September 1, 2009

When fish fly

All the way from Killai to Chinnavaikal -- 20 minutes across an expanse of sea -- I'm turning an important question over in my mind: How do little silvery fish leap out of the water and across waves that are easily 5 or 10 times their length? Because little silvery fish keep doing that all the way, gleaming wetly as they catch the sun for an instant and then dive back into the water.

This small delight is a measure of compensation for the start of this trip, when, to get to young Gangadharan's boat, we had to trudge across an expanse of mud and oil and shells and weeds and moss and crabs and more mud. Not a pleasant experience, though Gangadharan and two younger friends he brings along do it with chuckles and jokes. I'm too engrossed in lifting my feet clear of fevicol-like mud to joke.

Halfway to Chinnavaikal, we pass a couple submerged in the water to their necks, walking along with bent heads. What on earth? Later, we see many more such people, lines of bent heads on the surface of the water. "Catching prawns", says Gangadharan. Each holds a football-sized yellow bag by their teeth, and they are feeling for something with their hands. One stops to wave at us. That's when it strikes me how shallow this expanse really is, and I probably could have walked across.

But why don't these submerged folks catch the flying fish? Given how many we see, they must be whacking into these people's faces all the time. A mere hand raised in the air should land a few.

Amid the fish, halfway to Chinnavaikal, we see two butterflies at water level, struggling against the wind. I remember a long-ago ferry ride to the North Carolina Outer Banks, when our chugging steamer overtook a lone butterfly in the open sea. This stretch of water is not as wide as that one was, but the question remains, how does a butterfly get so far out? Three swifts speed past. Now them, I can believe they flew all the way out here. But butterflies?

Finally approaching Chinnavaikal, I see a distant figure doing Bharatanatyam in the water. I mean, really? The arms are waving about, there are occasional stalked steps, the arms waft elegantly over the head: gotta be Bharatanatyam. We get closer and no, it's just a fisherman. Casting his lines and nets.

And this trip through and past assorted bits of life ends in a spot that could be a magnificent seaside resort -- the beach, the palms, the sea -- but is instead a destroyed and abandoned once-village. Courtesy a gigantic wave that erupted from the ocean some months earlier.


  1. D - is there a some way one can understand when the blog post was written? i am assuming you're posting stuff which you guys have already written...

  2. seaferns, true in this case, but elsewherein this space I've posted stuff I had not written earlier. But point taken, in the future I will start trying to give you a date of when we went.

    This was from Sept 2005, my third visit to the tsunami-hit areas of TN.

  3. I hail from a small town located near sea...its located at gujarat-maharashtra tsunami thr, but the sea is shifting and it has already ruined many houses located sea-side...we no longer stay there, but we still have a house there...this post reminded me of that place...very crisp post..:)

  4. Kind of similar scenes unfold in the sunderbans, but there it is also about the differentials between widows and non-widows . . .