On the southern end of India, there is a tiny smelly fishing village with dusty roads and unassuming little houses. Fishermen, fisherwomen and their families live in these houses. Surprisingly, all the tiny houses have huge color TVs with cable connection. Amma had benevolently gifted every family in the village, you see. ‘And it wasn’t a part of her political campaign or anything like that. No no no, Amma is not like that at all, she loves all her children equally. Here, take some more rasam, this is a special recipe…‘
Surrounding the village is a shallow saltwater lagoon which stretches about 60 kms along the coast. If you haven’t read about this village before your visit, you will be shocked when the locals proudly tell you that this little seashore town was, for about a 100 years, the headquarters of the Dutch Coromandel during the 17th century. The Portuguese were here before the Dutch, and then after the Dutch, the British came. Under the British rule, Madras, ‘that upstart new town’ became more and more important and everyone gradually moved away from this village.
While recounting this bit of history, they eagerly drag you to an ancient cemetery tucked away behind their little market. Remnants of a colonial legacy, of slave trade and spices and weird hallucinatory skeletons and drowned men and regal mausoleums which now serve as convenient afternoon napping spots for the fishermen greet you at the cemetery. Then the men, they chatter on about Christianity in India originating here on this very soil, something about a Portuguese church built in 1510. Or was it 1515? You lose track of the conversation; you’ve always been terrible with history. Why, one time, on a visit to Sarnath, you had gazed admiringly at the majestic lion capital and thought to yourself, ‘this is such a fine replica of the original in Delhi.’ Such were your musings then; an early 20’s bird, no sense of history, and yet you adored Nietzsche and these words made you feel like a bird in flight,
‘Since I grew tired of the chase
And search, I learned to find;
And since the wind blows in my face,
I sail with every wind.’
Then another burst of loud beckoning snaps you out of your reverie. ‘Something has happened to our waters, all our fishes are dying. Come. Come! We’ll show you that too.’
You don’t want to see the dead fishes, but the men, they’ve been so nice to you the whole day, serving you rasam with special recipe and all. So you give in. You go and see all the dead fishes. Dead fishes with their blank accusing stare. Nothing is at it looks on the surface, you realize. Nothing at all…
Words and Photos by Ruati Chhangte. All Rights Reserved.
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