They sallied forth towards the harbour carrying the lord amidst them. The earth scorched their feet as they dragged themselves to the temple where awaited the caretakers of the divine. Worming their way way through the crowd, a group of women soughed out a tuneless chant summoning the spirits to the coast. Their voices began to fail all too soon as the drummers unleashed a set of primal rhythms unto the crowd.
“Although women are encouraged to be a part of such proceedings, not many have come forward to participate in the ritual. It takes a tremendous amount of will power more than devotion to survive such an intense experience. Everyone does it for their own personal reasons. While a few wish to attain liberation from symbolic confinements, some hope to determine their strength and endurance,” said Kumar as we followed the procession.
After a while, he suggested we take a detour to the shoreline through an endless stream of coir homes. As we strolled through the lonely pathways, Kumar continued to explain the difference in characteristics between Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. According to the locals, the calmness and serenity of the Bay indicated a feminine nature while sheathes of water disintegrating into foamy waves in the ocean depicted masculinity.
The day was overcast. A dense veil of feathery tufts of clouds settled across the horizon. Occasionally, the waves receded into a lulling murmur and faded to silence. Moored on the shores, a boat lay still on the coastline. On approaching the dinghy, we spotted faint inscriptions of Kumar’s father’s name and a date. “It reads December 23, 1964; the day the cyclone hit Dhanushkodi. This used to Appa’s boat. We would often go fishing together,” said Kumar with a smile as he stepped into the water.
We swam for a while amidst shoals of fish and other aquatic creatures. With algae and seaweed entwined in our toes, we acquiesced to explore the depths of the bay. In a few moments, we felt a sharp burning sensation on our arms and legs. Upon realising that we were now surrounded of hundreds of tiny jellyfish, we feared we had been stung by some. We expressed our concerns to Kumar who chuckled at our plight and said, “These are babies. Their stings aren’t fatal. Apply some hot sand on your hands and you should be fine.”
We decided to head back in a few hours. As we dried off on the beach, a fisherman strode towards us carrying a basket of blue and red crabs, squid and some shellfish. He was on his way to the Rameswaram market and hoped to return by noon.
Walking alongside the shallow embayment, we were drawn to the dunes gleaming in a distance. Cloaked with remnants of old oysters, conches and skeletal remains of aquatic creatures washed ashore by the waves, the heaps of sand stood apart in staggered silence against the swirling bay. Amidst shells of hues ranging from mauve to slate grey, we found disfigured and partly mutilated dead ghost crabs seeking shelter in the discarded crusts. Upon a miniature dune, laid several creatures motionless and disarrayed. For a moment, it felt as though we had stumbled upon a massive graveyard for deep-sea animals.
Kumar then took us to a well to bathe. His wife had prepared some sambar and rice for lunch. We sat down to the sound of muffled giggling coming from the room. The kids were soon summoned to join their father.We were hesitant to help ourselves with a second serving for we thought there wasn’t enough for the entire family. However, after lunch, we discovered that Lakshmi had prepared an entire cauldron of sambar and rice. Each of us were served smaller portions of food. With the last morsel of rice, we wiped our plates clean only to realise that they would be refilled in a jiffy. And, that’s when it struck us; wasting food is never an option for these communities. We ate our hearts fill and sought shelter in a structure nearbyto take a nap.
In an hour or so, we were woken up by Dharmar who led us to the tea stall. Whilst walking towards the settlement, we came across a group of fishermen and women straightening their fishing nets and discussing their plans for the next day when they set sail again. Kumar and Dharmar helped them untangle their nets as the women showed us their collection of shells from the ocean.
At the tea stall, we asked Kumar if Lakshmi had ever accompanied him on a fishing trip. “No. She doesn’t come with us. She prefers to be at home with the kids all the time. However, she always helps us retrieve the boat back to the shore. I never ask her or my children to do anything they don’t wish to do. In fact, we don’t even force a child to learn swimming. We show them the benefits of acquiring such a skill and let them decide what they’d like to do. There was a beautiful story narrated to us when we were little. Once, a father swam to the deep waters to anchor his boat. When the son asked him what took so long, he explained to the boy that the waves were roughshod and it took a while to empty the boat. The young child was devastated that he couldn’t be of any assistance to him. He then decided to learn swimming with renewed passion. That way, his father wouldn’t have to struggle alone. Learning has to be born out of curiosity. Knowledge without any purpose is meaningless to our existence,” said Kumar as he sipped on his tea…
(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