Girl on an island
From the perspective of three islanders on Havelock, Andaman who recall their memories of a girl who came to vacation alone
Words and images: Sohini Sen
The day she asked for “a table for one, please.”
I have been serving at the Full Moon Café for years. A beach-side café in the scuba diving paradise of Havelock attracts a motley crew, but some stand out. And I can easily notice the ones sitting alone happily, and the ones who aren’t quite sure about being here… Not yet at least.
I see a girl sitting by herself. She has ordered a Banoffee Pie for her first course. She is now sitting and reading her book. Except that she isn’t actually reading. Every-time I look up from the counter, she seems to be looking at a different table. She looks like she is contemplating joining any of the other tables. Maybe memorizing her introduction as well. But then she shakes her head and goes back to her book.
I hand her the dessert five minutes later and ask, “Are you here alone?” “Yes”, she says, “I came here for a beginners diving course. My first solo trip. I have never dived before.” Then she smiles — awkward about giving me information I did not ask for. I ask her why she is doing this alone. “I am tired of always planning and waiting for people. So, I am taking a break”.
The girl continues to look at other tables, offering a smile once in a while, but does not budge from her seat. I leave then, and speak to other customers at the café.
My years at this café have taught me this — if nothing else, divers and surfers are usually always ready to talk and mingle. If someone is alone, they won’t really be so lonely. Because somehow or the other, people will find them and make conversations and before they know it — they would have made friends from different parts of the country.
Five days later, she is still at this café for her (now-staple) dessert as a meal. But this time, she has friends with her. Two boys who have done the same course, one girl who is staying in a resort close by. And finally, she has kept that book away and is actually looking at the beach. As she comes to the counter, she tells me she is still taking a break from people. “Just that there was a rainbow this morning. And I needed someone to take a picture of me with it. So I started talking and they are all like me – taking breaks from people.”
Seems like the socially awkward of the diving world have made a club right here.
The day of finding your partner
“Diving is not a solo-sport. No matter when and where and how — you will never dive alone” the instructor was saying. We knew it already, thanks to the brochures, the manual and the video guides we had to go through to prepare for our dives. This was to be my second day and my old crew wasn’t even with me, save the instructor. Oh well, I am good with new people. This should be fun!
Apparently we had to choose our partners. The only other sort of beginner was this girl from Delhi — had to go along with her. Doesn’t even talk. All she does is check the meter on her air tank. I mean, really girl, can you chill a bit. You will not die under water. Not that you believe me.
First dive. She sits alone on the ocean bed, while I do my navigation test. She follows instructions to a T. Updates us when her air reaches 150, 120 and 80. Looks out for me and is always shadowing the instructor. (Maybe stress makes you obedient like a school kid!) Wow. Second dive: she has loosened up a bit (or is that the Nitrogen narcosis we have been warned about?), is happily taking shots with the Go Pro and feebly attempting to do some compass reading by herself.
Would have written her off as well, but in the evening I see her at the island’s dock. Turns out we have signed up for the same (there is only one in this island) night kayaking tour to see bioluminescence. We start talking in the kayak we are sharing, she leading the way. And the girl seems to have really gotten over her anxiety. Strong strokes to overcome the other kayaks, a few lousy jokes, a bit of head-bumping with the oars — who would have thought this was the same girl from this morning?
When I drop her to the cabin that night, remarking on how she probably has a split personality she laughs. “I don’t talk to strangers,” she says. “But I guess you aren’t a stranger if you made sure I survived the dives this morning!”
The day of the pet peeve
I am the resident guard and cheer-me-upper at the dive site. I know they have all told you about the girl who won’t talk to others. But let me tell you my version.
She doesn’t like people. But she loves me. And she has taken me running everyday at dawn. Sometimes we go to the beach, while I look for crabs to scare, she goes to snorkel or for a quick swim. Then we sit by the beach and eat samosas (somehow I think she is hiding my share from me. Whoever told her dogs should not have samosas should meet me sometime) and drink chai.
I actually like it when people are travelling alone. They have more time to sit and enjoy my beach (I call it mine, because who else knows and loves every rock and every tree-bark as much as I do?). Sometimes in the afternoons, I see families sitting here and not paying attention to each other. But the ones who are alone, don’t have much to do. There are no cell phones to keep them busy. Some people draw on the sand. Some just sing songs. Some lie on the hammock at night and count the hundreds of stars they can see.
This girl also takes cycle rides alone. I don’t think she has cycled much. I saw her falling on the road twice. But then she looked around once, and got up on her cycle again. She went to the dhaba outside the camp ground also. No one usually eats there. But she went, sat down in the wooden bench and ate the plate of prawn and rice, while chatting non-stop with the good-aunty making the food. Maybe she takes time to talk to people. And maybe she prefers to choose the people she talks with and travels with. But I am pretty sure she is happy with this break. She has friends like us around, after all.
Sohini Sen has been travelling through the country to find stories to write about. She loves working out and making plans for everything.