Jam Salaya: Dhow building
Director: Radhamohini Prasad, Nida Ghouse
Duration: 01:40:28; Aspect Ratio: 1.817:1; Hue: 27.057; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.498; Volume: 0.149; Cuts per Minute: 30.318; Words per Minute: 74.609
This video shows the construction of dhows or large wooden boats in Jam Salaya, a port town on the Gulf of Kutch, Saurashtra. Sailors from Jam Salaya have been trading in the Arabian Sea for centuries. The prosperity of this town depends on fishing and its relationship to the sea. Today, there are no commodities that leave or enter from these shores, unlike in the past. The main occupation here is dhow building and sailing, and this supports trade primarily between various Gulf states and Somalia.
Nida Ghouse and Radhamohini Prasad left for Jam Salaya on the September 6, 2009 to visit sailor friends they had met in Sharjah during the Wharfage project. Wharfage is an on-going CAMP project, which, in 2008, looked closely at the creek in Sharjah, from where a large number of dhows leave for 'Somalia'. Somalia, a collection of semi-state entities, is also a kind of free trade zone, in which these boats ply, passing through the dominant narratives of the Somali seas and piracy.
The project offered an opportunity to think about how business and these commodities are related to global trade and the current economic situation in the UAE. This movement of goods and their sailors may trace old trade routes, but it also maps out something new: a contemporary landscape of new and used objects, labour, Asian and African diasporas and giant wooden ships built in Salaya, Gujarat.
The Wharfage project consisted of two parallel pieces: Wharfage, a book containing two years of port records related to Somali trade, and Radio Meena, four evenings radio transmissions from the port. (To download the book, go to http://www.camputer.org/event.php?this=wharfage
This video features three conversations. One with Abudulla, a caretaker of newly constructed dhows, who tells us about the town and his experiences as a young sailor at sea. Another is with Salemama and his friend who explain how dhows are built, maintained and managed. And the last conversation is with Ibrahim, the owner of three dhows, who gives us insight into how the trade with Somalia developed in Salaya. Annotations for the footage are excerpts from Nida's travel diary.
(Junis' father-in-law, at his workshop, which lies within his home compound, working on a lathe machine amidst the near-deafening sound of machinery)
(Inaudible Kachhi in the background)
(Junis' father-in-law cutting a peice of wood. The assistant ties the belt in place. Junis' father-in-law measures the cut piece of plank from time to time. He stands in a three foot depression in the ground allowing him to keep an eye on the log without having to constantly bend down. The machine stops, they take off the piece and drop it on a pile of planks lying beside.)
One of our friends Junis, who we met in Sharjah, is a sailor working on the 'Sabir Piya' and lives with his wife and children in Salaya. We met his family but Junis was out at sea, fishing.
On the main Bunder Road is Junis' father has a small but centrally located shop, right in front of his family home. Junis doesn't live there, as his wife doesn't get along with his parents. We sit and talk for a while with Junis' father, who has henna-coloured hair and whose longing tone of voice betrays his love-tied-with-tension for his son, and the disintegrating shape of his teeth. He would, a few days later, joke with us, saying that local rates of supari (betelnut) demand and sales, stand as testimony to his own long-standing addiction.
Nafisa, Junis' wife, told us we missed her great grandfather by three months; he was 110 years old and quite a storyteller and could have told us much of the town's history. There was an old photograph of a dhow with sails as well as old licenses of boats framed and hanging on the wall of Nafisa's home. Nafisa's father owns a wood workshop where logs used for building dhows and fishing boats, are shaped to the required design and size.
Junis' father-in-law: It fell (the wood).
(Kachhi dialect in the background.The assistant chains the log to the pulley as Junis' father-in-law hammers out the spikes holding the log in place.)
Junis' father-in-law: Watch out for your clothes.
Radha: Yes. Okay.
(Inaudible exchange between Junis' father-in-law and his assistant. He takes the assistant's place. The gears rotate and the log turns. First Junis' father-in-law removes the chains and uses a lever to adjust the position of the log.)
Assistant: (In Kachhi) Do it from the middle...Do it from the middle!
(The assistant drills holes into the log with a manual drill and then uses a spanner to screw in a bolt on the side of the trolley. Junis' father-in-law measures the log.)
