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.


Riot Kitty said...

Beautiful pics and prose as usual. Have you ever thought about writing a novel?

Lakshmi said...

Dropped in here after a while and your posts are wonderful as ever..Ive been wanting to go down to South Goa, also do some birding ..

Indian Bazaars said...

I remember seeing the Fish market at Sassoon docks for the first time - a morning so difficult to forget.

Rusty said...

Thank you for a wonderful and highly descriptive tour of your part of the world. ATB! (All The Best!)

dr.antony said...

You make me addicted to your blog.And it is not a habit I want to fight!

Anil P said...

Riot Kitty: Thank you. I'm not sure if I'd have the stamina to complete a novel or the creativity to actually think up a 'parallel' world as opposed to here, where I only need to put in words what I see out on my travels around :-)

Lakshmi: Thank you. Yes, long time. South Goa is a good time to visit in the winter. For bird watching in Goa, it might be a better bet to visit the wildlife sanctuaries where the density and variety of birds on view will be greater.

Indian Bazaars: The smell of the sea, and the noise of activity at the docks are usually unforgettable.

Rusty: Thank you.

Dr. Anthony: It's encouraging to learn you enjoy reading all these posts. I hope you don't have to fight the habit, ever :-)

karen said...

Interesting post! I always enjoy reading about your travels in Goa. Also now read your older post about the casino issue. What is the latest update on it?

Various attempts have been made to open a casino here in our small, beautiful & relatively unspoilt tourist town, and these up till now have been blocked by concerned citizens. However I fear that it is really going to happen one of these days.

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Great stuff, as always, Anil. Such a touching tale within too.

Pat said...

Hello Anil,
Enjoyed your trip.
Fishing has to be one of the hardest ways to make a living and then to sell at market...think maybe my life is pretty easy.

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

amazing narrative style and pics. u paint a picture so brilliant with your works!

Clémence L. said...

I don't speak english so, I have difficult to understand what you write in this blog but I try.
Your photographies show about life in India, the real life. I like it.

Anil P said...

Karen: Thank you. The Casino, belonging to Hotel Leela, was anchored in the river Sal, and talk of dredging the river to accomodate its operations got the residents of Ambelim, Betul, Assolna, Velim, and Cavelossim together under the Save River Sal Front, opposing it for fear it would destroy Marine ecology among other things, not the least of which was how casino culture might influence impressionable youth in the villages inland.

The last I heard was the Casino being forced to move out, and dredging of the river put on hold.

The local Catholic Church jumped straight into the agitation on the side of the fishermen who constitute an important component of village parishes, not surprising given its record of lending its voice to issues.

Hotel Leela is located on a strip of land that abuts River Sal on the East, and the Arabian Sea on the West, its property running east-west. The Casino was floated by The Leela to cater to its affluent clients, largely arriving from Western countries.

Corinne Rodrigues: Thank you.

Patsi: Thank you. It sure is difficult. Out at Cutbona, fishing boats employ its fishing crew on fixed monthly wages, ranging from Rs. 4,000/- to 7,000/- with bonuses heaped in the event of a good catch.

They're usually insured against potential calamity befalling them on the high seas.

Lakshmi Bharadwaj: Thank you. Always a pleasure to learn the post made for interesting reading.

Clemence L: Thank you for your kind words.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Nice read anil... I'm back here after long time... just followed you on twitter

Lynn said...

What a lovely post this is. You observe so unobtrusively. Sometimes the simplest things are the most interesting - like the exchange with the eels.

Dejemonos sorprender said...

Hi, nice and interesting pictures.. i liked..

TALON said...

Your journalling and your photography are both wonderful. As I read, I see, I hear, I feel...

I love how you notice the little things...the little interactions that make life special.

SEPO said...

wow. beautiful locales. breathtaking! the sea food looks fresh and yum..! nice post.

Anil P said...

Shrinidhi Hande: Thank you. I'm not much of a regular there, maybe occasionally.

Lynn: Thank you. There's so much humanity around at times that moments such as the one between the elderly man and the deck-hand convey so much warmth, done so selflessly.

This is not an uncommon sight because I once saw a fisherman hand over a kilo of fish from his boat for free to a middle-aged woman who was waiting for the boat to come in.

Incidently I had lent a hand to bring that fishing boat up the beach when they fell short of shoulders to push it up the incline, and waited alongside to catch my breath when I noticed the woman waiting.

Dejemonos Sorprender: Thank you.

Talon: Thank you. Always encouraging to learn you liked reading them.

There's so much warmth in the little things that it invariably leaves a glow afterwards.

SEPO: Thank you.

Rimi said...

Anil, I came to your blog via your comments on my friend Dea-Chan's blog, and I'm glad I did. It's not often that one finds a 'mainstream' person, as it were, taking such an informed interest in the evolving local economies in ever nook and cranny of India. I really appreciate it.

And, of course, should I ever decided to visit Goa, I'll get in touch with you for the best insider-tips :-)

PallSin said...

LOvely Anil! I think you should publish this as a travelogue. Why don't you? LOved reading.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully written and illustrated post. You are very observant. Thanks for taking us along on your journey.

Anil P said...

Rimi: Thank you. It's an attempt to look around and about, removed from destinations per se.

Sure, there's much to look around Goa. Goa tours is one option, and the rest, the other.

Someone: Thank you. I'm not sure if there's any 'print home' available for meandering travelogues, if there're any, then surely why not.

Lgsquirrel: Thank you. Nice to know you liked the post.

Nona: Thank you. You're welcome.

Coffee Messiah said...

To echo previous comments, a beautiful story and the boy/man interaction shows that there's still some humanity left in the World, although you wouldn't know it by the accounts in the media these last, oh so many years, especially here in the usa, where the elected officials make it a job to not compromise on anything good for the people ; (


Cait O'Connor said...

What a lovely blog.

Anuja P. said...

Brilliant photos. Very evocative :)

Anil P said...

Coffee Messiah: Thank you. Often, what affluence does is insulate from people, though not necessarily, but more likely.

There's much humanity around, and there'd be much more if the messaging that abounds (newspapers, TV, and the like) would focus on it as opposed to being driven into seeking the 'negative' at every turn.

Cait O'Connor: Thank you.

Anuja P: Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Just popping in to say nice site.