Our tent overlooked the ocean. The day was blistering hot and the searing winds scoured our faces and arms. A few kids walked unsteadily towards heaps of sand wondering what the mighty seas had brought in today. Some looked for riddles hidden in its layers and others searched for treasures between clumps of dried shrubs. Leaving a trail of footprints, they then chased each other until they could no more.
We heard Kumar talking to someone in a distance. His face split into a huge grin as he introduced us to his older brother Dharmar. Since, it was tradition for fishermen to not step into the ocean until the Goddess was appeased; the entire settlement donned divinity as their armour against all evils — social or moral – for the next few days in hopes that the creators would lead them to heavenward paths. Every man, woman and child placed their faith in the lord and plunged into preparations for the festival.
Soon, we were all ushered towards the tea stall. Whilst passing through a few houses, we came across a freshly dug beach well. Kumar explained to us that they were constantly recharged by an infinite supply of ocean water. “The entire community usually pools in money to build wells that could be used by everyone. We don’t normally go around digging isolated wells for ourselves. This destroys the community spirit and instills a selfish one-dimensional way of thinking. That way, you start focusing only on yourself rather than the community. We are all a part of one big family. And, we have to learn live in unity and harmony with one another,” he said with a smile.
We asked him if people would ever prefer living in permanent structures rather than the traditional ones made of coir. Even if government grants them permission to build concrete houses, no one would exercise that option since they aren’t favourable in tropical weather conditions. “Such houses build and store a lot of heat. With no electricity, we wouldn’t be able to survive in them. Not only are traditional houses sustainable but they are very well ventilated. Moreover, they can withstand any climate,” he said.
The stall was brimming with activity. As we sipped our tea, we wondered aloud if the community has at any point faced a dire situation with respect to medical emergencies owing to the lack of accessible health care in town. With the nearest hospital being 12 km away, they often have to rely on local taxi or tourist buses to reach them. “We aren’t excessively reliant on hospitals or medicines. In fact, none of our kids are vaccinated. They are all born here in the community. I try and drink a glass of neem juice every day to build resistance against infections and diseases. The only time I ever visited a hospital in my life was when I had a fatal accident on the boat. One of the ropes got stuck in the propeller and when I tried to set it free I got hurt,” he said.
Dharmar sat in silence listening to the dulcet tones of the ocean now drowned in chatter. His face dropped with concern as Kumar narrated his story. He had also mentioned to us that he lived in Bahrain for a while. He spoke fondly of his time there for it allowed him to earn enough to support his family. However, a few months ago, he met with a terrible boating accident and had to undergo several major surgeries. He was told he couldn’t go fishing anymore and that’s why he had to return. “I can’t earn for a while now. And, I can’t do anything else. Fishing is all I know. I feel much better these days and I hope to set sail soon. I have to for the sake of my children. They are doing incredibly well in school and continue to make us proud. I hope they have a bright future. I may have not had the opportunity to go to school but the least I can do is ensure that my children don’t suffer the same fate. I am certain that education can uplift our lives,” said Dharmar as he puffed on his beedi.
Although consuming alcohol is a part of their culture, the settlements have not recorded an unhealthy breach of addiction or substance abuse so far. Most of them indulge in a few drinks after dinner but there are a handful of those push their limits. While they don’t give their families any grief, everyone constantly worries about their well-being.
The conversation then veered towards the ongoing practice of barter system. Although, no one follows the conventional rules anymore, the community still engages in this particular medium of exchange to a certain degree. “Essentially, it boils down to helping another human being in times of need. It all depends on how you observe life around you. Sometimes, it may be comforting a friend who has had a bad day in the ocean. So, you share your earnings with him and in return he will help you build your home. If you are unwell and need groceries from the market, you will always find a friend who will run to Rameswaram to get you supplies hoping that you would do the same for him someday. As long as compassion and unconditional love never die within the community, we will survive no matter what life throws our way,” said Kumar…
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502