During the years we spent in Calcutta, India, my parents would plan impromptu trips to Digha, a small fishing town along the Bay of Bengal coast, only a few hours’ drive from Calcutta. I would emerge out of the car in school uniform and backpack to find my mother’s sticking her head through the wrought iron grill of our balcony shouting out to our chauffeur.
“Don’t head back to the office,” she would scream out over the din of the city and street cricket matches,
“Saheb (Sir) is coming home in a different office car. You’re coming to Digha with us; so go grab some clothes, tank up the car and be back here in an hour!”
These trips were always my father’s idea and I never got an inkling of when one was coming until it was announced. He made his decision on the spur of the moment and we always sportingly went along. Nothing makes a Bengali happier than hot food and tickets to travel somewhere. We would spend the weekend at Digha, leaving Calcutta on a Friday evening and be back again by Monday morning, but always just too late to go to school – and without the required doctor’s note too! – much to the chagrin of my teachers.
By the time Digha’s famous “Matsyakanna” (Mermaid, or literally, fish-girl) statue greeted us, the sun would be red and swollen and falling into the water. The beach would be flaming red from afar — inch-long red crabs littered all over the sand, basking in the setting sun. I would run out of the car hoping to catch one, but each time the sneaky little things would skutter off sideways into the safety of their holes. And the beach would turn into patches of golden brown skin with old, old acne scars where had agitated their slumber.
Digha is by no means a gorgeous sea resort town. The waves are not spectacular and neither is the sand some rare colour. But it is ocean in all its fishiness and Calcuttans are drawn to it like Tolkien’s elves to the Great Sea.
I have never seen small red crabs in America. They’re too small to eat anyway. But I always am reminded of the little red crabs taking in the last of the day’s sun when I see crabs in the market, even if the ones I am buying don’t actually turn red until I throw them into hot oil.