Junis' father-in-law: Two pieces. This will become two pieces.
Radha: I see.
Junis' father-in-law: This is one piece (pointing to one half) and that's another.
(The men work on a dhow adjoining wooden planks together.)
Background conversation: ...in Sharjah with lights on the boats... the program was on.
Radha: What are you doing?
Carpenter 1: I'm tying this (rope)... bringing the wooden panel closer.
Radha: What is this machine?
Carpenter 1: This is a chain-block.
Carpenter 2: A chain-block.
Radha: What does the chain-block do?
Carpenter 2: The chain-block...you see the plank... it fits it below. That's what it does.
At the dhow building yards it is about half an hour to one o'clock. Everybody is ready to break for lunch and an afternoon siesta till three o'clock. It is practically impossible to work under the midday sun.
(Conversations in Kachhi.)
Boy: What's the time?
Carpenter 2: (It was approximately 1:00 pm)
Boy: It's already one.
Carpenter 3: Tie this to that first.
Carpenter 1: First bring the rope. Hey boy, bring the rope!
Carpenter 3: Bring the rope boy... the rope to tie.
Carpenter 1: Rope.
Carpenter 2: (Using the chain block) Have a look?
Carpenter 2: Give it to me for a bit (the hammer)...
Carpenter 2: Now handle it (giving back the hammer).
There are approximately fifteen to twenty men working on this launch. Children hang around helping with quick errands and small jobs.
Boy: (laughing off camera) Why can't I laugh if I feel like laughing?
Carpenter: You shouldn't laugh when ladies are around.
(The carpenter takes a smaller piece of wood and places it on the side of the plank they are aligning. Hammers a nail to hold it in place.)
Carpenter 1: Is it done?
Carpenter 3: Yes it's done...Leave it.
(He passes the chain to the others. They wrap it around another log on the otherside.)
Carpenter 3: The plank that's strong... the plank below.
Carpenter 5: The one that is loose. We'll have to tighten it.
Carpenter 3: Tell the boy! You boy!
(A kid begins begging the adults to break for the afternoon.)
Boy:(Pleading) Come... brother come....
(They hook the chain-block up and begin tightening the logs closer together.)
Carpenter 5: One minute...
Carpenter 2: We are going to head now.
Radha: Okay is it time to break?
Carpenter 2: Yes we break at one o'clock.
(The other carpenters begin to leave but this group of men insist on finishing there bit.)
Carpenter 3: Has it tightened?
Carpenter 5: Yes it's tightened.
Carpenter 3: (sarcastically) What's tightened?
Carpenter 5: It's tight!
(The log is tightened together to a certain degree and left in a position of tension.)
Carpenter 5: Right, leave it. Tighten the bolt and do it later. Leave it... leave it.
(Everyone proceeds to leave.)
Carpenter 5: Keep the stuff properly.
(Everybody leaves almost exactly at the same time.The dhow building yards at this time of the day remain isolate. Often you will find someone taking a nap under some shade.)
Everybody working on the jetty as well as the dhows leave for their afternoon break at the same time. Except for Abdulla who is the caretaker of this launch. His job is to make sure nothing gets stolen while everyone is away and to clear up the nails and chipped wood scattered around the area.
Abdulla: They get it to Bombay and Jamnagar.
Nida: What was it like going to Basra in the early days?
Abdulla: It was good before. Now it is difficult. There is very little food and water available now. It's hard to sustain yourself. People would cook food and give it to us.
Nida: But was it easy to go there?
Abdulla: Yes, it used to be fun roaming around there. Anywhere you go it's fun.
Nida: So what was Basra like? Tell us.
Abdulla: Very nice place... (Inaudible). There are good fruits and stuff at this time. Very cheap. It's expensive here. Rs 120/- for some two kilos of apples.
Nida: From Basra were the dates brought directly to India?
Abdulla: Yes. We would bring it.
Nida: It would come to Salaya?
Abdulla: No it would not come to Salaya. There is no business
here. It doesn't get loaded. Cannot put heavy material on the vessel. It is made out of wood and will break. When the water dries up then the load is to much.
Abdulla was clearing out the scrap wood and watching over the tools and materials when we met him. All the workmen and sailors were on their afternoon break at the time. Here, he speaks about what Basra, Iraq, transporting dates back to India from there, and the lack of business for it in Salaya.
