With a huge grin on his face Sivankutty paddles his country boat through a forest of lotus plants to the shore of Vellayani lake. It seems he’s got a good catch for the day. He banks the boat to a pillar of a pump house and jumps out brandishing a Rohu fish. “It weighs about one and a half kg,” says Sivankutty, adding: “I’ve got a few small Thilapias too. All of it should together fetch me over Rs. 1,000. Not bad for a morning’s work,” he chuckles.
Sivankutty has been a fisherman on the lake for the past 12 years (earlier he was a head-load worker) and he says that his catch varies by the day. “Sometimes it is a bounty, sometimes I catch barely one fish a day,” says the 55-year-old, who lives in a modest house by the lake.
His day starts at 4 a.m. and he is usually out on the lake till at least 8 a.m. “I start laying my nylon net the previous afternoon by about 4 p.m. It’s a neetta vala that’s almost 2,000 m long. So it takes me about three hours to get it all set up,” he explains. Sivankutty proceeds to reel off names of fishes found in the expansive fresh water lake: “Karimeen [pearl spot], prawns, varaal [banded snakefish] and varieties of carp [such as catla, rohu and mrigal]…” Many of these fishes were introduced into the lake under various programmes of the Government, Kerala University and the College of Agriculture, and so on. “I was actually hoping to catch some large prawns today. But these days it’s very difficult because the lotuses, which were put in to supposedly ‘beautify’ the lake some 15 years ago, have now spread across it much like weeds and have made the water murky and smelly. It is no longer a favourable environment for prawns that need clean water to thrive,” he explains, sighing rather theatrically.
It appears that Sivankutty is also a bit of an actor. “Don’t you recognise me?,” he asks. “I have appeared in many serials as an extra. Many outside shots for serials are shot in and around Vellayani lake, especially near the Kireedam bridge (a bridge across a culvert that appears in the song ‘Kaneer Poovinte…’, from the Mohanlal-starrer Kireedam). So there is always plenty of work when I’m done fishing for the day. I also played a small part, as a farmer, in the Suresh Gopi film Samooham. It’s a fun way to earn an extra income,” he says.
These days, Sivankutty says that he is more “free” to do what he wants to do. “I’ve married off my daughter and I make enough money for all the household expenses with my fishing. I could save more if didn’t indulge in alcohol as much as I do right now – it’s a habit that I can’t seem to break. Then again, my son, Deepu, who runs a flower stall at Chala, is there to pitch in with expenses. In fact, today, we are all going to a see a potential bride for Deepu. I’ll be happy to spend the rest of my days, quietly fishing on the lake,” he says. His catch in hand he jauntily strides off to the nearby market to sell his wares, whistling all the way.
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)