At last we have reached a place which validates our reasons for coming to Kerala – North Travancore. This will be the last of what we see of “God’s Own Country” before we move on, and we’ll certainly be left with a nice impression. The region represents the Kerala which I had hoped existed, but only had glances of so far – North Travancore has fishing settlements and harbors, quiet villages along the backwaters and in the city of Kollam there is even an atmospheric, bustling fruit and spice market. I have encountered all that I had hoped. The region is a paradise for a photographer, or at least a photographer with a motorcycle, as the places of photographic interest are not exactly within walking distance of each other.
One of my biggest photographic obsessions is fishing villages and fishing harbours. I love of the sea and seafood, and sometimes I not so secretly wish for a lifestyle like the fishermen that are in my images. I am fascinated by these men, they’re brave, tough and while often crude, they are always full of life and humor.
In Kollam, the biggest city of North Travancore I finally satisfied my last for all photographic things fish-related. Along the shoreline North and South of Kollam Beach there are a few picturesque fishing settlements. Now, picturesque doesn’t mean that they’re ideal places to hang out. The stench of fish fills the air, rubbish is everywhere and in the morning, walking along the shoreline is like walking through a minefield. Let me explain – the fishermen, like most of their fellow countrymen make crapping one of the first priorities to begin the day, but unlike most of their fellow countrymen they take a crap directly on the beach. I’m sorry for devoting attention to this, but the crap really is a big part of the experience of a morning walk along the shore – one wrong move, and you’re in trouble.
While shooting the image at the top of the post I was confronted with a rather strange predicament. As usual I had to look under my feet to avoid the “mines” on my way towards the fishermen, but then as I went into the water, Tanya noticed something floating and being thrown back to shore. It was a piece of crap that simply wouldn’t agree to be taken away by the sea and it seemed as if it was stalking me. Now I had two things to worry about – the waves that could damage my camera and the floating crap that could leave me with a psychological scar. In-between crouching for the shot, standing up when the waves came and dodging the piece of crap I managed to get a few images, this is one of them.
They say that this fishing technique is as old as time itself. The net is taken out from the shore, it’s spread by a few boats, sometimes over quite a distance. When everything is ready, the boats signal to two groups of men on shore, one group at each end of the net. The groups begin to pull and start moving sideways towards each other, to form a circle with the net. When this is done, the pulling gets more intense, everything within the circle is captured and as the net makes its way towards the shore, the pulling becomes more difficult. More men join in (this shot was taken towards the end). The final moments are quite amazing. The fishermen chant to encourage each other, their voices join into a melody that resembles a primeval war-cry, the tempo gets faster, as the catch approaches the shore, the volume rises. The full net is carried onto the beach, the fish are sorted and distributed among the families of the fishermen. If the catch is good, some big fish will have made their way into the net, it is usually sold and the money is divided. On this occasion the catch was nothing more than a load of tiny silver fish, which will only be used for curries or dried under the sun. A few disappointed looks, a few sighs, but this is just another day at work for the fishermen. The net is packed up, washed in the ocean and spread out to dry till next day.
Men unloading sharks from a boat at Neendakara Fishing Harbour. This was probably one of the most, if not the most bustling fishing harbor that I had ever been to. You’d think that it would make an ideal photographic spot, which it can, but not without difficulties. The light was great, it was early morning, but there was just way too much happening. You really had to decide what you wanted to focus on or you’d shoot a lot of everything and nothing really worthwhile.
South of Kollam Beach - An elderly fisherman packing up the net, while crows and eagles circle in search of leftovers.
Top: Old fisherman pulling in the catch, South of Kollam Beach.
Middle: Fishermen push the boat out to sea, as the sun is about to rise, South of Kollam Beach.
Bottom: A fisherman and his wife in a Catholic settlement North of Kollam Beach (most of the fishermen in this area seem to be Catholics).
Top: Namboodiri caste (Keralan priest) man and boy atop a decorated elephant during Gaja Mela, Rural Travancore.
Bottom: Couldn’t resist taking a shot of this tea maker at Gaja mela. There was a power cut (very usual all over Kerala) and the only light came from the kerosene lamp and the fire, making his little tea-hop, seem rather mysterious. I shot a few frames of the man and had a couple of teas while doing it. When I asked how much for the tea, he waived his hands to sign “don’t worry about it”. I insisted, but he repeated the same thing. That’s the generosity and hospitality I have come to love in India.