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Catching fishermen at work

The beaches along the eastern coast of India are tranquil idylls. For those living off the ocean, though, the shores are a workplace where they labour with love.

July 06, 2018 03:43 pm | Updated July 22, 2018 03:58 pm IST

The life of a fisherman is an relentless rigmarole. Luckily he has his mates and the sweet sea zephyrs for company.

The life of a fisherman is an relentless rigmarole. Luckily he has his mates and the sweet sea zephyrs for company.

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Digha, a well-known seaside resort town, boasts massive footfall. White-collar workers from Kolkata love to drive down here to de-stress. Just five kilometres away, across the Odisha border, luxuriates a lesser-known beach, Talsari, that is diametrically opposite in character to Digha. Barring the heavy-bass roar of the sea in the backdrop, these sands offers peace, solitude and calm. Here, as a distributary of the Subarnarekha meets the sea, freshwater gushing into brine, tides crashing elegantly against the delta.

The stunning landscape apart, these shores are peppered with fishermen tirelessly mending the loose ends of their nets in preparation for the next catch. As the rare tourist ambles around the busy fishermen, birds hovering in search of leftovers, occasional whiffs of fish odour buffet his nose.

The typical day around these parts begins with the arrival of boats full of fresh catch. While the rest of us were deep asleep, the fishermen had set out as early as 3 a.m. to return by the time the sun begins to cast its warm hues over the vast horizon.

By the time they arrive with laden boats, the water levels have already begun to recede. So, the fishermen heave and ho, pulling their boats ashore, where...

 

... rows of cycle carts await them, eager to gather up as substantial a haul they can carry to the nearby wholesale market.

 

More than the fish and its commodity value, it is about the energy, the labour, and the collaborative rhythm on display. After some rest, the fishermen spread their nets, and the regular activity of net-mending resumes.

 

The boats, which recently swirled and whirled in the turbulence of high tide, have becalmed themselves into grounded vehicles. As the water level retreats late in the morning, the anchors get exposed, and the shutterbug’s sight gets anchored to the river bed.

 

Time-space compression is not a feature of digital technology alone — these folded nets can extend up to five kilometres in length when fully spread. Naturally, finding — let alone tying up — the loose ends calls for substantial coordination of effort and proper division of labour.

 

The manual scrutiny of the nets and identification of weak spots is a labour-intensive, time-consuming and tedious process.

 

The nets, nylon-thread lattices, can weigh up to a ton, and often get damaged by shark attacks. They cost up to ₹350, and mending them takes five to 10 people working in tandem.

 

Some stretch it, some spot the weak zones, some tighten or sew the knots, some drag away the repaired zones and pull up the to-be-mended portions.

 

The work carries on non-stop through the day, the men taking it in turns and shifts.

As the sun sets, the bronzes and sepias once again suffuse the landscape. It’s now time to wrap up for the day with a smoke.

 

Finally, it’s time for some rice with a side of fried fish before turning in, only for yet another early dawn embarking in search of deep-water fish. Just another day — yet another day.

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