which was much like
a fieldstone with an eye
in it, which was watching me
to see if I would go
or change into something else”
-The Grey Heron by Galway Kinnell
In the Maldives, the grey heron captivates you. It emerges unexpectedly. It sits by the pool. Then suddenly, it decides to walk behind you on the powdery beaches. It stands stoically watching a few manta rays swim by. It is very much there. But always uncannily unobtrusive. Yet, you feel you are being watched.
Much like my hotel’s genial general manager.
He too emerges suddenly. As your buggy drives down the property, he enters stage left from behind the trees. Or you bump into him during an unplanned stroll down the beach. They say great hoteliers always watch. But they are never seen. They’re shy extroverts.
Poetry in pantones
The Air India flight that takes one to Male via a 50-minute stop at Thiruvananthapuram is every bit predictable. The armrests need rest. The food is fantastic. And they forget to hand over the Fast Track form that can transform getting into Maldives from a living hell into god’s own beach. Once you have the form, getting past immigration is much like the breeze that embraces the island.
We picked the rough-end of the weather stick. We were told that July came with rains as its bridesmaid. The water would be rough. But the sun slyly showed its face through all the days we were there.
One is totally unprepared to experience the Maldives.
A ferry gets you to the resort from Male. It is one of the only resorts there that does not have to pander to the egos of seaplanes to get you to your vacation.
When you arrive, you are still a tad underwhelmed. But once you stand, facing the beach, the hair begins to stand on end. Almost in applause.
The light green, dark green, light blue, and dark blue merge like Pantone poetry. It is then that a thought flashes past your eyes – perhaps God was a watercolourist.
This image of the blue water, I was told, was a function of the sunlight being scattered by the water molecules. The phytoplanktons were responsible for the greens. Tiny-sized algae, they use green chlorophyll pigments to capture energy from the sun. Physics and biology. They live on a twin-sharing basis in the Maldives.
As do the coral and the spectacular sea life.
Reef sharks, eyebrows raised, saunter past demure Madoogali reef. Sea cucumbers chat with moray eels. Friendly seals come visiting from sub-Antarctic waters. Stoned manta rays laze past giant guitarfishes that are busking in the waters. Titan triggerfish pout for a selfie, as a Picasso triggerfish photobombs them.
Every one has a seat in the waters of the Maldives. It is an endearing democracy.
There are various ways to approach the Maldives. In her beautiful book, The Memory Of Love, Aminatta Forna said, “A life, a history, whole patterns of existence altered, simply by doing nothing. The silent lie. The act of omission.”
You can choose to do simply nothing at the Maldives. The Taj Exotica, where I stayed, has a swing smack in the middle of the ocean. I spent time with my playlist there. Listening to Apocalypse by Cigarettes After Sex, surrounded by water, was a moment. It is a wonderful place to meet yourself.
But if that is not your cup of chamomile, the water sports are simply awesome. The resort has its own diving facility run with great knowledge and compassion by Nihad. Why compassion, you may wonder. Because you need that to encourage a non-swimmer like me to go deep-sea diving. Or snorkelling, where I encountered a reef shark. Nihad is a wonderful source of discovering sealife. He makes the Maldives special.
On one evening, I went para-sailing with Nihad and his team. As we stared at the coral beaming at us from under the water, I felt dwarfed by nature. The breadth of its beauty and the length of its loveliness cannot be described.
Chuffed over my brazen boldness, I decided to jet-ski one morning. On another day I tried my hand at water-skiing. Needless to add, I was a miserable failure at both. But for teenagers and adventure junkies it can be happy heroin.
But it’s the sunsets that set the Maldives apart. The skies of the Maldives are abstract expressionists. Jackson Pollock-like, they drip colours on the canvas of your sight. Blues, oranges, purples and even blacks are hurled at you.
You are blinded by the beauty.
The eye-opener at the resort is the food. Fresh meats, fish and vegetables. I had some of the finest steaks there. And the Chinese at the coffee shop is spectacular as well. Food needs a certain familiarity when you are on a date with the largely unfamiliar Maldives. That’s where the Taj kicks in, with chef Bhaskar conducting a philharmonic for the palate.
In other matters…
It is important that you requisition the services of Nadeem, the butler there. He has an impressive Rolodex. And royalty and the rich on speed dial. He takes butler service to another level. Even underwater. He came snorkelling with us.
I asked the general manager, what he most regrets. The Internet, he said. “I wishwe didn’t have cellular signals and the Internet here”. Ironic, given the fact that the business centre there has state-of-the-art computers with screens as large as Jonathan Ive’s imagination.
So when is a good time to go to the Maldives?
We went in July. And we are already booked to go again in September.
Clinically speaking, all drugs, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. It is one of the three reasons for addiction.
That surge is in the surf of the waters of the Maldives.
That surge is in the sands of its beaches.That surge is in its sunrises and sunsets.It is a wonderful addiction.
Visitors to the Maldives are not permitted to bring alcohol or drugs.Once you visit it, you understand why.It is an intoxication by itself.
The author is a connoisseur of luxury and an ad guru. He launched his own agency, Equus, and has some of the most prestigious corporate honchos as his clientele.