Gregory, Juliet, and I walked out of town, and took a left toward the river. Gregory led us over the sparkling gray-white sand towards the water. It was far too hot to be in the direct sunlight though, so we stopped under the shade of a tree and sat down. I filtered the sand between my fingers, marveling at the way it twinkled, as though it were cut with diamonds. On the banks of the river, an Indian man bathed his arms and his legs. There were several other people scattered about on the quiet beach, reading or relaxing with their backs propped up against the rocks.
Looking at the landscape, I felt like I was in a Star Trek movie. The huge river flowed away to the south, and the town rose up on either bank, far, far above the swirling waters. The landscape was sparse and dried out from the unbearable heat of the spring and summer months. Hills that once were green were now spotted with brown, gnarled trees that looked as though they would snap like a match, or go up in flames just as easily. Monkeys swung from the suspension bridge in the distance, their matted fur the same color as the hills. The sun burned down on the sparkling sand, and the river rolled by muted, gray-blue, like the blind, staring eyes of an old woman.
In the middle of the river, a rock rose up, huge enough for thirty or forty people to crowd onto for a dance party. But now it was empty, and I contemplated swimming out to it, although I knew I wouldn’t. I didn’t have a bathing suit, the water was freezing cold, and a man had just drowned not far from there two days before. On one of the sand-banked rocks, someone had spray painted a message in big white letters- No Bikinis. No Smoking.
Suddenly, from the left, I heard angry shouting. “Get out!” a man’s voice called. “Leave now!” I looked over my shoulder and saw two Indian policemen bearing down on us across the hot sand. They wore khaki uniforms and had lathis, heavy sticks, in their hands. The few people they had passed were scattering quickly, packing up their things and making for the road. “Get out now!” one of them shouted savagely, his lip curled under a thick black mustache. When a man nearby asked why, the fatter of the two policemen whirled on him, screaming “I call the call, you understand? I call the call!” They were ferocious in their anger, hungry for a fight. I looked at my companions, and we wordlessly agreed- time to go. Quietly, we began gathering up our things. “GO!” one of the policemen was now shouting in our direction. “Go now!” I stood up, slung my purse over my shoulder and began walking. The sand was still sparkling.
The policemen began to walk down to the river just as we were walking up towards the road. I heard more shouting and looked over my shoulder. The Indian man who had been bathing his arms and legs was now cowering down, protecting his head with his hands. One of the policemen was beating him with closed fists, hitting him on the head, shoulders, ears. Gregory, our French friend, broke off and shot towards the river, shouting again and again, making shooing motions at the police with his hands. He had been in India for twenty months at this point, and perhaps he felt more comfortable confronting authority. He was braver than I was. I just wanted to get out of there unnoticed and unscathed. The police didn’t stop beating the Indian man, but the severity subsided. He covered his ears with his hands, and allowed them to rain blows on him. Gregory stood by, shouting, until they finally pushed the Indian man down, and yelled at him to start tying his shoes.
Then Gregory, shooting them menacing glances, began to walk up the bank towards us, keeping an avid eye on the police’s quivering fists and the poor, cowed Indian man who had just been beaten. When we finally made it back onto the road, we could still hear them shouting on the beach below us. Apparently there were more criminals reading books or sunbathing who needed to be scared off. We reached the road, and a few minutes later, came upon a French man who was watching his children playing in a tree. He and Gregory began talking, and he speculated that they were scaring people off the beach because of the drowning. “Someone drowned?” asked Gregory. “When?” The Frenchman laughed a dry, humorless laugh, and said, “Zey are drowning all zee time. Every day.”
I looked at the sign when we emerged on the road- there was nothing there saying the beach was prohibited. Even if they were scaring us off because of the drowning, they had turned the whole thing into a huge power trip. We saw the wet, beaten Indian man a little further down the road. His hair was still dripping water, but he looked hot in the gray and red sweatshirt he was wearing. He saw us and quickly looked down. He refused to make eye contact.