It was just a little later than morning and yet the dravidian sun was raining fire all over the Agni Tirtham. Palk Bay, a part of the rutheless Bay of Bengal, remains interestingly calm; so much that the waves would come quietly, polietly touch the pilgrim’s feet and return. No one could even imagine that this sea would have brought havoc on lands. But presently it were humans who brought hustle and bustle to this place. The grand four gated Ghat was busy with priests chanting, performing sacrificial rituals and pilgrims mourning for the deceased loved ones, praying for their souls. They would then embrace the sea and spread the ashes from the cremation with a hope that peace would be granted. To add to the chaos, a continuous loud ringing of bells was coming from the temple nearby.
Agni Tirth is a primary sea shore associated with the Ramanathaswamy Temple of the celebrated Hindu pilgrimage of Rameswaram. It is here where holy baths are performed and the souls of the departed are finally set free.
I was sitting on a nearby rock beach, observing the contrast between the sea and the ghat. Introspecting, I found the allegory of the scene. My soul was at peace, calm as the sea. I was Travelling, Happy, and being the Observant. But my mind, just like the ghat, was moving continuosly. Still longing for something else, uncertain about the prospect of dreams, and insecure of oblivion. Silently praying to be at peace forever. Soon I realised, it was leading to a conflict. A conflict which could wait.
Somehow, in an unbeknownst event, my eyes rose up towards the sky in search for those Eyes which might be looking on us all. But it was empty. Dull and lifeless. Not even a single cloud to, at least, give a hope that those Eyes would be hiding behind. The sky was simply a gigantic solid of space thumping on a gigantic volume of waters creating gentle waves on the sea. The peaceful sea was absorbing the sky within itself; so much that the sea even got the blue-greish colour of the dull sky. When the sea was much empty, it was not that lifeless.
At a distant sight, the Rameswaram Harbour hosted hundereds of trowlers; maybe nobody was out fishing, so still docked. Layers of rows of parrot-green-but-aged-at-sea coloured trowlers performing the Mexican Wave rising up and down. Over the horizon dim silhouette of cargos passing-by was visible. The shores of the sea, were jammed with people and the garbage created by them. Between both the boundaries of the scene (the endless end and the ending end), the largest chuck of the sea was empty. But not lifeless, because there was something lively there.
I saw something small yet distinct. It was barely noticeable, moving across the gigantic volume of waters having gentle waves. There was a man rowing a small raft, a little far off the shore. He was manually maneuvering the raft around against the invincible power of the sea, against the thumping of the sky. It seemed that he was spreading the fishing net. Though I admired his courage and determination, I wondered the reason. The potential story.
And it all started coming to me. The struggles of Rameswaram fishermen. The Sri Lankan civil war ended early this century yet the Sri Lankan Navy is so scared till date that they open fire or take into custody any Indian trowler who accidentally enters into Lankan waters in pursuit of better fishing areas. Due to which many of our fishermen had to migrate to other coasts or change the occupation. If staying in Rameswaram was the option they choose, then they inclined towards tourism. Further if they stick to fishing then they have to remain onto shallow waters witin Indian territory which constraints them to explore and bars them from better yeild.
I was wondering what would be this Man’s story? Suddenly many possibilities started running, almost parallel, into my head. Was he an old fisherman who could not cope up with the advancement in the fishing technology? Or was he the victim of Sri Lankan Navy? Or was he sticking to the old ways of fishing on shallow waters? (Still why was he fishing on a raft?) What was his great story? Curiosity. Thirst. Story.
For a while I was distracted by a procession passing by. The earsplitting sounds of drums, taals and shehnai was as fascinating as it was pernicious. But the main attraction of the procession was Gajraj – The Royal Elephant of the temple. He was as high as three and a half metre and would have weighted tons. I heard he was the heighest Indian elephant on record. He was indeed fascinating with all his decorations and make-up. A fancy Mahavat sitting on top of Gajraj was directing him for accepting offerings and handing over ontop, and blessing the pilgrims, all with his single trunk. Humans and their obsessions with taming nature is indeed fascinating. I had a good hour of enjoying the show and clicking photos.
With the procession gone, I returned to the beach to notice that the man was returning to the shores. As he was approaching I observed he was old. Old enough to retire from work but young enough to still hold on. He was coming straight where I was. When the waters were shallow enough he jumped off his raft and manually pulled it out. I could see his disappointed face and tired brunt, as well as the piles of fishing net which had barely any fish. Instead there were heaps of saris and dhotis and pyjamas and shirts.
Confused, I went upto him and asked, ‘So were you not upto fishing out there?’
Stunned by my intrusion he stared at me for some time, taking in what was thrown at him and thinking what should he give back. He finally smiled, maybe understanding what I had in my mind. He pointed at the hips of clothes and uttered three simple words, ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.’
Maybe Rameswaram is suffering from some more important problems than we, outsiders, know of.