Forget the face that launched a thousand ships. Welcome to the ship that launched a thousand micro enterprises – Pratibha Cauvery.
Grounded during Cyclone Nilam and drifting towards the Chennai shoreline, the ship finally rests solidly off the Nochikuppam beach, just behind Santhome Basillica, defying attempts to tow her out. But even as she rests there, in union with the fertile beach sands she has spawned several businessmen and women.
In fact, the entire mini-industry that entertains beach-goers to the Marina seems to have moved lock, stock and barrel from the more popular northern stretch (from Anna Square, right up to the Lighthouse) down to the Nochikuppam area, where only the service lane was used sparingly by vehicles wishing to avoid the traffic jam on the main Kamaraj Salai.
With their bamboo baskets, push carts, ice-cream carts, they came bearing aluminium tins of sundal and murukku, canisters of tea, and coffee, piping hot corn kernels smeared with chilly powder, as red as the paste on the slivers of mango carefully cut, resting on full green mangoes.
A little distance away are the merry-go-rounds, the balloon-shooting boards, the kerosene stoves for luridly-coloured bajjis being lighted as dusk sets in.
Under a temporary shamiana nearby, officials worriedly discuss how even after de-ballasting the ship’s stern remained stodgily unmoved. But for the entrepreneurs out there on the beach, every minute the ship stays is worth rustling rupee notes.
Vendors gustily cry out their wares, tempting ‘ship-seeing’ tourists with an ice cream stick, a paper-wrap of piping hot, boiled groundnuts, a cold drink.
Meanwhile, two young boys scurry around by the waves, a DSLR slung around their necks. “Madam, one photo with ship background. Instant print,” one of them reels off at breakneck speed. Just behind then, a whirring sound starts up.
Parked under a big black umbrella sits a gent, four mini-printers resting on a plastic sheet laid on the sand in front of him.
A postcard size print of a family cheerily posing in front of the Pratibha Cauvery is being ejected in spurts by one of the printers. “Thirty Rupees, only.”