The beach was just about waking up, looking a little disheveled after a night of frenetic activity. There was litter everywhere, strewn plastic bottles, discarded potato chip wrappers, ‘disposable’ styrofoam bowls with half eaten chaat, corn cobs, the odd newspapers and chappals, freshly disgorged by the sea in the morning after gobbling up the previous night. A few early morning walkers were starting their daily routine. There were the odd tourists wanting to catch the sunrise, local footballers going about their daily practice motions, a couple with photographer in tow to capture their candid moments.

The sea itself was a striking blue with edges of gray where the waves lapped the shore in a gentle sway. The seabed bobbed up and down in a rhythmic motion like water shaken up in a wide bucket, almost spilling out, but not quite. A lone boat could be seen in the distance looking almost stationery, moving up and down along with the rest of the sea. Another small dot could be seen a little away from the boat towards the shore, barely making out the shape of a person. Almost in a straight line from the boat and the person, a long rope projected out from the sea lying around 10-15 meters out into the shore.  The rope was quite thick, with multiple smaller strands intertwined around each other.

A group of seven men walked towards the rope picking it up with their bare hands. The men were in their lungis worn in the typical Malayali fashion with the bottom end folded from the ground up into a second layer of wrapping around the thighs exposing their wiry legs, calf muscles solid as stone. Most of the men were middle-aged pushing 40 or 50. Only one person looked to be in the twenties, probably son or nephew of one of the men, out there to help the elders. Their faces and exposed parts of body looked weathered with blackened leathery skin showing the rough and tumble it would have taken over the years fighting with the elements and sea. Tight football t-shirts with ‘Messi’ or their local club insignia emblazoned, barely hiding the paunches bloated by late night toddy sessions, complemented the multi-hued lungis.

They started pulling on the rope in unison, drawing it towards the shore. There seemed to be a hierarchy in the way they lined up. The oldest person was in the back giving instructions on where to pull and in which direction. The youngest person positioned himself upfront so he can guide the rope in the right direction, with the rest of them aligned in the middle.

Pull, pull, pull, the men kept pulling, they pulled with all their might slanting backwards from the effort as more of the rope started coming in from the sea. As they pulled, they started talking, making wise cracks, asking about the day and family. The sweat from the dark skins reflected off the sun which had risen a bit by now. A dog appeared, moving back and forth from the beginning to end of the rope, barking excitedly. The boat and the head bobbing in the sea came a little nearer.

By then people had started taking notice of the men. A small crowd formed around them at a respectable distance. Many of them holding umbrellas, some covering their head with shawls, duppattas and towels to protect against an increasingly hot sun. The crowd observed as the men slowly picked up a song directed by the elder man at the back. A smaller section of the rope came ashore with each pull as the object being pulled became nearer.

“What are they doing amma”, asked a curious little one.

“Oh, they are pulling in the fishing net, they would have cast it out in the sea and left it overnight for the fish to collect.”

“Why do they need so many people to pull?”

“Well, it’s a very large net.”

“So how much fish will they catch?”

“A lot”

“What will they do with all the fish?”

“They will sell it.”

“Why are we standing here?”

“To watch them pull and if possible, we can buy the fish”… so the conversation continued.

Pull, pull, pull, the effort became higher, the song became louder. The dog became even more excited, jumping back and forth. The crowd started moving nearer in anticipation. A few of them started opening out plastic bags ready to snap up any fish that came up for sale. A young man ran up excitedly to the men and started chatting with them. They stopped their song for a minute to talk to him. And soon the young man was pulling the rope along with the men, his friend capturing the images on phone, all set to become content on YouTube. Maybe it was the rough rope, maybe the hot sun, the young man lost interest soon enough and faded back into the crowd.

Pull, pull, pull, the song became louder, the dog barked even louder. The boat and head bobbing up came clearer in view. Three, four big auto rickshaws pulled up close to the shoreline. The auto drivers not getting out, ready to leave at a moments’ notice to transport the fish to various parts of the city. Along with them, a few fisherwomen came into view, with empty fishing baskets. They sat on their haunches in a neat row a little away from the men, waiting for the catch to come in. The man swimming came closer to the shore. Another one from the boat jumped into the sea. They seemed to be guiding something towards the shore. A part of the net became visible. The men started pulling with more force. Soon the middle part of the net came into view. The crowd started murmuring. And then the men pulled the entire net onto the shore. The crowd looked at the net and then beyond to see if there was more to come. There was none. You could almost hear the collective sigh of disappointment as they looked on incomprehensibly.

There were plastic bottles, wrappers, a few empty cartons, and other debris caught up in the net. It had also dragged in a fair bit of sand and seaweed. A lonely fish fluttered around one edge of the net, gasping for air. Some members of the crowd came in for a closer look, as the net lay on the sand like a large deflated and punctured balloon. Tttrrrrrrr, the autos started almost in unison and vanished out of sight in a second. The fisherwomen gathered their empty baskets muttering under their breadth and walked away. The crowd melted quickly leaving the seven men and their dog staring at the empty net and each other. There was a long silence. ‘Naale nokkam, let’s see tomorrow’, the elder man broke the silence as he picked up the gasping fish and threw it back into the sea.