Monday, May 29, 2023

Porbandar Diary: A Fisherman’s Life On High Seas

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Porbandar Diary: A Fisherman’s Life On High Seas

Fisherman Babubhai Chudasama tells about his life as a fisherman and hardship it entails

Photo: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

Life of a Mariner

I am from Gir in Somnath district. I came to Porbandar 33 years ago in search of employment when I was 14. I found a seth (businessman), who was into the fishery business. My seth is a resident of Porbandar. He has nine trawlers. I am now a senior staff and no longer go to the seas. I manage the trawlers and supervise the tandel (captain) and khalasis (sailors). A standard trawler has a tandel and seven khalasis. Fishing is a tough job. You need special skills to negotiate the volatile sea.

The fishing season begins on August 15 and continues till May, before the three-month break for monsoons. We don’t get any salary for the three months. We can either spend the time at home or look for other jobs.

A 20-day trip to the seas requires 3,000 litres of diesel worth Rs 3 lakh, ice slabs (to keep the catch fresh) worth Rs 20,000, ration and fishing nets. One trawler costs Rs 45 lakh. Its engine alone, a China-made one, costs Rs 13 lakh. Porbandar has over 4,000 boats at present. But boats turn old and break down as well. In the last few years, 200 boats in Porbandar alone have broken down. We dismantle them and sell the wood and spare parts in the scrap market.

On the seas

A trawler remains inside the seas for some 20 days, comes back, unloads, refuels, takes ice and ration and goes back. The unloading and reloading of a trawler takes a couple of days. There is no off or holiday for the boatmen during the period, as they unload the catch and refuel. I diligently keep accounts and records of each trawler,  its boatmen. There are several slots of salaries. The sailors from Gujarat get Rs 20,000 per month, those from outside get Rs 12,000. Gujarati sailors work more. They are hardened ones and know the sea more than people from other states. Even am­ong Gujaratis, there are two categories—mota bhai and moila. The moila are the experienced ones and get a salary twice that of a mota bhai.

We go up to the India–Pakistan border, which is not very far from Porbandar, to catch fish. The Coast Guards don’t bother us unless we go too close to the border. If they see us closing in, they ask us to go back. But when the Indian Navy is not around, the Pakistani Navy sometimes detains Indian boats and fishermen and takes them to Pakistan. They release the crew after six–seven months, but don’t release the boat. The Indian government should do something about it.

Politics in Porbandar

Some people are proud that they are from Gandhi’s birthplace. But I am not. I am an Ambedkarvaadi. I am sure you know what Ambedkarvaadi means. We all know what Gandhi did to Ambedkar. Gandhi was unhappy when Ambedkar drafted the Constitution.

Muslims are very nice here. There is brotherhood between us. Muslims here love India. We don’t know about other places. Modi always rakes up the Hindu–Muslim issue, says he’ll make it a Hindu Rashtra. But aren’t we Hindu already?

Porbandar is the constituency number 82. We have nothing to do either with Modi or with Kejriwal. What we want is employment. Since there is no other avenue, people join the fishery business quite early. The young man you see with me is Naughan Sundavadra. He is now 27. He began supplying diesel to the boats when he was 11. He ferries diesel from depots and supplies us here. His father was also into supplying diesel. He earns Rs 250 for one trip.

Porbandar is a fish town. Half of Porbandar depends on fisheries. We go to the seas, but there are many people who make boats, who supply ice and ration and fuel. The fishery industry sustains a lot of people—labourers, fish sellers, buyers and exporters. Earlier, diesel cost Rs 60 a litre, but it sells at Rs 96 a litre now. The pandemic has brought the price of the fish down. Sometimes, exporters also bring the price down. This is the slowdown time for our business. The governments must do something about it.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Porbandar Diary")

(As told to Ashutosh Bhardwaj)

Babubhai Chudasama is a fisherman