Christians, Muslims and Hindus all in a commune,
constitute the nearly 8,00,000 strong population of fisherfolk in the
state of Kerala-an intimate and close knit community.
George moves rapidly down
the road towards the sandy clearing where his boat is. He wonders,
stealing a look at the setting sun, if he is late, his light
footfalls make almost no impressions on the sandy path which is the
main road of Rameshwaram, his village off Cochin where a fishing
The others are there and
the vallam Malayalam for a biggish fishing boat-stands in readiness.
The large trawl net takes much of the space. A few moments for
niceties and off they go into-fast-darkening waters of the Arabian
Sea. Would there be a good catch? George wouldnt know, to him
there is no drama or suspense; all in a days work. The time of
year is certainly not favourable, just before the monsoon hits the
cost of Kerala.
And some coast-590
kilometers of a lush, rich coastline ideal-fishing country. There are
41 west flowing rivers that drain their waters into the sea that
breaks its waves on Keralas coast. All this makes for the
varied marine life that this southernmost state of India is so full
of. As a result, the state has a fishable area as large as its land
George is busy tonight.
The trawl net takes a lot of labour, specially made s it is for
fishing below visible depths. But thats how it is with fishing
even if it is a persinet which is used for shoal catches of fish that
can be seen.
George is one of five
brothers of a Catholic fishing family. He cheerfully leads a life of
hardship in todays world of high pressure and expenses, most
often earning between Rs.600/- and Rs.1,000/- in one month. His
children go to school, an activity which is, in Kerala, so important
that it borders on the mundane.
George symbolizes a large
number of fishermen who find their singular niches in Keralas
7,70,000 strong fishing population. 35 Per cent of these are
Christians, 25 per cent are Muslims and 40 per cent are Hindus. Most
commonly a group functions together as one fishing combine. Each boat
has about 32 shareholders who are active fishermen. The boat is owned
by a more affluent person who may well possess 50 or 60 boats. The
shareholders fish together and become a commune in more ways than
The boat that Gorge and
his teammates have taken out to sea drifts silently as night falls
like dark velvet. The fishermen seem thoughtful and preoccupied. The
waters quietly beat against the boat and Gorge finds himself becoming
anxious about the catch. There is one bright thought that cuts
through the darkness-tomorrow is Sunday. There is no fishing on a
Sunday, and this is particularly true with the Christian fisherfolk.
fisherfolk have no special festivals or religious customs that are
set apart from those of other people of their particular religion. As
George says, it is just that we catch fish for an occupation, nothing
else is different. Of course the homestead is adapted in small,
special ways to the specialized profession. Georges wife spends
her day making nets and cleaning fish besides her usual day-to-day
To George, the bright
spots are the total mechanization of their boasts and the sea itself.
He often goes alone to stand on the huge granite stones that form the
sea wall that runs along Rameshwaram and gazes out at the massive
ocean. His work place, his livelihood.
And the same marine world
forms the work place for a Nicobari fisherman in the small,
picturesque island of Car Nicobar. Except that he fishes in the Bay
of Bengal. And that he belongs to a tribe distinct in its social
customs and rituals. As his day begins, he throws his net out with
practiced ease. By night, the Nicobari often goes octopus hunting,
walking out into the sea at low tide with a spear and a lantern, he
hunts for octopuses trapped in small shallow pools of water. the
light from his lantern attracts the octopus. It is popular food
because it is rubbery and soft.
He Nicobari too, is a
cheerful survivor much like George and his clan. Fishing is an
important profession that provides humankind with one of the most
protein-rich foods known today. The people involved in fishing are
ordinary, normal folk, much like people who do other kinds of jobs.
The typical Indian
fishing village is an intimate, close-knit community where the common
thread of the mans profession keeps all familiers together.
Georges house does not have any fence. He says they do not need
one. He walks freely into another friends house, uses the central
room and moves away. Georges house is never locked. A new, free
The community is too busy
living an ordinary, civilian life to spend time on any special
handicrafts or festivals. Georges wife is a nurse in a nearby
medical clinic and his three children are in primary and middle
school. All craft-making is related to fishing-nets boat repair and
in some cases, cleaning and drying of fish.
For George, the worrying
fact is that many of his colleagues are leaving Kerala and joining
deep-sea trawlers of the mid-east. More money there, he says, and one
can retain ones original profession. But that makes things
dismal for the fishermen who stay on. And there are not many
youngsters willing to learn the skills now. Yet, George is happy,
specially happy when he moves out, into the deep sea, with the salty
breeze beating his face.