Shifting Sands: The fisherfolk of Goa’s Calangute village

Shifting Sands: The fisherfolk of Goa’s Calangute village

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I’m 54 years old, the boat is older than me It was rebuilt 15 years ago but we need to repair it often I got into the business when I was 15 years old We were a group of hard-working lads –
49 partners and 20 helpers We didn’t have money to buy a boat,
so we asked the landlord to help us He loaned us 10,000 rupees on the basis of trust With gratitude, we used to gift him
the biggest fish in our catch After dinner we would gather at the beach hut,
[to watch the water’s movements] and look out for fish all night The women brought us tea in the morning We used to rush to our boat
whenever we spotted fish in the water Women didn’t have the time to go to
the big market [in the town] The fish had to be cleaned and cured [with salt]
and protected from direct sunlight We had to take care of household chores too Once the sea beckoned our fishermen every day Now the haul [of fish] recedes from our people as it empties its baskets beyond our state Goa, you are the shining star of the East Oh golden Goa, may you always shine bright Let not your pristine beauty get destroyed Arise from the slumber, dear Goans Or, alas, it will be you who’s left behind She’s a ‘kharvi’, a fisherwoman Don’t meddle with her,
she’ll skin us alive like a shark You don’t have the guts to eat cured fish,
but you have the nerve to call me a kharvi? And you are such a cheapskate at the fish market Don’t say ‘kharvi’ [ with a negative connotation],
say ‘fishing community’! Call us whatever you may, but we are kharvi Some people don’t like it, but that’s what we are Our children are now educated, but we need to remember where we come from My father used to tell my sons it’s best that the family business ends with him For this work, you have to know the sea You feel nauseous You have to stay awake at night Today’s kids are not used to hardship, they cannot handle this work I have three sons, one is differently abled, the other two know nothing about the sea My elder son is a bartender in Dubai, the younger one is a cook in the Cayman Islands My sons didn’t like it when I
worked in the fishing business The boats are lying beached on the shore After my father died, work came to a standstill Shall we cast the net here? This noise distracts the fish They swim away from the boat and
get trapped in the net He says he’s caught sardines so I’ll check out the area he has fished in Here my experience comes handy, to know where fish move with the tide There is no catch today, it’s a loss.
This happens often Earlier there was a lot of fish, nowadays fishing grounds keep changing We telephone each other to enquire
about the best place to catch fish I attend mass every morning
and then go to town to sell fish I earn 150-200 rupees a day It’s better than sitting idle at home My sons don’t want me to sell fish They ask if I need money to marry off my children! My youngest son has joined the Jesuit order He decided to become a priest of his own will He is no longer ours, he belongs to God He will conduct his first mass next year We have to invite many people for a big feast It will cost around 4 lakh rupees I told my son I’ll stop selling fish
after he is ordained a priest We had to travel all the way to Maharashtra today We looked for fish all along the coast, from Baga to Anjuna right up to Ashwem and Arambol When I was young, we caught fish
in knee-deep water Shad, mackerel, squid, ladyfish,
sole and even big prawns That old fisherman Marceline will tell you all about it Fish had no value then and nobody wanted it Nowadays there is a shortage of fish.
One basket will sell for 5,000 rupees In the last six years, the beach has disappeared We dock our boats on the riverbank There is no beach to dry our nets.
It has vanished Five days ago, 100 boats from Malpe in
Karnataka entered Goa’s waters They engage in ‘bull fishing’ Nets are tied between two boats to catch fish Our fishermen told them to stay away,
but they beat up our boys The marine police detained one of their boats The trawlers ignore our requests
to keep a safe distance They run over the nets we cast in the water If we chase after them in our boats,
other trawlers damage the remaining nets If ‘bull trawling’ continues, there will
be no fish in a couple of years We saw all kinds of fish, big and
small, in the detained boat And that was just one boat The fish our small boats catch is negligible compared to the overfishing that the big boats engage in We take out our fishing boats with much fanfare, only to curse the sea when the catch is small But when the sea takes away a life,
tears of grief we shed Then the route to the Gulf opened up Villagers left for the Middle East to earn a living They later took their brothers,
who were part of our group In this way, men quit the trade We were unable to sustain
this labour-intensive business He was part of the family business when he was young After marriage, he went to work in Bahrain Now he only helps others and earns some fish in return My brother worked in the Gulf Times were tough here so I joined him Life improved a little, I bought a small plot of land, built this house, educated our children I returned 15 years ago Now I am free, susegad [relaxed and content] I worked in Kuwait and then in Abu Dhabi at the Sheraton and InterContinental hotels I was awarded employee of the month – twice I was also part of their football team They were good to me, but the salary
was low so I returned home I am happy here, no tensions My sons are now part of the business.
We are doing well When they were young, my wife wanted to
send them to school. I didn’t allow it I used to take off their school uniforms
and teach them to swim Fisherfolk had no value back then Now that we wear clothes
[and have given up our loincloths], people acknowledge us We went through tough times earlier If we looked at the landlord’s coconut tree, he would accuse us of theft. Who wants coconuts now? I used to drink a lot, but I’ve stopped now Business is good, I have seven
fibre boats and 30 helpers We have food on the table now I knew I would do well someday Look how fresh the mackerel are! Earlier, there was no fishing activity in the monsoon The season commenced in September
after the feast of the Virgin Mary Nowadays, if the sea is calm for a
day, boats venture out The no-fishing months allowed the mackerel to breed Now they are fished out of the sea all year round You see, everybody wants fish! Some people say mackerel breed in the monsoon, but we’ve seen that they lay eggs throughout the year Our 9.9 hp engine canoes are
allowed to operate all year round We get a good rate for fish when the trawlers
stay away during the no-fishing period It’s scary to go fishing in the rains,
but we take the risk Simon and Gundappa were my friends On that fateful day, they were in a boat behind us A storm broke out as we approached the shore They fell off their boat so we rushed to help them I was five metres away from
Gundappa when he went down As I pulled him up, I realised he was dying I handed him over to the others and searched for Simon But Simon drowned… I have rescued at least a hundred people so far, but these were the only two I could not save Simon was a very good swimmer I just don’t understand how he died I cried a lot when he died The fishermen in our group are old and illiterate I have studied a little so I maintain the accounts Do you think your sons will continue in this business? Yes they will, at least till I’m around I’m not sure what will happen after that Let’s see how life turns out Fuel prices have increased,
government subsidies are not enough We are dependent on non-Goan workers; if we don’t pay them on time, they quit We have to learn Hindi to communicate with them The number of Goans, in our own state, is diminishing Goa now belongs to Delhiites In the future, they will go fishing It’s all over My forefathers started this business
and I will continue it I don’t think fishing will stop My brother and I are in the business Similarly, there will always be
somebody involved in fishing There are good days and bad ones so we have to work smartly to find fish When was the last time you came to the beach? It’s been too long It’s an honour to see you here today My father remembers you a lot Yesterday we caught sardines,
but nobody wanted to buy them Earlier, we used to sell unwanted fish as manure,
but it’s difficult to do so nowadays Everybody wants to eat mackerel They’ve taken out the fine nets today? Yes, to catch prawns I had a fisherman’s license issued
during the Portuguese rule A few years ago, my daughter applied
for a Portuguese passport She had to submit Portuguese-era documents Her agent was surprised to see my license After four family members got passports, the agent asked, ‘Why do you want the document back?’ The agent said she had misplaced it. She cheated us A sailor once told me that as a retired fisherman I am entitled to a pension of 15,000 rupees But I don’t have any documents
so I can’t apply for my pension

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