Alexander Cinema Hall
(Abdulla saunters back and forth looking for pieces of chipped wood and other waste material to clear away.)
Abdulla: We would roam around Mumbai a lot. We'd go there and stay there. We'd go to that place... There were girls like you as well. We'd pick them up. Everytime we got a consignment there we'd meet them. What were we to do? How are we to spend ten months at sea. We were 'majboor'(helpless), living like bachelors. Not only me, anyone would in such helpless circumstances.
Nida: So from Somalian where did you bring them? To Bombay or from Bombay?
Nida: Did you meet them in Mumbai or bring them from there?
Abdulla: No, when we'd go to Mumbai. To that place... what was it called? Next to Alexander Cinema. We'd pick these girls up... We'd unload and then spend the night with them.
Radha: How long back was this?
Abdulla: This is twelve-thirteen years back. Even now, our people go. Sailors go there. The poor don't. Anyway, it's no fun inside the house.
Abdulla: Our people are not educated.
(Abdulla sits on a log and lights a 'bedi'.)
He refers to women he has sexual relationships with in Mumbai.
Abdulla talks about how they would manage a little extra money from the goods that they sold back home and also from loading and unloading dhows. Sailors would bring back gifts for their families. This led to the formation of a Sunday market where various items from other countries, especially Dubai, were brought to Salaya and sold. This market declined with the economic liberalisation of India in the early 1990s. Siddique told us that initially they would sell ACs, electronic goods and television sets. But now those goods are easily available and their prices affordable for almost anyone in any market.
However, the Sunday market still takes place, bringing in customers from across Gujarat and selling a large bulk of soaps or perfumes from Dubai. A friend living and working in Mumbai, Niraj, happened to be from Jam Khambalia and recalls his experiences of the Sunday Market as a boy. He remembers a time when large bulks of wrist watches were bought to the shores of Salaya. With the police and port authorities finding out, the sailors scattered and threw the smuggled goods into a well. The police didn't find any proof and after the chase was over, villagers from the surrounding area came together and removed the now wet and damaged wrist watches from the well. Then they sold them in bags in the Sunday Market for five to ten rupees a kilo. They were sold cheap because there was no guarantee that any of them would still be working.
Abdulla: I'm the watchman here. Watchman...'chokidari'(gaurd)
Nida: So now you look after things here.
Abdulla: Yes I look after and take care of things.
Nida: What was your job on the launch?
Nida: When you worked on the launch?
Abdulla: I used to do the steering. Even now I do it. They pay little now. Even before, it was little. We would come back with goods and sell them here. Cloth was in demand.
Nida: Yes in the market... where did you get them from?
Abdulla: We used to sell them. Clothes, shampoo and scent. Stuff like watches, etc. We'd make do by selling all this. Take care of our expenses abroad.
Nida: You'd bring them from Dubai?
Abdulla: Yes. On our way back we'd bring stuff from Dubai. We'd unload the vessels and get money for the labour work.
Nida: Don't get that in Somalia, do you?
Abdulla: No, you don't get it in Somalia. You get it here, in Dubai.
Abdulla: Now where will you go? To Khambalia?
Nida: In the evening.
Abdulla: Evening... I'm going to sit there because sometimes someone just picks up something and leaves.
(Abdulla takes his container of scraps and sits at the far end. We get engaged in another long conversation with him on our way out.)
Nida: Yes. Did you see us?
Abdulla: Yes, you have been wandering around for three-four days.
Radha: Salaya seems very nice.
Abdulla: It's nice that way, but there isn't much understanding. There is very little understanding.
Abdulla: People are not very educated here. All are...
Nida: Yes. But they build all this so...
Abdulla: They make it but it's their forefathers who have given it to them. For those who are fortunate it grows and grows and grows. It decides the fate for their children. Some go ahead but some get spoilt.
He feels people are not very educated in Salaya and that the tradition of building dhows is just something handed down through the generations. Those who benefits out of this depends on fate.
Talks about the origins of Muslims in Salaya and their migration. Also about how people manage their livelihood in Salaya.
Nida: Do you feel when people have travelled to other countries, their customs and rituals have made their way here?
