A visit to Fort Kochi in Kerala is incomplete without clicking a picture of the sunset behind the Chinese fishing nets. For us visitors, it is a photo opportunity but for the fishermen of Kerala, it is a lot of hard work. I am not sure exactly when the Chinese fishing nets came to India and when they became ubiquitous on the Cochin skyline. Today every photographer worth his DSLR, Point and Shoot and cellphone camera wants to click a sunset behind the Chinese fishing nets in Fort Kochi. Kerala is particularly suited to click sunset pictures as it is on the west coast of India and as we all know from our geography lessons that sun sets in the west. So you have the sun lazily dipping in the waters of Arabian Sea while you click on.
As I was walking along the bank in Fort Kochi, a collective song rose over the cacophony of honking vehicles, and the sales pitch of street vendors, engulfing me in its ” Hiya, Ho, Hiya Ho “. I could not understand a word of the song but it was almost like a war cry from men with calloused hands, sweaty shirts and chests and arms chiseled by working on the nets every single day. These fishermen had never seen the inside of a gym but could easily pose for Michael Angelo for one of his masterpieces.
The haunting song made me stop and look at what the fishermen were doing. A couple of guys climbed the slender logs used to lower the nets in water.. using their body weight. Then they climbed back and joined their colleagues to pull the nets out of water. Not an easy task looking at the pearls of sweat formed on their forehead.I saw the exercise five times and twice the nets yielded almost nothing. So they did everything again hoping that this time the bountiful Arabian Sea would fill their nets. They did not catch fish every time but they did catch the attention of onlookers with their chorus. The poles that hold the nets and the life of the fishermen climbing them will never win any prize for beauty or structural engineering, but look closely and you will notice multiple poles joined together using some strings and wire, a typical desi contraption. But the fishermen were climbing them like you and I climb stairs!
The Chinese fishing nets look pretty mundane like oversized laundry hanging on the poles in the day. The harsh tropical light makes it tough to click them and I converted some of the day pictures of the fishing nets to Black- and- White. When they were invented, the idea was to catch fish and not the golden orb before it takes a dip into the ocean in evening but tell that to a photographer. And as the sun starts to get ready for his evening plunge, the sky changes color faster than a chameleon, the Chinese fishing nets then show their true colors. A lot of things happen in the golden hour as you prepare to click the pictures of a sunset. As the fishermen get ready to go home, the birds start coming to spend a night on the nets. The nets that were squeezing life out of the sea during the day become harbours for the birds for the night.
-The other challenge is that everybody around you is also a photographer and some of them are damn good at their job. So everybody is looking for the best angle to click. The side where all the shops and few fishing nets and market is situated is not the best place to click the sunset as your view is hindered by people, lights coming from shops and the very fact that you are on the land and very close to the nets with wires, poles etc. obstructing your view.So to find the best vantage point to take pictures, take a boat and visit the other side of the harbor and click to your hearts desire or the capacity of your memory card.
Again you will be competing with scores of boats and some will have engines bigger than yours, so be early and enjoy as the horizon changes color and the sun melts and vanishes into the sea. A few points to remember are: Carry a wide angle or kit lens, protect your gear from sea water as water splashes around you. Also remember to be careful with framing and composition as the boat rises and falls with the waves and your composition will change every second even if you have not moved. So be agile and keep an eye on your viewfinder. In the end everybody seemed to be happy as the fishermen caught some fish and the photographers caught some sun in the net .
Prasad N P is a corporate executive most of the week. He also pretends to be a photographer and writer at his blog desi Traveler (http://desitraveler.com) to fuel his twin passions of photography and travel. He regularly writes for both online and print magazines.