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The Fishing Village

A Walk to the Nearby Village – Kerala, January 1999
This follows-on from The Beach Tourist Experience where on account of finding ourselves tired we spent a lazy day in the beach cafés, then in the evening we went for a walk to the nearby fishing village.
At about 4pm, when the heat was beginning to subside a bit, we decided to walk over the headland to the next bay, where the guidebook told us there was a fishing village.
Suddenly, no tourists! (ie none apart from us)
It Really Was a Fishing Village
There really was a fishing village in the next bay; it was like stepping into Whitby in the 1890s, with men mending their nets on the beach, barely a space to move for boats (though one difference from 1890 was that some of the boats had Suzuki outboard motors), stepping over the results of people’s toilet on the beach; boats preparing to put to sea.
The boats of 4–5 men go out at dusk, then sit fishing with a hurricane lamp until dawn, so that from the beach you can see twinkling lights out at sea in various shades of intensity. Some of the boats have outboard motors but some are rowed, using oars made from motley-shaped bits of wood and metal lashed together.
The Fishing Village Township and Village Meeting
Many of the houses were immensely poor; people staring at us and the women giggling.
After a climb through the narrow rough-earth lanes, we came to the main square, where to our amazement there was an enormous Catholic church, freshly painted yellow and pink with a model ship and mermaid dominating the spire. (At some point I’ll find out where this church actually was).
The church, though, was not our first point of attention – that was the commotion coming from the village hall. We looked inside and found people coming and going, groups of people standing around and what appeared to be a heated argument taking place on the stage; an argument between a fluctuating number of people, anything up to about 30.
Groups of women pointed to us and giggled and a man tried to explain to us what was going on. From what we could gather, it was a type of village court, where people came to air their grievances. The man made some reference to ‘poor people’ so whether he was asking for money for the village or explaining that this was how the poor people solve their differences we weren’t sure. He wasn’t asking for money for himself as he didn’t hold his hand out.
We wandered a bit further through the village but it began to seem more and more inappropriate. We passed what appeared to be a Bible-reading with hymns, a group of women seated on the ground in front of a Madonna shrine. They could read their scriptures but only get a hymn in in-between breaks in the loud Indian pop-music coming from a giant loudspeaker that the man opposite had erected in his garden in order to blast his presence down the street. Nobody appeared to mind this, unless it was that that the people in the village hall were getting so agitated about.
The Church, the Road Back
By the time we got back to the square the village court had finished and the hall was empty. Some men were erecting a PA and blasting even more grating Indian pop music across the town.
We looked into the church but did not go in as some women were sitting on the floor, lighting candles, and praying. The cavernous space had no seats. A little boy wanted us to put money in the donations box, which we didn’t, not being entirely sure he did not have some way of extracting what we might have put in. Little boys in India are a menace, constantly asking for money. As we stood in the square outside looking at the church he started throwing stones at us from a distance. Little we could do about that. Time to go.
We couldn’t find the path that we took to get to the village so we followed the road, a detour of about a mile, with riskshaw drivers pulling alongside us and saying: ‘Hello, you want rickshaw?’, and painted trucks passing us within a foot or two.
They paint the trucks with very religious imagery round here, with a name on the front in a kind of trompe l'oeil bamboo effect. Many of them have crucifix or last-supper scenes on the rear of the cab, this being a predominantly Christian area, to our surprise.
Final Dinner Before Setting Off On Our Trip
Back to the beach resort. We’d decided to try a different restaurant tonight, one we’d stumbled upon earlier with a friendly owner. At the adjoining table were our travelling companions from the toilet-watching in Bahrain, who had come there because they had been recommended the pomfret.
I ordered pomfret and it was OK, a flat fish, reasonably tasty. Mine arrived on a sizzling platter but our new-found friends did not, it came plain and unsizzling. The man of the couple wanted to know what I had ordered to cause it to arrive so spectacularly (though he didn’t put it as precisely as that). I hadn’t done anything, I simply asked for pomfret. We paid more that our neighbours – all very mysterious.
Back along the dark beach, where earlier a man had offered to sell us ‘drugs’; now there were just a few hippy types talking in the moonlight, and the strange Indians who seem to roll themselves up in their blanket for a sleep for an hour or so and then get up and disappear.
The story continues with Train to Cochin.


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