House of Light

I was in Navsari a third time this Holi. A few of us with the Pune connection gathered at Veeram's home of his childhood (thank god, his folks haven't sold it off like every other small town Gujarati who either migrates to Amdavad, Bombay or New Jersey).

The three-day stay - as always - was to be a relaxed affair. You take in the house itself - decades of history fitted and carpentered into functional yet artful furniture, fixtures and detailing. Some of the chairs, and now tables, even restored or replicated from old designs for Veeram's love of shapes and endeavour to re-imagine for higher comfort.

Forms new & old: Veeram's abode in Navsari

When I was still in Pune and would visit him at his Kothrud house every weekend for our late-into-the-night musical sessions, he would mention Navsari often. Sometimes he would talk about the peace of the town, sometimes of the beach a short drive away and sometimes just how easy it was to be there. He built up the castle for a whole year in my head. To me, it sounded unreal, surreal almost. His sister would rave on and on about the place. What about it, was still a mystery.

The typical trip encapsulates a drive around town at least once, see the two lakes, eat street grub, keep up so late you hear the first birds chirp in the morning and indulge in the ultimate debauchery of unlimited music and its faithful companions, and sleep till your eyes can shut no more. Yes, the lights in this house seem to never go out. Soft, buttery, warm yellow light fills the house even in the wee hours for the architects work as if putting the world to silence with their thought and infinite obsession with optimal aesthetics to serve every purpose - sometimes small, sometimes unquantifiable.

Going to Navsari also extends to driving 14 km down the narrow state highway to Dandi - the sea-facing town whose beach Mahatma Gandhi honoured with the breaking of the Salt laws. There is a commemorative Gandhi Ashram set up on the highway, which we were dutifully ferried to on our first trip last March.

This time, our visit to the beach went a tad beyond the usual frolicking in the water and cricket on the sand. Before the short trek through the dry loose sand onto the beach, we were led to the Kanai Creek lighthouse. My host had been there too many times already, so gave it a miss. However, this was my first visit to one! Having recently finished PD James' The Lighthouse, I was even more intrigued by the black-and-white tower. The whodunnit revolves around a murder in a revived lighthouse on Combe Island some distance off the Cornish Coast. That combined with my unfulfilled wish of visiting a lighthouse on two previous occasions - in Pondicherry as well as at Guhagar - had fed my curiosity to a tipping point.

The Kanai Creek lighthouse

Unlike both my previous experiences, where for one or the other reason (women unaccompanied by men not allowed; entry post 5 pm prohibited respectively), I couldn't explore this port phenomenon, the little lighthouse of about 5 storeys at Kanai allows legitimate ticketed entry. Of course, the caretaker had run out of ticket stubs, and in all probability, pocketed the income. An odd instruction as we entered the edifice blocked our way up, however – we were asked to remove our footwear at the entrance, like a temple or one of those old cheap Cyber Cafes where keeping the place dust-free was a constant concern. The request remains unexplained since most lighthouses have that last bit of vertical thin-stripped ladder to climb which is safer with a pair of rubber soles under your feet. That last upright phase of the staircase is really an iron ladder that leads to a floor doorway, which in turn opens to a small 2.5 ft archway into a circular balcony around possibly the biggest lamp I’ve ever seen at close quarters!

Perhaps I haven't seen any other big lamps - at close quarters or otherwise. But when my photographer friend Harsha showed me the video of Yenga Pona Raasa from Maryan, I couldn't help notice the sequence whence the female lead, Parvathy stands in the way of the light in the lighthouse gallery.

Female lead, Parvathy in Yenga Pona Raasa from Maryan

Isn't that not-allowed? Shot almost the way I imagined James' Combe Island, Bharatbala brings alive for me a memory and awakens inside a wish to discover more ports and lighthouses along this country's vast coastline. May be some day, I will extend my love of the beach to the things that belong to the coast...

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