This story is by Rahul Nayak and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was cool under the shade of the coconut palms. Aarav watched a swimmer doing lazy laps in the temple tank, its water a pleasant shade of green. The temple shimmered behind him in the bright sunlight.
“Haven’t seen you here before” He heard a friendly voice behind him call out in Konkani.
“Oh it’s my first time here, I know my grandparents used to come here but I have never visited before”
“Ah, so you’re the prodigal son who has finally returned to his roots. What is your name?” said the man with a smile as he sat himself down next to Aarav. He was dressed in a simple shirt and dhoti, probably the best attire in the humid heat of Goa.
“I’m Aarav Kamath, what about you?”
“I’m Madhav Shenoy. Are you staying within the temple Aarav?”
“Oh no, I’m just visiting. I had no idea what I would find here, I’m just here for a few days from Mumbai.” Aarav felt a bit embarrassed about his lack of knowledge of the temple and why we had even come here. His parents were staunch atheists, having turned their back on their Hindu Brahmin religion long ago. Both college professors, they were firm believers in the religion of science and rationality alone.
“Well Aarav Kamath, you must take time to learn a bit about your own history and culture, you might find it fascinating.”
Madhav’s eyes twinkled as he spoke, sensing Aarav’s unfamiliarity yet openness to the stories of his heritage. “You know, this temple and the land around us, they are steeped in legends. Have you heard of Parashurama, the warrior sage?”
Aarav shook his head, intrigued.
“Parashurama was a scholarly brahmin. Born to the sage Jamadagni, his father was killed by a king when he protested the theft of his cow. In anger, Parashurama took up arms, defeating and killing all Kshatriyas from the ruling class who challenged him.”
Aarav’s eyes widened as he remembered this story he had read a long time ago in a children’s book.
“But what does that have to do with Goa?” Aarav asked, drawn into the story despite himself.
“It has everything to do with Goa young man. To carve out a place for himself on this earth, Parashurama flung his war axe into the ocean where the god of the ocean was forced to recede the distance at which the axe was flung. This land that you are standing on today is that very same land. Parashurama then made this land green and hospitable and populated it with Brahmins, your and my ancestors who have now forgotten about our connection to this land as we have made our way all across the world.”
“Oh, I had no idea.”
Madhav nodded, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. “It’s not just a story, Aarav. It’s a testament to our roots and how we’re intrinsically connected to this land. Many of us, like you, have wandered far from our ancestral homes, caught up in the whirlwind of modern life. But the land of Goa, with its serene beaches and ancient temples, holds a part of our identity.”
Aarav sat quietly, absorbing Madhav’s words. He looked around the temple complex, seeing it in a new light. The age-old stones, the rustling leaves, and the tranquil waters of the temple tank seemed to whisper echoes of a distant past.
“Maybe that’s why you’re here,” Madhav suggested gently. “Perhaps, like Parashurama, you’re also seeking a space in this world, a sense of belonging that the city can’t provide.”
Aarav contemplated this quietly, not expecting to have his world view challenged in such a gentle yet probing manner.
Madhav stood up, dusting off his dhoti. “Take a walk around, Aarav. Let the land speak to you. You might be surprised by what you discover about yourself.”
Aarav watched as Madhav walked away, his steps measured and confident. He was right, Aarav thought to himself, he was searching for something more than just a break from his mundane life. He wanted to find a connection to the past, a sense of belonging that he had always felt was missing.
Taking Madhav’s advice, Aarav got up and started to walk around the temple complex. The air was thick with the scent of sandalwood incense and the sound of chanting filled his ears. He wandered through the temple gates and was enveloped by the cool, dark interior of the temple. The walls were adorned with intricate carvings and paintings of deities that he could barely recognize.
As he walked through the temple, Aarav felt a sense of peace washing over him. He had always been a skeptic, but he couldn’t deny the tranquility he felt in this holy place. He continued his exploration, taking in the details of the temple. He stopped in front of a statue of Parashurama, the warrior sage that Madhav had spoken about. The statue was imposing, with a fierce expression on its face and arms holding a bow and arrow. Aarav couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at the sight of it.
He sat down after a bit more exploration of the temple, marveling at the interior, filled with light and the sound of twittering birds who seemed to be playing a game of tag with each other. Families trooped past him, obvious regulars unlike him. He watched them, efficient and restrained in this holy place.
That night he found himself at a beach shack, exhausted with his days meanderings, nursing a beer and sprawled on an easy chair. He watched the waves of the ocean, relentless in the way they pounded the beach, and yet the sound was hypnotic enough to put any other thought out of his mind.
As he sat there, lost in thought, a woman walked up to him and took the seat next to him. She was dressed in a colorful sundress, her hair tousled by the sea breeze. She gave him a small smile before turning her attention to the ocean.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, breaking the silence between them.
Aarav nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “Yeah, it is.”
“I come here every year,” the woman continued. “It’s my little escape from the world. Nothing beats the sound of the waves and the feel of sand between your toes.”
Aarav smiled, the woman’s words resonating with him. “I’m kind of doing the same thing. I’m here to take a break from the city.”
The woman turned to him, curiosity evident in her eyes. “What made you come here?”
“I don’t know, really,” Aarav admitted. “I was just feeling lost and disconnected, my parents passed away recently and my work is an endless treadmill I can’t seem to get off of. I’d heard my grandparents talk about how our family temples are here in Goa so I thought I might just kill two birds with one stone.”
The woman nodded, her eyes softening as she looked at him. “I’m sorry to hear about your parents. It’s never easy to lose someone you love.”
Aarav shrugged, not wanting to dwell on the subject. “It is what it is, I guess.”
The woman smiled at him, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Well, then let’s not talk about sad things. What brings you joy?”
Aarav thought for a moment before replying. “I guess I find joy in experiencing new things.”
The woman grinned at him. “Then why don’t we do something new tomorrow? I know this amazing spot on the beach where they serve the best seafood. We could catch the sunset there and just enjoy the moment.”
Aarav felt a flutter in his stomach at the woman’s suggestion. It wasn’t like him to do something like this and yet he knew what answer he was going to give.
He nodded, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “That sounds like a great idea.”
The woman reached out and took his hand, her touch sending a jolt of electricity through him. “I’m Anna, by the way.”
“Aarav,” he replied, feeling a sense of warmth spreading through him.
As they sat there, watching the waves in comfortable silence, Aarav realized that perhaps he had found what he was searching for. Maybe it wasn’t just a sense of belonging to his roots, but also a connection to people and moments that made life more vibrant. He looked at Anna, feeling grateful for the chance encounter and the possibility of a new adventure. Who knows what else this land steeped in legends had in store for him?