Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Dichotomies

07:00

The boats have returned to the shores of the Arabian Sea and are pulled up far back on the beach, far enough to keep them dry even when the tide gets high. The teamwork on display is nearly perfect: five men and two women sorting through the nets, wringing out half-dead marine life stuck in them with nudges, jolts, and, when needed, knives. This harvest of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans falls on the blue tarpaulin spread below, bluer than the sky and ocean combined. For a hunt that started at four in the morning, the overbearing empty blue spaces on the tarpaulin imply that this catch isn’t a bounty, but as with most matters of life, it may be considered a reasonable, though unnecessary concession ceded to the impoverished. The harvest has been dwindling over the years ever since trawlers were invented to monopolize the seas, outsmarting the humble outboard marine engines of these tiny fishing boats by a gap – understandably – as wide as that between the rich and the poor of the world. A woman is sorting the catch in buckets, classifying the creatures in a vocabulary well understood by humans, while ignoring their zoological taxonomy; the latter doesn’t fetch money. The sun is shyly rising somewhere on the other side of the mountains, and the teeming buckets slowly make their way to local markets, carried on the heads of the womenfolk. The nets and the tarpaulin are hurriedly stowed back in the boats, their sorting postponed to the latter half of the day: the more pressing endeavor of using the sunshine to earn a living reasonably takes precedence.

A man in bright red running gear has descended from the steps of the resort’s beach-access gate. It’s a fine morning, and while the western coasts aren’t the perfect settings for a sunrise, they are admirable for a fine detox. The town’s quaint villages, away from the hustle-bustle of the loud beaches are a must-visit, he was told last evening, and a stroll in one of the local markets is very much on today’s agenda.


17:00

The sun, almost double its usual size and bright orange in color, is floating above the calm ocean. Silhouettes of those manmade vessels that rule the ocean during the day are visible with their twinkling lights just at the horizon: perhaps a perfect composition for an earnest photographer who might want to capture this in a frame and title it with a phrase that might have something to do with earth, water, fire, air, and space. And undoubtedly, with an accompanying hashtag about the elements. A man bathing alone in the waters is heard calling out to his friends, apparently a group that might have descended in this town to breathe-in some nature: “Tum log nakli zindagi jeete ho yaar!” (All of you lead false lives). It might be an overdose of enthusiasm, or of alcohol, presumably both – a combination which has generally been known to bring poignancy and philosophical musings to individual minds – that has elicited this war cry from the bathing man. The evening looks promising, though, with flickering lights of beachside restaurants that will showcase the day’s fresh catch, and serve the patrons in a cooking style selected by them, accompanied with a choice of cocktails fixed to perfection.

Near the fishing boats that were moored at the beach earlier in the morning, a woman and a girl begin their evening enterprise: untangling of the fishing nets that were hurriedly stowed in the morning after clearance of the harvest. The process is elaborate and requires patience. The nets are long with a tendency to get enmeshed, and only a pair of deft hands hardened by years of seafaring life can skillfully make them ready for the next day's hunt in the cold, early morning waters. The job will take at least a few hours, and by the time it is accomplished, it will be dark; dark enough to successfully hide the nondescript lives of these two women amidst the brightness and noise of the restaurants and clubs.


21:00

The sands are lit up with neon lights in all shapes and patterns as far as the eyes can see. Tables are set on the sand almost until the edge of the water for hosting guests who would dine and drink in this electric atmosphere. Music oozes out loudly from individual shacks, superimposing on each other and competing to create a frenzy that hooks every soul who is looking for a good time. The air has whiffs of pan-seared prawns, grilled fish, and fried crabs, and every other species that made its way to the plate. At places, it is thick with the smoke of the sheesha. Alcohol is visible in the glasses set on each table, as well as in the breaths of men and women gyrating on dance floors set on the sand.

A woman is walking around on the sand carrying numerous woven handbags, jewelry crafted from stones and shells, and other knick-knacks, stopping by at each table with the hope of striking a deal with anyone who might get swayed under influence and actually make a purchase. It’s a sigh of relief when the girl stops her at a table; just the initial conversation offers the woman an excuse to place her load on the empty chair, at least momentarily. A sale is made, but she tries to prolong the conversation that might allow a few more moments of relief before she will need to get on with her wandering in the sands. A story is narrated about when she got to the beach (perhaps around seven), when she will return home (somewhere around eleven, considering the commute that will require a hitch-hike), and the displeasing thought of her kids waiting on her instead of just eating their dinner on time which she cooked before leaving home. The girl on the table asks her a question: “If there was one thing you could change about your life, what would that be?” The woman considers it, and replies: “I wish the smell of fish could leave my hands. It just never goes away!”



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