Why would an occasional fisherman say this of a boat that a well-meaning NGO -- its name blazoned on the side of the boat -- gave him a few months ago? It's a handsome fiber-reinforced plastic boat, smartly painted and looking so fine in this non-expert's eyes. Why does Pugalendu want to fill it with mud?
Well, one reason is that a few months ago, it was filled with water. Inadvertently, but filled all the same. Or at least, in a sense.
In Sankolikuppam, Pugalendu's village, the NGO manufactured and distributed 25 such boats to victims of the wave. Pugalendu got one -- this one that sits in the yard. So one day after he got it, he and a friend decided to go fishing in the nearby river. They planned to take the new boat out to the middle, stand up and cast their (also new) nets.
Pugalendu got in; the friend pushed the boat off the sand and leaped in himself. Within minutes, the craft swayed alarmingly and then simply toppled over. Capsized. Tossing Pugalendu and his friend into the water. They managed to save themselves, swam to shore; they left the boat to sink.
It's a bad design, see? says Pugalendu, getting into the boat right now, on land. Sure enough, as he stands there and moves slightly, the whole thing sways from side to side, filling me with alarm as I watch him. It's not heavy enough in the bottom, he says. That's why this happened.
So didn't you complain to the NGO, we ask. Yes, of course. But they said, we've built the boat and handed it over to you. Now what happens is your problem.
And how did you retrieve the boat, we ask. We also requested the NGO to help us there, says Pugalendu. But they refused that too. So we waited for an especially high wave to come in from the sea, and used that to re-float the boat and bring it to shore. (The irony of a wave helping where another wave smashed, six months ago).
So today, all over Sankolikuppam, you will find 25 boats lying idle. Nobody wants to use them. Nobody wants them. (Unless you count Pugalendu's gardening plans). The NGO spent Rs 22,000 for each boat, thus over half-a-million rupees in all for this village. All wasted.
I collected the names and numbers of the people at the NGO. When I get a few minutes on this trip, their phones will ring.
Postscript: I reached one of the two men in the NGO whose numbers I had, and had a brief conversation. Gist: he saing they have distributed these boats in several other villages and there have been no complaints. "They are not suitable for sea-fishing," he said. I pointed out that in Sankolikuppam, the fishermen had used the boats in a river.
He also said the boats need special training before they can be used, and the manufacturer had offered to give the fishermen of Sankolikuppam that training. "But some people are not ready to take this training," he said. When I asked why they distributed boat that require training experienced fishermen in the first place, he said I would have to speak to the manufacturer, and has asked me to call back to get their number.