I slip the lens cap into my jean pocket and fumble with the lens, zooming in and out, trying to frame the picture. I hate when I can’t capture the scene properly because people are blocking it from my view. Now this is different, there are no crowds, just a few lone figures leaving their even and uneven footprints where the waves lap back and forth, and greyish crabs, trying to avoid the next salty wave. Green trails run along the ground with the occasional purple flower emerging from the crunched sea shell embedded sand.

The soft malt sand crumbling underneath my feet gets darker as it dares towards the ocean, whose waves gnaw at the sand, claiming its territory by sinking its weight into the sand, making sure that those little crumbs would not find its way back towards inland. The sky is dressed in a light orange infused gold expanse maneuvering itself between long flags of pink and purple. The soft white clouds are tinged with a dripping pink that turns into grey around it’s full round curves. The setting sun is leaving its legacy in the sky, hiding behind the clouds but letting its light filter through in different shades.

There’s a couple onto my right so I push a little more towards the left and risk having a single man standing in the water in my picture.

Two weeks later, I scroll through the pictures on my laptop. I did manage to avoid the Umbrella couple on the right. ‘Umbrella Couple’ because it’s not socially acceptable to be affectionate in public in the more conservative Sri Lanka, leading couples to hide behind an outstretched umbrella. But the man on the left was still there in the frame. I zoom in to find a fisherman; I hadn’t noticed his fishing rod before and the little brown dog staring at him from the shore. Grey hair on his head, white vest, and a sarong bent halfway upwards from his knees tied in a knot below his bulging stomach. Fishermen usually fish in deep sea in the morning. What was he doing in shallow water, where there are unlikely any fish?

I scroll back a few more pictures. There he was walking along the coast line, looking in the direction of the hiding couple. Was he here to catch his daughter in a forbidden act?

The revelation leading to panicked heated outbursts of shock and shame under a roof covered with dried, braided coconut leaves. “We can’t have our daughter associating that man. What will people say?” Would he drag her away or confront her at home?



He started working as a teenager, waking at 3.30 am and heading out with his father as the birds began chirping in the dark. He had learnt the ways of the sea; the waves, the force, the rush. The thin gold band around his fourth finger had been there for 32 years now, he had married late. When their husbands returned to shore, Lila and some other women would help their husbands unload the long stretch of coloured fish nets tangled into a heap and then proceed to tap the fish out of the nets.  The women would wash the fish before proceeding to the market with their men to sell the fish. Their daughter, Nandini would be at school. The monk had named her based on her horoscope. “She will be a light to her parents” he gently said, tying a piece of blessed white pirith[1] string around the infant’s right wrist.

His mind always travelled to 20 years ago. He left the house in the morning and Lila met him at the beach. When they got back home, Nandini wasn’t home yet. She’s probably studying at school they agreed. Her breakfast of rice with dhal and coconut sambol had been cleared away. They realized she was gone after they learned that she never made it to school. They filed a report, put up flyers and notices in newspapers, waiting for stretches at the Police Office. They went to the temple to pray and even made an offering at a kovila, the Hindu temple where Lila frantically begged, her palms stuck together in reverence, her eyes struggling to bear the weight of her fright and love, “Please, we will offer more baskets of fruits even. Whatever the Gods want. Please”. The Kapumahaththaya [2]who read her horoscope said that they might never see her again.


Her loss came like a large wave, the current pulling him down by his ankles, his body collapsing towards the ocean bed, his eyes watching the grey water sweep above him and the saltiness stinging his eyes and every little wound on his body. She walked to school by herself because her parents had already left the house. Maybe he should have watched the waves, protected his du[3] from the crashing waves. No one would have noticed if someone crept into their house. She was only a little girl. 11 years old.

Maybe if he had some other livelihood, he could’ve been the father who would have dropped his daughter to school instead of leaving home before she had even woken up. So he came to the sea even when he didn’t have to. With an old fishing rod he barely used. The house had too much of vacant air in it and Lila pre-occupied herself by taking up sewing. When she earned that extra money from sewing, the unspoken, saving money for whose future? would hang in the empty space as their eyes crossed.

He stared at the greyish blue expanse ahead of him. Where else was he supposed to go? What else did he know how to do? He looked at the young couple, the air travelling down his lungs filling in deeper, heaving him down as if a heavy load of fish had been dropped down his air pipe. Would his daughter ever have the chance to get married? He wondered if that could have ever been her.

[1] Threads blessed by Buddhist Monks

[2] Hindu priests

[3] Daughter