Dawn was just beginning to peep over the horizon and the salty tang in the air, typical of the marshy terrain, was laden with crisp, cool notes of the early winter period. Chocolate brown leaves crunching deliciously under our merciless shoes were the only sounds as the birds waited in anticipation of the moment when they could welcome the first rays of gold to hit the treetops with a euphoric symphony. On either side of this narrow, slightly elevated, dirt trail were even narrower strips of a contrasting green of tall, moist, fresh, dew-laden grass which had fulfilled their endeavour to soak our socks halfway into the trek.
As Junior and I made our way farther towards the creek, a subtle change was evident in the coastal landscape from just large, gnarled trees to more of short, stubby shrubs and thick, sludgy patches pockmarked with crab holes. Furtive residents could be seen peeping out of several of the holes even as the more adventurous ones were already scuttling out in search of a decent breakfast.
The sheer variety in crab species was as much a naturalist’s delight as a gastronome’s, not to mention a photographer’s! However, despite laden with pictures sufficient to create a portfolio worth envy of the best fashion shows, the photographer’s soul was, as always, in search of that one picture which would be the capstone of the journey. And that morning, luckily, delivered one of those opportune moments.
A patch of thick, stagnant, muddy water down a small slope on our left suddenly caught my eye. As we turned towards it, we knew we had hit a jackpot – it was a studio-like setup in the wild. From the left, faint rays of the first sun had managed to penetrate the thin fog and reflected dully off the water. A few crabs were scuttling across it, scurrying faster as they sensed our approach. Sensing to seize the moment, Junior stepped onto a dead tree trunk fallen across the slush on the right so as to cut off the crabs’ egress. While most of the crabs outsmarted us by simply sinking into the mud, a valiant one, to our delight, decided to stand its ground.
So there it was, one fearless crab with claws out; a dim first light from the left, an obstructive Junior on the right, a gloomy thicket behind it and a one-eyed monster in front! The moment was mine, and as the crab blew a few bubbles – ostensibly to keep oxygen flowing to its gills – and the ripples moved very slowly towards me across the thick muddy shallows, I seized it!
[Framed: A Sesarmid crab (suspected, but not confirmed, to be Perisesarma guttatum) at Dahisar Mangroves Forest, Mumbai]
– Narendra Nayak © 2022