Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shore landing

In 1834, Thomas Babington Macaulay set off from Falmouth, and reached Madras on June 10 that year. Writing to his sister Margaret*, he says: "I do not know whether you ever heard of the surf at Madras. It breaks on the beach with such fury that no ship's boat can venture through it. The only conveyance in which people can land with safety is a road boat made and guided by the natives. It is a large, clumsy barge-like looking thing, made of rough planks stitched together, and so elastic that it readily yields to the pressure of the waves. A boat of this sort was sent off for us, and a dozen half-naked blacks, howling all the way the most dissonant song that you ever heard, rowed us with great skill to the shore...."

The boat which Macaulay writes about would most likely have been the 'masula boat', but even in those times, catamarans (from 'kattu-maram', meaning 'logs tied together') such as the ones in the photo would have been very much in use. Though motor boats and mechanized trawlers are preferred by many fisherfolk today, those who operate on a smaller scale continue to use these catamarans - of course you can see these boat bringing in the catch of the morning, a commonplace sight every day.

It is not easy to imagine what Macaulay meant when he writes about the fury of the surf at Madras; the hundreds who come to the Marina would imagine it is a different Madras. A different Madras indeed it was five years ago, when the tsunami of 2004 hit the city, taking with it over a hundred lives. The surf was indeed furious that morning - let's hope it does not happen again!

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