Following Fish…and Dreams: The Town of Rameshwaram

Sneha Mary Christall, II Year M.A. English.

At first glance, Rameswaram appears to be just another sleepy coastal town in Tamil Nadu. Its uninhabited islands, pristine waters and undulating shoreline ensure a regular flow of visitors all year round. However, this coastal town is more than just a tourist spot. Hindu mythology suggests that the lord Rama built a bridge here, across the sea to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from her abductor Ravana. The Pamban Bridge that connects Rameswaram to mainland India is thus steeped in mythical significance, making the town one of the holiest places in India. It is also home to India’s beloved President, Abdul Kalam.

The people of this land live simply, in mud huts that overlook the Bay of Bengal. Their lives are closely intertwined with the ways of the sea. The sea is both giver and taker, offering them a livelihood that is nevertheless fraught with many dangers. Most are fishermen, some work as seaweed collectors and a few others act as tourist guides. Harshitha Kumayaa, a traveller who visited the town recently, was most struck by how simple the lives of the fisher-folk were. She stayed on for a week and visited two other towns in the vicinity- Dhanushkodi and Thopukadu, as well as the Krusudai Island. Once a week, the fisher-folk, men and women, start their day at 4 a.m. They go out to sea and pull their fishing nets for the week’s catch. This is called ‘karai valai’ and is done with one-week intervals so that the sea isn’t depleted of fish stock. They merrily sing ‘Yelelo Ailasa’ even as they know their catch is further diminished due to mechanical boats and trawlers that deplete marine resources at a rate faster than the sea’s regeneration rate.

 

Harshitha compares Krusudai island to the sets of the famous American TV series, Lost. It is filled with intricate formations, large coral reefs and a wondrous variety of marine life. The coral reefs play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance of the area, contributing to water filtration, fish reproduction, shoreline protection and erosion prevention. She held a sea cucumber in her hands for the first time and also discovered snails, crabs, coral reefs and starfish in a startling variety of colours. Though it was a choppy ride at sea, she enjoyed travelling on a boat with a glass floor and even witnessed a couple of dolphins in the distance. She recalls how a fisherman told her, “Yes, we are professional killers. But, if we don’t kill, there is no profession.” She jokes that she turned into a killer herself, throwing a fish into the fire and eating it. The fisherman had also trapped a puffer fish in his net. It instantly blew up as a defense mechanism. He threw it back into the sea, where it soon disappeared.

At Thopukadu, she met women who were sea weed collectors. Dressed in T- shirts and goggles, they dive into the sea to handpick sea weed which is bought by multinationals like Coca-Cola. Extended exposure to the sea weed had turned their hair into a copper colour and roughened their hands. They are paid Rs. 200 for sea weed that sells for thousands of rupees. And yet, these women sing their hearts out, welcoming Harshitha into their fold. They dream of sending their children to college, so they may forge a life different from their own.

[Photograph Source: Internet.]

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