The air we breathe

By Kanika Bali

I like to swim in the ocean.

I like throwing myself into the uncertain, rough tidal waters, not knowing whats coming next (jellyfish.) I like getting plunged into the water by a deep wave that takes my breath away, leaves me squirming to get to the surface, gasping for air.

Moments that remind me that all that matters is that I’m alive.


I’m lying on a woven, make shift bed right now, staring out at a pond. Little did I understand the value of a pond- an aquaculture that’s a great source for fishing. There’s a mocha coloured cow churning away at the grass and zebra coloured goats are prancing around in banter.  The sky is blue and clear, extending to an unfathomable expanse. A man just walked out of the thatched hut across the pond, disappearing into the green haze.

No thoughts, no feelings, just observations.

The last few days have been a string of observations.

Observations of the daily musings of the boat association we’re working with. The well thought out business model, the “tonto”(stupid) regulations on price and revenue by the government, the tireless smiles of staff in uniforms, the clockwork frequency of boats which we ride free on.

Observations of my host mother who wakes up at 5 every morning to feed the noisy poultry, eager to run to her feet. The insomniac dogs that bark in the middle of the night because of the heat pressing down on them. I watch the dramatic telenovelas that hold tales of love and heartbreak with the seven other people who live in my home. I smell the aroma of freshly cooked meat on wood, promptly brought to the table for me and my roommate- visitors eat first. I see electricity wiring taking on an innovative approach- lights connected through extension chords.

Our observations are stirred by the loud honks of maniac jypnee drivers manoeuvring through sparsely populated roads. The dispatcher with a wife, being called out for his flirtatious grin and impressive english endeavours with me.  Our magic schoolbus,a yellow, sparkling jypnee with an english pop music aficinado- Jok Jok- which takes us around the crumbling roads covered with umbrellas of green. We wave hello’s to curious onlookers watching us pop our heads out to feel the wind.

Nothing is strange here, everything is simple.

I’ve observed that it takes time to adapt to a new place. To learn about the people and the culture. But this place is not new to me. I have been here before, I grew up with the same people in a different place. I spent summers under fans, being bitten all over my legs till no portion of skin was left to bite.  My grandfather rode me at the back of his motorbike to the nearest supermarket for an orange bar and a small chocolate.

Short hair, hand pump and pipe baths.

This is not the first time I have been here. Most people go on graduation trips to sit in a resort, tan on the beach, meet “cool, new people.” My tradition is different, I go back to the roots, to meet beautiful people, to remember who I am. When I graduated from high school I found immense potential in the red ribboned, smiling faced children I spent time with in a little village in India. I just graduated from university and here I am again.

Carlos, a seven year old, toothless boy is waiting for me to go swimming with him. A group of five other pre puberty boys are coming with us. The eight year old girl at home holds my hand and takes me. The three year old baby girl, obviously runs after us. We all run from her, just for the heck of it.

There it is.

The sea: vast, expanding, rough, green. We jump in, but the rocks are a bit prickly in the shallow end. Jellyfish might attack us, but the water is nice. We’re racing and fighting with the water. The clouds are getting greyer, the sea is getting rougher.

The storm is coming, the waves are getting bigger, the current stronger.

I come up from my swimming race, gasping for air.

I’m observing a circular drop of rain falling into the sea.

Blending in, but coming back to the same place…. as does everything.

I look at the children around me, smiling, fighting with water, rubbing their eyes. I am doing the same thing, jumping out of their water from their little stunts. Taking in the oxygen, breathing in the precious air.

We are all alive. We are all the same.


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