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Kerala: Tropical Beaches, Friendly Manuscript Librarians

Not to mention excellent bookstores, coconut curry, and a vigorous Left; so that's why I'm moving to Kerala after my fellowship period instead of coming home. (Okay, kidding, but I've had worse ideas.) I got into Trivandrum on Saturday the 27th and spent the next morning out at Sankumughom Beach about 6 km out of town. This is not one of the bikini-wearing-videshi-infested beaches like the better-known Kovalam or Varkala to the south and north, respectively: no bathing suits worn here except by the local fishermen, no swimming permitted (or advisable: the undertow is strong enough to be a little scary even when you're just wading knee-deep) except for the local fishermen. I wore my most sand-colored salwar suit and sat under my trusty folding umbrella, looking out at the Arabian Sea and watching the retreating waves leaving little basket-weave patterns in the sand, and occasionally scrambling for higher ground (not always quickly enough!) when an especially big wave came in.

I didn't pay much attention to the little holes pocked here and there in the wet sand until I'd been sitting still a while and saw little sand-colored sand crabs emerging from them. These range in size from ones no bigger than a fingernail to ones that look as though they might be able to walk off with your sandal; I'm not sure what they eat as a rule but they seem to like pieces of Marie-Gold brand biscuits. They can move pretty fast, too; did you see _Winged Migration_? If I were a disabled bird, I wouldn't like to see some of these guys coming along the beach towards me. However, as soon as a person walks by or a crow flies over, pop they go back into their holes.

A little ways offshore ply the long banana-shaped fishing boats (our bananas, I mean), with six or eight guys rowing sweep in the bow and a guy perched up in the stern manning the steering oar, and a few other guys messing around with nets and ropes amidships. As far as I could tell, the way it works is that they row out and drop a long net perpendicular to the shore, then come in and hand off the end of its rope to a crew member who swims out for it and takes it back to the beach. Then a team of ten to twenty people (possibly including the original boat crew, I lost track of who was doing what when) start hauling in the net while slowly progressing down the beach, in effect sweeping the whole stretch of water. It takes about an hour to finish pulling the net in, to the accompaniment of Malayalam chanties and tourist gawking; seemed like an awful lot of work for the sake of the few handfuls of fish that were all I could see in the net. Then they fold the nets and coil the ropes and head off down the beach to do it all over again.

—— Kim Plofker
2004-01-04 05:38:33

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Created: 08 Oct 2003
Last modified: Oct 15, 2004 3:58:04 PM
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