The journey was a few hundred steps, certainly less than a kilometre, but I am guessing…. Was it hearing the clamour of symbols from Kanyakumari where many temples had faded? Or having my feet firmly in contact with the sand, or was it when I realised I was breathing in fresh sea air? Or was it just the ‘necessity of freedom’ as Voltaire once said. Whatever it was I knew the trepidation of the journey had been misplaced. It all seemed a very easy start. But first things first.
The man shouted down at me, ‘come in, come in, please look.’
How masculine boats appear when they stand propped up on sand and it is impossible to walk under their great hulls. They look formidable beasts of burden and survival.
At a guess? There must have been twenty fishing boats the size of Noah’s Ark. Most in a state of being repaired; one new and one nearly complete and one boat nothing more than a backbone and a few developing ribs. Bamboo scaffolding held each boat separate, but they did not seem secure.
He said again, ‘come in, come in, take a look please.’ He was gaunt from his work and dark from long days in the sun. I looked, one by one, at the boat builders perched on the scaffolding like sparrows in a cage. In physique they looked similar, only age differentiated their furrowed bodies. Their legs all slightly deformed from toil on the scaffolding; their bodies brown as if varnished by their own sweat and sun. I don’t think this is work for an old man.
The man who called to me stood on one leg on a bamboo shaft, the other doubled up on the shaft above, chortling as he spoke to me, holding his hammer and nails silent. All the men held hammers and nails silent as if my presence had stopped their work. I replied, “I have never seen such work before, never seen a boat stripped of its hide”. And then added, ‘You seem busy enough.’
I think he said they never stop, and then he continued hammering timber planks onto the boat’s ribs. The other men started their work again.
I stood observing and listening to the hammer blows vibrate in unison, as if they were drummers, the close confined space between the hulls, the top of the hulls some twenty feet above, so close no light penetrated and allowed the hammering onto the steel nails to reverberated with an authoritative macho echo.
Shortly after they started work again I left. However, the boat builder’s hammering reverberated for some time as I carried on walking along the beach.
In the distance, it is hard to understand distance, a fishing village appeared with an imposing church steeple at its heart.