences unspoken, why had she chosen to die far away from her closest, warmest hug.
Startled by the proximity of a warm, alien breath, my eyes tore open and I strung together my voice, “Yes, why?” The man drew away in cold relief. A salty snort later, I helped myself up and broke the necklace of sand off my neck. At Anse Lazio, on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles, why did this man run towards me to check if I were still breathing? If death was brief and beautiful, wouldn’t it look like a holiday? When skin is thrown on creamy soft sand and the gurgle of waves is constant in minutes, briefly one forgets unpaid EMIs, ageing parents, unreasonable bosses, unfaithful partners, traffic snarls and the dead weight of digital notifications. Briefly, one dies, within the comforting knowledge of being born again. Travel is that great chance to exit mortality and return refreshingly to it.
Praslin, where such thoughts dawned on me is the second biggest island in the Seychelles. It stretches a little over 38 sq km (Delhi is 1,484 sq km). One gets here in 15 minutes from the Seychelles’ largest island Mahe in a 20-seater Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Air Seychelles. Below, the Indian Ocean shallows down to a naked baby blue around tiny islands, a rock of a cradle away from each other. From above, the water seems like an optical illusion. Upon centering the vision on one spot, the sand underneath becomes transparent and the bubbles the red squirrelfish and the yellow blue lined snappers make, are visible. A broader, pulled-back vision makes the sea look like a blanket of neon blue gel that’s been torn out of an ice pack; suddenly soothing.
Upon landing, I was driven across to the furthest edge on this limited land. The driver, Michael, spoke about elections and cursed the party slated to win. Pointing to rowdy campaigners screaming from open jeeps, he professed that the new government’s tax exemptions will make Seychellois lazy. My going away into somebody else’s goings on was sobering me down.
I reached the Raffles hotel and felt high on possibly the most elaborate exercise in nothingness. Most of its 30 acres were taken up by hutted villas that had sprung open like umbrellas along the length of small hills and their silly cliffs; buggies rolled up and down. In this happy harem, each villa sighted the sea in the dignity of privacy. In mine, a silky-spongy down feather bed faced a wooden deck from which an infinity pool spilled out. Some flower-herb-shrub curtains hid me from human voices and eyes. On one side of the deck was barbecue equipment, a pair of recliners and a bed packed with playful throws and cushions. The sky turned dark blue in Curieuse, a restaurant scattered down hilly pathways, all the way up to the beach.
I wiped the film of moisture off metal chairs and sat in tea-light glow in the company of the breeze. The menu was Asian and outside India, that does feature Indian. Here, the culinary contingent headed by chef Sunil Dutt wraps vegetables soaked in wasabi mayo in crispy rice paper and soaks the day’s catch in coconut milk or shitake mushroom stalk. The Green Tea Crème Brûlée had sake and vanilla in it. It was Japanese by imagination. Along with it came a cocktail called Blue Paradise that had gin, vodka, the local Takamaka white rum and other petty poisons. Somewhere south of the equator, a Maharashtrian server put it before me and recited bhojanacha aaswaad ghya, the warmest bon appétit greeting of all.
The next morning, I jetted across to the island the restaurant was named after. This was home to turtles. From a couple of hundred years to a couple of years, there was a living reminder from every era in modern history. Rookery within aggressive breathing calender and sure that even the future was taken care of. Members of the Aldabra species, with wide domes and stocky, scaled legs, crawled about.
The next stop was Anse Lazio, which the Internet describes as one of the best beaches in the world. It was like walking into Instagram’s Nashville filter, a pinkish tinge from the sky had fallen into the blue of the sea and purpled it up. After lying like a dead seal on its edge, all sodden-and-sluggish, I pulled myself up towards Bonbon Plume. This feet-in-the-sand restaurant with thatched roofs almost expects one to try out these staples, Seybrew beer and Creole style roast butternut squash. In the evening, the same boat took me to the island of La Digue. Its owner Francis also spoke about the elections and how he desperately wanted change in government, because that would make tuna exports more lucrative. Better liasoning with foreign trade bodies and ease in securing high-tech fishing gear were his reasons. My worry of being able to find a good cycle track to peddle across the island destination seemed childish.
The next morning began early, with a trek to the Vallée de Mai nature reserve. Exclusive to this Unesco world heritage site since 1983 is the coco de mer, a nut in the shape of the female genetalia. In folklore, it is believed to be the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, which led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. From fridge magnets to the visa stamp, it left its mark everywhere. In this tropical rain forest 4,000 trees, from wild pineapple to wild coffee and allspice bushes stood. Swinging on its lime green branches, I was lucky enough to spot some rare black parrots and blue pigeons. I also saw the tiger chameleon, stuck like glue to a bench.
By the evening, I was back at the hotel, this time in its Mediterranean restaurant Losean where wild mushroom risotto and a mild rose wine caught my attention.
On my last night, I dragged an easel onto my villa deck and sketched a crocked landscape under a sky load of stars. Far away in a silent valley, a band sang ‘L is for the way you look at me’. In Praslin, a part of my cynical, worn-out self died in its sleep. Mortality, I had to fail you to feel you.