November 26, 2010

A Moment Of Truth At Cutbona Fishing Jetty

The Concip had already docked and was preparing to offload its catch when we turned right and made for the Cutbona Jetty on a bright, cheerful October day four years ago. The final stretch had passed quickly as we made straight, past coconut palms along an arrow of a road, passing a wetland with cheering lotuses. Large Egrets landed in the waters as we sped past. More took off from behind the trees in the distance.

The skies over Betul were clear. I breathed deeply of the air, and exhaled to the pace of the road slipping away beneath us. We had left Margao behind and had traveled South through Assolna, then Velim.

Soon we slowed down as the fishing jetty came into view. Past the cluster of fishing trawlers that had docked early that morning, the Sal shone in the Sun, rippling violently as Kites hovering overhead made sharp, terrifying dives into the waters before winging upwards, prey twisting in their talons, flashing whites where the Sun caught their desperation. The ripples from the violence jostled against the current, prevailing long enough to notch Sal’s timeline with depredations of its birdlife before dissolving into nothingness.

The Maria Bai had brought up Concip’s rear and was preparing to cast off, its nets sorted and piled high on deck.

Drying on clotheslines strung on Concip’s deck, a bewildering array of daily wear, in far greater numbers than its fishing crew, spoke of days out at sea. A wooden cross surmounted the Captain’s cabin. Employed by Concip's Goan owner, the dark-skinned, lean youth were busy emptying the holds of fish into blue plastic crates. The crew, I learned later, hailed from Orissa.

Having bathed and scrubbed away the smell of high seas away some of them sat by in towels watching their colleagues stack fishes in crates. Plastic sieves lay stacked alongside. In their eyes I could see the relief of a run successfully completed. Soon it would be time to sail away again. They would rest their weary limbs, mend the fishing nets, carouse in local bars and swap stories until it was time to stock up and set sail for the high seas.

Up ahead I lost the jetty’s run South in the flags fluttering from masts of fishing trawlers bunched tightly along its length. It ran straight like the final stretch of road we had ridden to Cutbona, nudging the eastern banks of the Sal before it empties into the Arabian Sea where the sliver of land that had held it inland finally tapers and ends in a sharp finger abutting the ocean, letting the Sal run free into the Sea.

Two years later I would, along with Ajay and Don, ascend the hill at Baradi where the Holy Cross Chapel stands. On a clear day, the sharp finger is visible South-West from the foot of the Chapel if you look long and hard enough. The ocean cuts a wide swathe, wider than you can dare imagine.

Weighing scales stood dockside. Soon Tempo carriers dispatched by hotel chains and wholesalers would make their way to the fishing jetty and load up the catch just in time for chefs to whip up sea food for their clientele. Fish markets in Assolna, Velim, Chinchinim, Cuncolim, Balli, Navelim, and Margoa would soon come alive to excited chatter, the outwardly friendly banter belying the hard bargains regular shoppers strike with Goan fisherwomen who're no pushovers themselves.

However, not everyone in Goa makes for fish markets for their daily shopping lists. And not everyone who cannot afford fish at market prices will let their day go by without their fish curry, rice.

I might’ve missed noticing the thin elderly man in a striped t-shirt trudging up the jetty if it was not for the flimsy polythene bag trailing in his hand. Sheltering under a much used cap he walked slowly sizing up the deck-hands on Concip as they hauled eels into crates.

The man kept his distance from the trawler at first, probably still making up his mind, before walking up to it. Motioning to a crate he passed a deck-hand the polythene bag he had carried along, watching as the youth slipped two eels into the bag. The bag could hold no more. Nothing changed hands save the eels.

A quick nod of the head in acknowledgement and gratitude and he started back the way he had come and the youth returned to his task. Pausing at the reflection in the water dockside he retrieved the eels from the plastic bag. Straining as he bent he turned them over in the water for a quick wash before returning them to the bag.

Holding his head up, he made his way past me slowly, looking straight ahead. I turned my face up to trace the flight of a Kite circling in the skies.

When the moment of truth arrives, some will stand up to its test.

Note: In an earlier post, Gambling Away The Sal, I wrote of the threat the river Sal faced from Goa Government’s Tourism Policy.

Related Links:

1. Velim locals resist Goa Govt’s land acquisition plans at Cutbona.
2. Velim Gram Sabha Opposes Acquisition of Land at Cutbona.

November 24, 2010

Willing A Wanting In Curtorim

When I’ve time on my hands like I sometimes do on my occasional trips to Goa, I ride the backroads, chasing silences I like telling myself.

It’s a wonder how I rarely suffered punctures considering I would be bicycling in the Sun till the pedals threatened to come off. I would keep my eye on the road and actually count the shadows the trees cast on the road, in time learning to distinguish between them and soon I came to pride in my ability to recognize trees from their shadows on lonely roads. Looking back now I’d imagine one seeks unlikely companions when free-riding down quiet roads. Needless to say it took me a long time to get more guesses right than wrong.

My cycling days are over, for now.

The last time I rode one was two years ago when we went cycling on rented bicycles in the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan. Show me shadows now and I doubt if I can tell a dog from a tree.

Given a choice I’d rather ride pillion now. While it’d mean I would see fewer things than if I was riding it, now I can linger longer on things of little consequence, like straining to see if anyone would emerge from a bend in the road past a brightly whitewashed roadside Chapel, and if it was a lady would she be wearing large floral prints, or if there’re lighted candles on the altar.

Sometimes, no degree of willing an event or a want will make it happen. Even before I can reflect on my disappointment if I can call it that I can already see the next bend in the road to will the next want. And then another. Soon miles burn away, only pausing by roadside shrines where the gods are largely left unmolested. The gods came in peace, only they haven’t been left in peace ever since.

So, occasionally I’d rather keep my distance and take in divinity from afar, and seek to proffer instead of ask, like the day we went riding through Curtorim some years ago.

Stopping by a wayside Chapel past harvested paddy fields I willed peace for Christ even as I kept a nervous eye past the bend in the road, dreading someone would ride into view and shatter the quiet.

No one did. But that was more because I chose to move on before someone actually did. And in that moment I was reminded of the limits of mortals, and how unwise it would be to play god.