Friday, May 15, 2009

A yawning universe under the water, teeming with life and history

A view from the water - Sagarika Ghose
Thursday, January 06, 2005 indian express

The ocean at night is still but somehow tumultuous. Waves lap against the Mila. There is a sense of a yawning universe under the water, teeming with life and history. On the night of the tsunami Allie felt a strange current. The tide, which normally takes six hours to flood, came flooding in minutes after it had ebbed. A few months ago, a huge wave knocked his boat over and he and his son spent almost the whole day swimming. A staring crowd gathered on the shore as the two swam from morning until late afternoon, when a helicopter clattered to the rescue.

Allie says he’s the smallest man in Goa, yet the scale of existence becomes gigantic on the Mila. The lights on the beach motels look ridiculously small from so far away at sea. Tiny human irrelevancies perched on the edge of acres of inky black water. The sea is a giant reclining god. If the god merely lifted his toes, avalanches of water would go skating to the shore and flood out all those little pleasure spots.

What little human virtues and vices can ever compare with this amoral magnificence? The waves are not compassionate, the sea is not sympathetic; instead the ocean is gargantuan, elemental, without any rational meaning whatsoever. Alone, Allie and his son sit framed against this beautiful malevolence. Their net is filling slowly with mackerels and sardines, the waves rock the Mila this way and that and a sudden gush of wind blows back Allie’s hair. He is elderly, tough, descended from generations of fisherfolk.

Some 30 per cent of Goa’s fishermen are Phadtes and Taris, 70 per cent are Rodrigues and D’Souza, mostly classified under the Kharvi or OBC category. As a result of Goan laws several fishermen own land but this is an exception to other parts of India.

Dawn begins to break. Soon tourists will wend their way to the shacks for fresh fried fish. Allie and Antony are happy. Their nets are heavy. Tonight they have emerged victorious against the ocean. But the ocean is only biding its time.

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