|Abdul swung his arms above his head and cast his net into the sea one final time. His small boat shook from the impact of his action, as the gentle breeze powered it forward at a leisurely pace. A proud and happy man, content to follow in the footsteps of his forefathers, he could hardly wait for his baby boy to grow up, so he could take him along and teach him to become an expert fisherman, just as his father had trained him when he was only a child.
Gazing at the catch in his boat, his chest swelled with pride. Two tin buckets held mackerels, sardines and pomfrets. His heart warmed with tenderness as he visualized his wife’s beaming face when he would hand over the money from his day’s labor. She would cook a good meal and also put some savings into the small wooden box she kept hidden in an iron chest under their bed. Almost like a girl hiding her dolls, Abdul thought with amusement, a smile forming on his dark features.
It was still early morning as Abdul rowed the boat back to the shore; a fishing beach in the Arabian Sea on India’s South-West coast, in the state of Kerala. He hauled his boat physically over the sand. He wore a lungi, the traditional dress of males in Kerala. It was a piece of cotton cloth draped around the waist and Abdul had folded it above his knees. His bare torso glistened with sweat as the early rays of the sun reflected off his well toned muscles.
Only then did he notice them. Officials of the “Naidu Fishing Company” or NFC as it was commonly known, were swarming on the beach. His mind drifted back to that fateful day almost 5 years ago.
The local unit of the “Kerala Fisherman Association (KFA) had called a meeting of all the fishermen in the village. The head of the local unit had informed them about NFC. It was a company which did commercial fishing using the latest technology. They had entered into an agreement with the government to start operations in this village. They would use their large trawlers to fish, which would mean that the fishermen with their small fishing boats would not find any catch at all.
NFC had offered employment to every fisherman as a compensation for their loss of livelihood, but the fishermen were a proud, independent lot and wanted to remain that way. They voted to fight the NFC. The sea that had fed their forefathers would continue to feed them as well and they had no interest in giving up their independent profession to become minion slaves of some large, monstrous corporation.
The fishermen had pooled their resources to hire lawyers and they had managed to get a lower division court to issue a stay order on NFC. The entire village had joined in the celebrations that night. As expected, NFC approached the High Court. They lost the case there as well. This time there was an even bigger celebration in the village.
Abdul had fond memories of that night, as it also happened to coincide with his wedding. He had narrated their court victory to his bride with great pride. He had told her that he would always be an independent fisherman. He owned a good boat, and perhaps one day he would own a trawler. The young woman had listened with unabashed admiration.
After the reversal in the High Court, NFC approached the Supreme Court of India. That was 3 years before, and the fishermen were confident that they would win this time as well.
Abdul tied his boat to the wooden post dug deep into the beach. He saw the officers pointing to a huge trawler in the sea, on which the words NFC were scrawled in bold letters. Abdul felt a lump in his throat, and his good spirits suddenly dampened. He quickly tied the two tin buckets which held his catch, each to one end of a bamboo and placed the middle of the pole on his sturdy shoulders. He started walking back to the village at a fast trot, the two buckets on either side swaying wildly.
On other normal days, this burden on his shoulders would only serve to lighten his heart. But today he was barely able to bear its load. He reached the office of the KFA and saw a huge crowd outside of all his fellow fishermen. There was despair written on all their faces. Abdul’s close friend Rizwan walked across to him. His eyes were red with tears.
“Abdul, the Supreme Court has given its verdict.” Rizwan’s voice choked with emotion.
Abdul could not ask anything. He had lost his voice. He could sense the answer already, but he still wanted to hear, hoping for a miracle.
“We have lost, Abdul,” Rizwan continued. “The Supreme Court has decided that this is in the best interest for the long term benefit of the nation.” It was the sad voice of a man whose livelihood had been snatched away; a small pawn in the service of a larger cause.
Abdul collapsed onto the ground. The buckets on his shoulders spilled their precious cargo on the ground. The fishes started struggling on the mud, their life breath being gradually sucked away, but Abdul made no attempt to retrieve them. He cupped his face in his hands and let out a loud wail of distress. The sad cry of a defeated man, who would no longer take his son to the sea to train him in the ancient craft of his forefathers.
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