Do you remember seeing the ocean for the first time?
The joy of going on a family trip is something that unless you have experienced being born and raised within the dynamics of an ever-expanding family, you simply would not understand. I was born into one, where anyone who came within close proximity became attached to the nucleus of our core family, like vines. The families of people married to ours, the sisters and brothers of our bhabis, the siblings of our chachis, the best friends of my parents, all ultimately became uncles, aunties and their kids - cousins. So based on that math, half of the Dhaka city, Melbourne and part of Canada essentially forms a part of my "very close" family circle. Quite literally, and happily!
So, it was on one of those family trips to Cox's Bazar, a maiden venture to my five-year old self, that I discovered the ocean for the first time in memory, perched on my father's shoulders, blinking the salt in the air away, as we were both swept up in the waves. Oh and not to forget, my nana, my dear old Nanumoni, or maternal grandmother, throwing caution to the wind, to the rest of her clan floating amidst the water, while herself seated comfortably under one of the giant umbrellas, minding the fort, lunch and all the rest of our belongings.
The Cox's Bazar of my story is not at its current, modern state of beautiful private resorts and their beaches, but the Cox's Bazar of the early 90s. This entailed only a handful of accommodation options including the original Sayeman and a cluster of government built Parjatan quarters for visitors, namely Shaibal, Prabal and Upal - minus their present facelift. Hence, a trip to Cox's did not involve a quick flight followed by a quick change of clothes to jump into the pool or hitting the private beach, but an elaborate journey by the train to Chittagong from Dhaka, the first pitstop, followed by another bus to finally reach your destination. For us, little ones in the family, it was often this prolonged suspense that made that first sight of the ocean all the more adventurous! The journey on the train and bus did not lack its appeal either, with countless snacks, bags of Potato Crackers and Mr Twist, to boiled eggs - a delicacy etched in my memory that almost brings alive the train whistles! Then came the preparation to actually hit the beaches.
I have always said that any form of appreciation for the country while living out of Bangladesh, only comes from these short trips away from the hustle of the capital. The sunrise and the sunsets, once witnessed have the capacity to change your life. The experience reaches the cores of your being and presents you with a part of your identity that the rest of your life's experiences put together can never somehow contest. When I close my eyes and transport myself to the Cox's Bazar of my childhood - I am grateful for that part of my identity.
There was something about looking at the sand dissipating from between my father's toes, as he walked me to the beach for the first time, a memory also intertwined with the safety that his proximity and warmth stimulated. There is also something to be said of my towering view from my father's shoulders that started with fear, changed to awe and soon after became a new sensation of fun for me at that age. There are obviously parts of this memory that have undergone several stages of evolution, thanks to the retelling of the stories from this holiday that continue to this day. But that particular chain of emotions from my first sight, is entirely my own.
There is something about the sea that makes health practitioners and wellness instructors prescribe it, at different stages of our lives. There is certainly a healing element to the air that boosts your lungs and spirit together. And I hope the next time you do have the opportunity to visit an ocean near you, and when you do, I hope you get to relive the sensations of that first time.
Photo: LS Archive/Naaz Fahmida