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Thursday
Mar042010

Mamallapuram - and lunch with a Friend’s Fisherman.

 

Mamallapuram is on the Bay of Bengal, about 60 kilometres south of Chennai. Basically it is a large, pleasant, fishing village with some ancient carvings and temples and, consequently attracts travellers and tourists, both Indian and foreign. However, a visit to the main beach soon makes clear that the principle focus remains fishing. It is a working beach, with many fishermen, boats and nets.

 A fishing boat on the beach near MalmallapuramLike many other people, I was horrified by the 2004 Tsunami, and the death and havoc that it caused. It is not until you visit an affected area, and talk to some of the people that survived the experience that you can fully appreciate what happened. Rock carvings and temples can survive a huge wave, but simple shacks and dwellings were completely obliterated. What is encouraging is that at least some of the worldwide cash support that the disaster generated has been put to good use. There are entire new-build villages and communities along the coastSome (rebuilt) fisherman's houses - sadly some are now being sold 

John had been to Mamallapuram before, so this made it an easy introduction to my return to India. He knew the drill – who was who, and where to go. I was a little below par, initially, due to the flight and the missed night’s sleep, but I soon recovered. The main meeting place, for visitors, was a rather nice restaurant called Santana right next to the beach. The prawns were excellent. There I met friend of John’s, a long term Indian visitor, called Frank. Frank is a Dutchman and spends six months every year in Mamallapuram. He therefore knows everyone, and was good company.

The 'lobsters' at Santanas are especially fresh. I didn't try one myself, but the prawns were nice.

John had become friendly with a waiter at Santana. The waiter’s family were fishermen. John had been invited to lunch on Monday, and, as I was his friend, I was also included in the invitation. It was a fascinating experience.

To appreciate this, you also have to understand the lifestyle, and the commercial possibilities available to an Indian fisherman. There are a lot of them, and there are not a lot of fish. We learned of a night’s work that earned the individuals involved 30 rupees each – around 50 pence. Despite this, they manage, and will continue to fish, night after night. Some nights will be better, and some even worse.

The Tigers Tooth at the Tiger's Cave

We arrived shortly before noon. The family lived in a three roomed house, in a small village, just outside Mamallapuram. The bulk of the village had been reconstructed, following the Tsunami, and had concrete roads, and identical houses, apparently mainly as a result of the generosity of the people of the German town of Furth. The houses were sturdy, and well built.

The concept of living in three rooms, has to be seen to be fully understood. One room will be used as a kitchen, storage, and preparation area. The largest room will be the living area. Then, there will be a sleeping room. This formula will apply if there are 5, 7, 9, 11, or 13 individuals relying on the house as a place to live. Whatever the numbers, they will manage.

Rock carving at the Tiger's Lair

Along the sea-shore, we were taken to the ‘Tiger’s Cave’, a well kept park, containing carvings and rock sculptures together with a functioning temple. This is not, apparently, mentioned in many of the guide books, although a coach load of rather upmarket tourists did appear. Perhaps they have a better guide book. It was very interesting.

A couple of 'Tourists' at the Tiger's Cave

Then back for lunch. Indian food, in an Indian home, is eaten with the right hand, without cutlery. Furthermore, it is eaten seated cross legged on the floor. I was fairly desperate not to give offence. This might have caused me the odd problem, or two. I am not a lover of rice, and I also have some issues with eating an unidentified fish, most especially if I have to make sure that it is bone-free, utilising only the uneducated resources (in some respects), of my right hand. I managed fairly well.

Traditional Indian meal - at least one of us managed to sit on the floor for a while

What was touching was that, as guests, we had the honour of the meal. It was prepared for us, and I very strongly suspect that it was also the main meal for the whole of the rest of the family, who refused to eat until we had eaten our fill. We left at around 2.30. It was a somewhat humbling experience.

At around 4.00 pm it could be seen that every available fishing boat was putting to sea, with some urgency. Boat after boat launched and soon it became clear that the entire fleet was setting off. It turned out that the tuna had moved into coastal waters, a comparatively rare event apparently. I hope that they all made a lot more than 30 rupees as a result.