It is not uncommon to find large barges ferrying iron ore from open cast mines to loading points downstream of the river where it meets the Arabian Sea. Sometimes I have paused to watch the evening Sun glint off the river. From the road snatches of water rippling gently are visible through the balustrade that fences off the promenade from the river, and every once in a while tourists visiting Panjim walk along the promenade and take in views of the Mandovi. The locals mostly hurry past. Many Government offices are located along the stretch to the other side of the road.
Occasionally a lonely soul or two can be found perched on the riverfront parapet gazing into the distance. I have found expanses of water inviting such gazing, as if in the stillness that flatness of any kind induces there is to be found an evenness to steady the turbulence within. Not all who come here do so to gaze at the Mandovi lapping the promenade. Couples whiling away time can be seen sitting on cement benches lining the promenade, their attention divided between their companionship and the placid waters. Lamps punctuate the line of benches. As the Sun goes down they soothe the stretch with a familial glow bringing comfort to wandering souls far away from home.
Early this month I passed the Military Headquarters HQ 2 Signal Training Centre on D. B. Marg, casting a quick glance at the arched porch centered in the facade before crossing the road to the promenade. I had time on my hands as I made my way along the river. In the far distance spans of the bridge over the Mandovi connecting Panaji to Mapusa were visible. The Portuguese had based their military headquarters in this building before they were driven out by the Indian Army, ending their centuries’ old occupation of Goa. The Portuguese Generals must have enjoyed a quiet evening view of the Mandovi in happier times.
Casting my eye into the distance I noticed a lone figure wielding a net attached to the end of a long bamboo pole peer intently into the waters. In the backdrop lay a large floating casino, almost obscuring a stretch of the river. Casinos have been brought in to cater to affluent western tourists, beating back local protests fighting the spread of casino culture in the tiny state.
He waded into the waters, the large pole balanced against the back of his neck, the net attached to one end of the pole. A few of his friends sat on the parapet talking even as they kept an eye on him. On the face of it they appeared to be regulars at this time of the day, most probably workers at the end of their working day come looking for some banter and a catch to take home for dinner.
The fisherman lowered the net in the river and in a sweeping movement traced an arc in the waters. Lifting the net out of the water he checked it for catch. There was none.
He waded further out until his knees were well under the water. There he lowered the net again and in a sweeping movement he traced an arc from left to right, only pausing on facing resistance to the sweep. Apparently the net had snagged on some debris in the water that he couldn’t quite see. He took a few steps further out to avoid the obstruction before lowering the net again. This time the sweep yielded a catch. Cheers went up on the parapet where his friends sat following his progress. By now his effort had attracted a few passers-by as well.
The catch was by no means large but the bulge in the net as he lifted it out of the water indicated a catch worthy of a dinner for two, sufficient enough to satisfy a few minutes of exertion on an evening stroll with friends. He had landed Prawns (Sungto in Konkani, the local language).
The Sun licked the length of the promenade golden, casting shadows that loped along as people walked its length. Across the road to my right lay the Institute Menezes Braganca. Adjoining it was the Police Headquarters, formerly known as the Quartel da Policia do Estado da India, established during the rule of Dom Manoel de Portugal e Castro in the late 1920s during the erstwhile Portuguese regime.
Now that he had his catch I waited for the fisherman to make his way back to the promenade. I expected him to empty his catch before heading out again. Instead I saw him hesitate and look closely at the spot where his sweep had encountered resistance in the water. A few moments later he beckoned one of his friends sitting on the parapet to where he stood and passed him the long pole, the fishing net weighed down by the catch at one end.
Then he stepped back into the water and felt the spot with his hands until he located the obstruction. Standing there, my elbows on the parapet, I had a feeling he knew what the obstruction was. Soon enough I saw a tyre emerge from the waters as he rolled it upright. There was no knowing how long it had lain in the waters before he had found it that evening. Fishermen are known to leave tyres in the shallow of rivers.
He ran his hand along the inside of the tyre, searching no doubt for crabs that seek shelter in such opportunities. Sure enough he found one crab. Excited cheers went up on the parapet as he extricated the reluctant crab from its home before heading back to where his friends sat.
One of them expertly emptied the young prawns on a piece of cardboard box, picking off stragglers left behind in the net. The prawns shone silver in the evening light, catching the Sun as they wriggled desperately, surprised by the unfamiliarity of their situation.
In contrast the crab seemed resigned to its fate, barely moving as one of the men held it firm under his thumb as I took its picture.
Behind me the river showed no trace of the little drama it had just witnessed. Like with other instances before this moment too passed into history no sooner it had taken place, swallowed by the stillness of the waters.
I walk down the promenade in the direction of the Panaji Ferry point that connects ferry passengers to Betim on the other side of the river. A Cross abuts the promenade near the Ferry point. Resting in the shade of sloping sheets it reminds passing people of passengers who died in an accident on the river when the ferry they were traveling in capsized some years ago. The Cross was built in their memory by locals living nearby.
A man stops by to ask a bicycle-borne ice cream vendor for directions about town as I make my way past them to where local buses headed for the Kadamba bus-stand halt for passengers. The days are short and the shadows lengthen quickly. I can see the Mandovi hotel from the promenade. The traffic on the road is light. I turn to see if any buses are headed my way.
Soon enough a mini-bus comes to a halt by the promenade and even as I release the shutter I make a run for the white and blue bus, the conductor waiting at the door. Barely have I made it up the landing and the bus lurches forward and we are on our way.