A series that documents the lives and livelihood of Mumbai’s Koli fisherfolk community.
Struggling to fit into the mosaic of the city’s contemporary culture is one of the earliest urban fishing village in Mumbai. With the city's towering sky-scrapers as a backdrop, this eight-hundred-year-old village is a quintessential settlement of city's original inhabitants.
In this community, women hold a position of power. That is because the Koli women are known to be aggressive and quarrelsome, bringing in the daily earnings to the household. Men fish and drink; it is the women who sell the catch.
A walk through this village transported me to a land of stories. Of people, legends, folklores and superstitions. What's fascinating is that not much has changed since the time of the first settlement – be it the way they make their nets, catch their fish, do their business, their beliefs, the customs or age-old traditions.
One such tradition is Narali Purnima or Coconut Day. After the off-season of the Monsoons is the day that marks the start of new business. The Koli fishermen believe that after this day, the wind strength and directions will favour fishing. Decorated coconuts are taken in processions and are immersed in the sea as an offering to the sea and wind gods.
SUNRISE AT THE KOLI WADA:
Artisanal wood fishing boats docked along the pier with the city's towering skyscrapers and the sea-link bridge as a backdrop. The colourful boats dot the sea with gentle waves lapping against the rocks.
PREPARING THE NETS:
Fishermen carry the nets to the pier and detangle them before they head out to sea. The type of nets used depends on what they plan to catch. The thinner nets are used to catch blue crabs and cannot be mended once torn. The thicker intertwined nets are used for bigger catch and are more durable.
THE LOOKOUT SHELTER:
Koli women come to the lookout shelter at the pier to wait patiently, along with some street dogs and cats, for the boats to come in with the catch and the bustle of activity to begin.
BRINGING IN THE CATCH:
After having started their day as early as 3 am and being out at sea for 5 hours, the Koli fishermen start bringing in their catch while the women come out to the pier to look.
CARRYING THE CATCH:
The nets are hung onto bamboo poles and carried to a makeshift shelter where the fish is removed from the nets.
SORTING THE FISH:
Once the catch is separated from the nets, the Koli fisherwomen sort out the different fish before taking it to the market area where they scale, clean and sell the fish.
BOAT REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE:
While most of the general maintenance on the boats happens during the monsoon season, the repair work happens year round on a need basis and washing the boats happens regularly.
The Koli community consists of both Hindus and Christians. The village has both temples and churches where the Kolis come every morning to pay their respects.
Koli homes are simple one or two storied structures where an entire family live in very close quarters. It is said that the most curious feature of some Koli homes isn't the spatial arrangement but some photos hanging on the walls. Koli's have the tradition of dressing up the deceased and placing the corpse in a sitting position, photographing it and then hanging the photo on their walls. If one peeps into some of the houses, one might see pictures of old people - dead or alive, one cannot say.
The historic fort in the fishing village offers contrasting views of the old and new - the 800 year old village in the foreground flanked by the backdrop of towering skyscrapers.