September 16, 2005

Water-level life

How do little silvery fish leap out of the water and across the waves, easily 5 or 10 times their length? This important question dogs me all the way from Killai to Chinnavaikal, because little silvery fish keep doing just that all the way. This is a measure of compensation for the start of the trip across the water, when to get to young Gangadharan's boat, we have to slosh across an expanse of mud and oil and shells and weeds and moss and crabs and more mud. It's not a pleasant experience, though Gangadharan and his two younger friends are not in the least bothered.

Halfway to Chinnavaikal, we pass a couple, submerged in the water to their necks, walking along with bent heads. Later, we see a couple dozen more such people, lines of bent heads on the surface of the water. "Catching prawns", says Gangadharan. Each holds a football-sized yellow bag by their teeth, and they are feeling for something with their hands. One stops to wave at us.

Why don't they catch the flying fish? Given how many we see, they must be whacking into these people's faces all the time.

Also at water level halfway to Chinnavaikal, we see two butterflies, struggling against the wind. I remember a long-ago ferry ride to the North Carolina Outer Banks, when our chugging steamer overtook a lone butterfly in the open sea. This stretch of water is not as wide as that one was, but the question remains, how does a butterfly get so far out?

Three swifts speed past. Now them, I can believe they flew all the way out here. Not the butterflies.

Approaching Chinnavaikal, I see a distant figure doing Bharatanatyam in the water. Really? The arms are waving about, there are occasional stalked steps, the arms waft elegantly over the head. We get closer and no, it's just a fisherman. Casting his lines and nets.

And this trip through and past assorted bits of life ends in a destroyed and abandoned once-village.

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