Abdulla: There weren't many of us here. Some of us came from other places. Actually we are not Muslims by origin. My grandparents are from another region and they came here.
Nida: When did they come?
Abdulla: They came here many years back. Before I was born. They came from the surrounding areas. From Vadinar and Jamnagar. It's nice here. Even if it rains here and somebody needs work they will do something. They will pick up the wood, catch fish or do some work. He'll get his two meals a day even during the rains.
(Someone walks up to Abdulla and enquires about us.)
Man: What's going on?
Abdulla: They are newspaper girls from the media. They have come from Mumbai. They have been staying here for five days. In Khambalia... taking photographs. There taking photographs and they have cassets of us. They'll do what they think is best with it.
(A boy carrying a bag of scraps appears in front of the man.)
Man: (To the boy pulling him backwards) Where are you going and why are you coming in between?
Abdulla: They are staying in Khambadia...
Abdulla: These kids come here, pick up the wood and do other stuff.
Nida: They stay occupied with work?
Abdulla: A large number of people come on Sundays. One of our bigger dhows left and will reach Calicut tomorrow or the day after. It's fun to see that boat. They made designs on it. There has never been one like that in Salaya.
Nida: How have they made it?
Abdulla: Here. They've made it here.
Nida: They've made it here...
Abdulla: Now it will be eight-ten months...
Nida: What kind of design?
Abdulla: Very nice designs they made on it. Here in Salaya. Even Dubai does not have those kind of designs. I didn't go and see but they say even in Dubai many people went to see it.
Nida: Who made it?
Abdulla: Wasn't there a person sitting here, near by. He took the book at the end...
Nida: Yes. Really?
Abdulla: He made it. At the moment he is making this boat as well. There are two others he had made somewhere there. But there is only one with those designs...
Speaks about Rihan, a person who constructed a dhow with designs on it, which was admired by many. Also talks about why he called himself Rihan. There is a sense of pride for Rihan and his accomplishments in Abdulla's tone, almost as if here were a town hero or personality who keeps the community's aspirations of progress alive. Nevertheless, this could be a misreading of Abdulla's personal connection with him.
Nida: What is his name?
Abdulla: His name is... He was away for two months doing paperwork. Now he is here for the last two to three days. They know him as Rihan. They know him as Rihan 'gaidar' (builder). I've forgotten his real name.
Nida: That's okay.
Abdulla: Even on his car he has written Rihan on it in English. It was parked near by, wasn't it? It's got Rihan written on it. Osman is his name (inaudible). His sons have grown up and one is called Rihan... They also plays a lot of cricket. Everybody in the cricket world calls him Rihan... all the players. I asked him why do you call yourself Rihan, that is your son's name... he said, "no when I go play cricket they all call me Rihan." Here too, the carpenter named this launch Al-Siraj. He wrote with chalk... with the white powder chalk you get? With the chalk... he wrote himself- 'Rihan gaidar'. It got erased in the rain.
Nida: He designs the dhows though? He isn't the owner?
Abdulla: No all this is... he is the contractor. Paperwork...gets a commission... some money, that's it. He has his business in three places. He makes the smaller ones at home. To sell it himself. Makes it and sells it. He must get some money from these three places...
Radha: Do you have friends outside when you travel?
Abdulla: Yes of course, lots of them. It's anyway difficult to while away 10 months. You too have left from your place. You are not married but still you must have to do something or the other out of desperation. One can't save face when one's youth sets in. Even if you are a mother or sister, brother or father. Right? The youth leaves no one.
Radha: So they are from Dubai, Somalia and all other places?
Abdulla: Yes all places. What can one do? The only thing left is to 'dhool me muh dalneka' (disgrace yourself). Right? Happens sometimes... one is helpless so what can they do? You are secluded, so you have to do something or the other.
Seclusion at sea
When asked about his relationships in other countries, he talks of sexual companions at port towns and cities. He explains that for sailors the isolation and seclusion of being at sea for ten months amounts to desperation and sexual desires that spare nobody. For Abdulla, this is an obvious actuality but also a social disgrace.
Abdulla: There is more sheep/goats in Somalia. Food, not so much. There are lots of people like that. They kill people. Even people like me are taken hostage. They point their guns and take everything you have. They even take your broken slippers and old clothes.
