Sure, India has its share of problems with weather and pests, but yearly visits to my grandparent’s home have even made mosquitoes seem like my extended family. However, two summers ago, just when I thought nothing could surprise me, I came across the most meaningful experience of my life.
Situated on the coast of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is one of the busiest cities in all of India. As with all coastal areas, fishing has always been extremely important to those in the city. While I had always just accepted this fact, I never bothered to go take a look at the fishing village located a few feet away from the main part of The Marina-one of the longest beaches in the world.
One day, during the summer of 2008, we were rushing to get back home from the beach and decided to go through the small road that cut across the fishing village in an attempt to avoid traffic. While we drove down the street, we were stopped by young children chasing each other across the road. As we continued, we saw women lined up by the side of the street displaying freshly caught fish to passersby. While this was nothing new to my family-especially my mother, who loves coming back to her home in Chennai just for the fresh fish-the lively atmosphere created by people haggling for the best prices caught me completely off guard. After having a quick look into their world, I decided I had to come back as soon as possible-and I did the following weekend.
While walking across the beach behind the fishmongers, I caught a glimpse of the remarkable little fishing community that existed just around the corner (literally!). With just one look, anyone could tell how these people loved their way of life. Every morning, they wake up to their profession, with the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach. Despite living in shacks across the ocean in an area that was completely devastated by the 2004 tsunami, the people seemed to be completely satisfied with their lives. Even after their homes were torn down, they still had the resilience to go back to the sea and continue with their lives as though nothing happened! Whereas most people would choose to move away, this community chose to give up apartments that the government offered them as a part of the tsunami relief campaign so they could stay by the ocean despite the many risks involved. Without large mechanized boats like the fishermen in America, these men choose to keep fishing even though they know their small row boats could capsize with the smallest change in weather. Women and children stay behind everyday knowing the dangers that exist out in the open ocean.
However, there is one underlying question to be answered – is the profit they make really worth the risk they take? While tens of fishermen cast their lines, and tens of women sell fish on the streets, all they can expect to earn is around 4000 rupees a month-approximately 90 dollars. While most Americans would agree that this is hardly enough to cover living expenses, the fishermen and their families are amongst the happiest and most genuine people I have ever met-I was amazed by how sincerely excited they were to be photographed. For them, every day is a battle of strength, a battle of endurance, a battle of character. Every day is a battle to be won, yet through it all they remain optimistic-an important life lesson I will never forget.
Note-Panna is the Tamil word for Cod
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