Sticky, salty water. Noisy people. A sweaty feel. Tamil+English. Loud TV. Sweltering heat. Smoke. Dust. Music all the time. Tamil. Mosquitoes. Jeering people. Rasam.

If you, like me, grew up in India, the only beaches you’d been to (unless you’d been to Goa or gone abroad, of course) would have been where you stood, holding your parents’ hands and letting the waves wash your feet. Your mother would have pulled her sari up to only reveal her ankles, and your dad may have rolled up his pants, unless he’d been the adventurous kind to jump into the sea and have fun.

Until very recently, I had no idea how beaches in other parts of the world could be. Where the water is true blue and breathtakingly beautiful that you could see the sea bed through, where people wear their bikinis and swim.

2 days back, I left for Bintan, an island in Indonesia just an hour away from Singapore. A beach freak, I was excited beyond words! And I wasn’t disappointed – the beach is the MOST BEAUTIFUL I have ever since in my 22 years! It is the kind that you watch in movies and go WOW – do such beaches really exist?

A day after spending a good few hours to going deeper into the water than you can ever imagine a non-swimmer-but-still-a-beach-freak like-me would go, I was quite stumped for a number of reasons.

I sat by the pool sipping a cool drink, watching women well over 50 splashing about in the water in their bikinis. Trust me, they weren’t the fittest babes around – but nothing stopped them from having their fun. And that really, really baffled me – why are we Indians so different? While in India, I used to think it was only the westerners who roamed around in bikinis or wore the skimpiest of clothes – you get the drift. I received quite a shock when I visited the beach here for the first time, slightly even turning red at the sight of young women in their bikinis. Even Asians do this? What surprised me even more was when a Thai friend showed me a picture from the early 80s of her family where her mother was dressed in a swimsuit too. They were just a normal family, and they’d have been like mine, had they been in India. And yet, a world of difference!

Why are we so different? Heck, I don’t even know swimming because by the time I realized I could learn, I was already grown up and the prospect of going into a pool in a swimming costume was frowned upon! Our idea of fun in a beach is so ridiculous – I know it is a LOT of fun and I still swear by it – but how come it is that we don’t know so many things? Like the sheer enjoyment of a piece of clothing that is not cumbersome and gives you the pure joy of going a few more feet deeper into the water than that you can afford to in your saree/salwar kameez/jeans?

It’s just a wholly different world, and it’s one that my colleagues can’t even imagine as I try hard to express them. “You don’t swim in your beaches?” they ask. It’s another thing our beaches are quite dirty and nobody in their right mind would want to swim beyond a point, but the very fact that we women couldn’t do so even if we wanted to is plainly horrible.

I know I should be thankful that I get to experience a lot of things, but I can’t help thinking many a time of the many of us who don’t get to do so. How much are we missing! Will it change? Soon?