By Priya Ranganathan | Illustration by Meera Phadnis
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Anaisha was very excited. Mummy and Daddy were finally taking her on a holiday! For two whole years, Anaisha had sat in her balcony and stared out at the busy Mumbai streets, wishing she could go outside and play but unable to because of the pandemic. But finally, her family was going on a holiday and Anaisha couldn’t wait!
“Where are we going, Daddy?” she asked excitedly when the family sat down for dinner.
“To the Lakshadweep Islands,” her father replied.
Anaisha wrinkled up her nose. “Will there be playgrounds and a swimming pool?”
Mummy laughed. “Anaisha, beti, there will be the whole ocean for you to swim in.” She leaned in, her voice dropping to a mysterious whisper. “And who knows, maybe you will see a mermaid, just like your favourite Little Mermaid.”
Anaisha’s eyes went round. “A mermaid?” she exclaimed. “Will I really see one?”
“You might,” her mother said, handing her a warm roti. “Now eat up. Tomorrow will be a very busy day.”
The next day, the family took a flight from Mumbai airport to Kochi, the capital of the southernmost state of Kerala. Anaisha, a mask tight across her nose and mouth, pressed her face excitedly to the window. She could see buildings and farmland, forests and rivers, mountains and clouds. How exciting!
Soon, they were at Kochi, making their way to the port where the ship to the Lakshadweep Islands would be docked. Anaisha loved the way the coconut trees waved and dipped in the breeze, just like graceful dancers.
The port was lively, with men rushing about shouting orders and lifting heavy crates with ropes onto the waiting ships. Each ship was at least as tall as a building, Anaisha thought, tilting her head back to look up. Daddy spoke to an important-looking official and then steered Mummy and Anaisha towards a beautiful white ship with a palm tree painted on the side.
“Is this our ship?” Anaisha asked as they climbed the gangplank.
“Yes, the only way to reach the island is by ship,” Mummy told her, clutching her hand tightly as the ship bobbed in the ocean.
After about thirty minutes, the ship gave a loud, alarming toooooooooooooooooot and steam began puffing from its smokestack. They were off! Anaisha clung to the rail, waving to the people on the dock as they became shorter and faded into the distance. The ocean was very blue and she couldn’t see any land for kilometres. Her mother encouraged her to explore the big ship and sleep, because they would reach the island the next day.
Sixteen hours later, the ship let out an excitable hoot and bumped its way into the port at Kavaratti, the capital of Lakshadweep. Anaisha, still half asleep, was carried off the ship by Daddy, while Mummy handled the suitcases. They climbed into one of the waiting tour buses and went straight to their guest house to relax.
When Anaisha woke up, she had no idea where she was. The bed was soft and plushy, the curtains were light blue and white, blowing gently in an inviting sea breeze, and she definitely knew the mirror set in seashells was not from her house. She sat up. Where was she?
Mummy appeared with a steaming cup of tea. “Oh good, you’re awake,” she said, giving Anaisha a kiss. “Don’t you want to go and swim on the beach?”
Anaisha suddenly remembered where they were. “Are we on the island?” she exclaimed, bouncing off the bed.
Mummy handed her swimsuit to her. “Yes, ma’am. Now go and change.”
The beach was white-gold and the water was sparkling blue, waves lapping gently against the shore. Children ran about in the waves, squealing and shouting with joy, and parents relaxed in beach chairs set along the shore.
Anaisha squinted out into the blue water, trying to make out any rocks or small islands. Maybe she would see a mermaid sunning herself on one!
And suddenly, she saw a funny greyish shape relaxing in the water far out, near a rock. To Anaisha’s young eyes, it looked just like a mermaid, with long hair floating in a halo around its head.
The young girl shrieked in excitement. “Mummy, Mummy, come and look! It’s a mermaid!”
Her mother looked up from her book. “What on earth are you saying, darling? A mermaid?”
“Mummy, look, it’s right over there!”
Mummy got up and came over to stand by Anaisha, squinting out in the direction of the long-haired figure in the water.
Suddenly, she started to chuckle.
“Look a little closer, beti,” she said. “Doesn’t that hair look very green to you?”
“Mermaids have green hair,” Anaisha insisted.
“Well, doesn’t your mermaid look a little white to you?”
“Ariel had white skin,” her little daughter replied stubbornly.
Mummy wisely held back her laugh. “Then we finally found your mermaid!” she said, giving Anaisha a big hug.
“I want to meet her!”
“No, she shouldn’t be disturbed,” Mummy said. “Just enjoy looking at her from over here. If the mermaid comes closer, her fins will be torn on the sharp rocks, and she will be hurt.”
Anaisha nodded. “You’re right, Mummy,” she said. “I’ll just watch her from here.”
Mummy left her standing at the beach, watching the mermaid with delighted eyes.
“What was all the commotion about?” Daddy asked when Mummy sat back down beside him.
Mummy started to laugh, making sure to turn her face away from Anaisha’s view. “Oh dear, she’s convinced she found a mermaid,” she chuckled.
“But what did she actually see?” Daddy asked, looking out at his young daughter.
“A dugong floating in a bed of seagrass,” giggled Mummy.
The adults laughed in harmony as Anaisha happily gazed out at her mermaid, her wish fulfilled at last.
About the Author:
Priya Ranganathan is a wetland ecologist and geologist by training who works in the wild Western Ghats. When she isn’t out wading through swamp forests, she can be found scribbling away in her notebook or practicing Bharatanatyam. Check out her website ‘On Life and Wildlife.’
About the Artist:
Meera Phadnis is a 10th grade student in Moraga, California. She enjoys art, reading books, Kathak, and playing tennis for her school team.