Veraval in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district is one of the biggest fishing ports in India, accounting for 35 per cent of the marine fish catch in the country. Fish is not a favourite with most Gujaratis, but that does not impact fish production and its export, both of which are major industries.
Social, political, and economic factors are behind this growth, which has also attracted to Gujarat’s shores, especially to Veraval, fishermen from all parts of India since the late 1980s.
A large section of them, around 25,000 every season, are from Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh. What sets the migrant fishers apart from the locals is their readiness to remain at sea for a month or so at a stretch. While the local fishermen are happy with their daily catch, not so the Srikakulam men, who have to justify coming so far from home. They spend at least a month at a time on the waters, enduring ennui and hardship as they toil for bigger catches.
As soon as they return from one trip, they are already preparing for the next. But this does help in at least two ways: first, they do not need to look for a place to stay, and second, they save more money to send back home. A few of them have their families with them in Veraval, working in the port or in processing and packaging factories nearby.
While the sea is always unpredictable, long days at sea on a small boat with very few personal goods and even less space can get claustrophobic.
Some crews bring CD players on board, some bring books and magazines. And then there is the phone. Each boat typically accommodates seven or eight crew members, and they remain together for eight months (except for three months of downtime during the monsoon).
Each has a role and duty to perform, and over time they are like one big close-knit family with collective memories and individual experiences enmeshed.
The boats might all look similar, but it is the crew that gives them character. And that becomes important when one is bound to a routine and the boundary between work and personal life gets blurry.
In the summer of 2017, I spent time with them in Veraval, and what I found intriguing was that with the limitless sea all around them, they interacted very little with each other. And perhaps therein lies the secret.
Aayush Chandrawanshi is a photographer from Chhattisgarh. He is currently working as a curator and project anchor with Conflictorium in Raipur for their new museum project.
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