It was about the friendship. It was about the release of a day’s tensions. It was about the coconut water. At dusk every evening cars would start to pull into the area surrounding the lighthouse pier, south of the city centre. Rounding the corner onto the coastal road, seeing the waving palms and the last of the sun on the sea, it was impossible not to feel the spirits lift.
Our spot was on the main square of tarmac, where there was enough space for the cars to form a rectangle, in the middle of which the adults could talk and the children safely play. In front of us was the road, with street food sellers and the sea beyond; behind us loomed a steep hill with the grand old hotel perched precariously at the top, the lights in its signage glowing red through the darkness. The usual suspects would be there every evening: family friends talking through the day’s events. Anil, who cannot walk, who spent the daytime watching others going about their lives, especially looked forward to the lighthouse evenings. By joining the conversation he could, for a short while, experience life first-hand. Every evening after dinner Anil would become fidgety with excitement, and make his way down the stairs- slowly, balancing precariously as he manoeuvred his bottom onto the step below- to the front door. The brothers, Vasant and Anil, would be part of the lighthouse gathering on most evenings, and when Nikhil and I were old enough we would join them with our mother. We would play with the children of the other five or six families in our group, finally flopping onto the bonnets of the cars when we tired.
‘Lighthouse’ was then and remains now a popular site for friends to meet. The fresh tang of sea salt in the air is reviving, and the hum of voices comforting. I loved watching the ‘madafu'(coconut water) sellers swiftly carving through the skin of the coconut, hacking a lid into the top and presenting it proudly with straw in place. Glowing embers signalled barbecued sweetcorn, and the freshly fried ‘mogo’ (cassava) crisps were liberally sprinkled with chilli powder and lemon. I find that my mouth is watering now.
In our fast-paced world, punctuated with hashtags and ‘likes’, we are isolated; social media has brought us closer together and further apart at the same time. Last summer our little family moved from London to a smaller city, and the reason that I (quite surprisingly) miss our buzzy capital so little is the community around our new home. It is still a city, but people talk to each other: we have just had a flyer through for the annual street party, and I can hear the voices of neighbours chatting on the pavement now. Every Monday morning sees a small crowd of local mums having their own version of our lighthouse gathering in the local cafe. It is a pause, a sidestep out of our busy lives for an hour or so, to catch up, hear the news, connect without screen as barrier. Human connections are clearly necessary for wellbeing- social media depends on this need- and our lighthouse evenings were perfect fodder with which to nourish our souls.