Friday, February 8, 2008


Well, I am completely out of shape. You would think I would have time to get in shape, but I don't. Cindy is training for a half marathon. She's been telling me about how good she feels and how much energy she has and so I was motivated. I went for a run. Well, a shuffle. I was in Mamallapuram in a small fishing village when this motivation hit; so I headed to the beach. I wasn't on the beach long until I saw a line of men; all pulling on one rope that lead out into the ocean. They were each temporarily tied to the rope and leaning hard against the pull. There were about 25 of them and each walked backwards until they reached a guy on the end who was coiling the rope. There, the men would untie themselves and move to the head of the line and begin pulling again. I wondered what was on the end of the rope. But I kept on with my shuffle. About a quarter mile or more down the beach I saw another line of men doing the same thing. I stopped to watch and catch my breath. One guy caught my eye so I walked over and began asking him questions. He explained that the other line of men and his line were working together. On the end of the ropes was a huge net. As each line pulled backwards they also moved toward each other, eventually pulling the net closed as it came to shore. They had been at this for an hour so far and had another hour or so to go until the net was on shore. I helped for a bit. It was hard work. I didn't feel like I was helping much; I had no way to tie myself onto the rope and as I said, I am out of shape. I eventually gave up and went on with my run. When I came back the net was near shore so I stopped to watch them bring in the catch. I expected big fish in the net, fish of all kinds. Sharks, squid, grouper, jelly fish, barracuda, and maybe something strange and wild. As the fishermen pulled the net in close you could feel anticipation in the air increase. The pulling sped up, the effort increased, instructions were being yelled and some men began doing other jobs. Two men came off the rope and jumped in the water, each doing something with one line, diving, surfacing and diving again. Soon more men, ten or so jumped in the water and began splashing and yelling. They were "herding" the fish back into the net; preventing them from swimming out and around the open end. More yelling, more men in the water and eventually...the net came into view. It was alive and moving but I couldn't see inside, the mesh was tight and the fishermen were crowded in close. People from the village had begun to arrive and were gathering in close as well. Everyone was saying something, yelling something, moving around to get a better look, gathering their buckets and bowls or working with the net. When the net was drained of water and the catch revealed I was stunned. The only fish in the net were... sardines. Sardines and a few fish the size of your hands. Forty four men, forty four families; and that was their catch. The fish were sorted and the pan fish were sent to market to be sold for cash. A few widows and beggars were given a handful of fish from the catch, and then, forty eight piles of sardines were laid out in the sand. The boat man got three shares, one for the motor, one for the boat and one for himself. The net owner got two. The other forty two men each took home a pile of sardines that would fill a large bowl. Four hours work. About a gallon of fish. And yet, my fisherman friend invited me to lunch. I accepted.

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