Nida: Has this happened to you?
Abdulla: Not to me, but a couple of our bosses have had two-three such incidences. They keep a pill with themselves now. You get this yellow coloured pill. If a visitor comes along they put it in the tea and give it to him/her. The person will sleep continuously for 12 hours. I told them... if it were for me, I'd tie anyone to an anchor and throw them if they came to harm or loot me. This other guy even spoke about women... if a woman came on board, they'd drug her tea and do as they please with her through the night. I said, don't you have a conscience! 'Sala' (rascal) he would say such things. I mean, 'Malik' (god) God forbid something like this happens... but people do kill people sometimes. All kinds of things happen. Some might take a young girl somewhere... some four-five of them will do whatever they want with her, murder her and get rid of the body. No evidence remains once the job gets done. Sometimes men who gamble get targeted...(unclear) If one puts in a lot of money into gambling and it increases then he will not reach home. Some phone call or the other in between... the phone is easily accessible now... so at the time they have to kidnap the person, then... What is a wrong is wrong.
Describes Somalia and the hijacking. How the captains of the dhows protect themselves with a pill that they mix in tea, leaving them unconscious. That leads him to talking about mankind, his wrongdoings and how it will eventually take a toll on him.
Radha: So did you go to Somalia, I mean...
Abdulla: Yes. I used to. But not for the last three to four years. I had two degree T.B in between.
Nida: What happened?
Abdulla: Second degree T.B. (tuberculosis)? Due to 'bedis'.
Nida: Oh yes.
Abdulla: Now I have to stay under complete control. Whatever you may think... it's been one year now. Perhaps ten to fifteen days less... I don't even sit next to a woman for five minutes, because of this. And this is a compulsion, to work as a caretaker. Otherwise I don't care. I've become much better since the last three years.
Nida: You health is better...
Abdulla: Much better.
Nida: Do you go to the hospital?
Abdulla: Not anymore. I was, six months back. But in two months time I got better. For the next eight to ten days I have to go get my weight checked.
Nida: So you don't get tired in this heat?
Abdulla: No, I'm used to the heat. When it gets cold... one time water seeped into the ditch. At three in the night... the boys had left the stopper open. Three o'clock at night I was wading in water, waist high... to close it... with the stopper for the water. If some little water seeps in, just open it and the water gets out. Later when the tide is high at night then we open it... I mean close it. The guy who comes to fish at three in the night... he told me that the pump was open. So at three in the night I was in the water alone. It had come up till here. He said, "What a mess". Half the launch would have been washed away.
Talks about his illness (Tuberculosis) and says that he seems to be recovering. He doesn't have issues with the hot climate but the cold gets to him. Describes how he had to swim under the dhow in the cold water one night. Somebody had left open the stopper and water had gotten in during high tide.
Nida: You are here all night long?
Abdulla: No no, I go to sleep. There are two of us. The other guy will come at 8:30 in the night.
Nida: There is a shift?
Abdulla: I'll be here alone till 8:30pm. The workers and the bosses will come and go.
Abdulla: There might be a program today for food and drinks. Tomorrow everything will be closed. Its a Friday and its Ramzan as well. All the dhows will remain closed. Going to keep the fast (Roza)...
Radha: Tomorrow everything is closed?
Abdulla: I was going to keep the fast (Roza) today. I had got buttermilk and everything else. But I was not able to stay awake. Last time I stayed awake. I was intending today... In that sense, I've done it once. Before... three years back all of us... in my house everyone keeps the fast. Each of us for thirty-thirty days. Also read the Koran.
When we were in Salaya, almost everyone was fasting or keeping roza for Ramzan.
Describes his family and a son who passed away.
Radha: How many people are there at home?
Abdulla: At home there are four boys and a girl, who are all married and a smaller girl, who... she is sharp and intelligent. She reads the Koran, keeps the fast and does all the work at home. There is also my wife and my sons who have gotten married, their wives and their children. Three-four girls and boys. One of the sons, a middle son was taken away by 'Malik'(god).
Nida: Really? What do you mean took away?
Abdulla: He was two and a half years old and he passed away... due to an illness. That way I too am going to die someday.
Abdulla: Are you Christian?
Nida: Uh... My parents are Muslim.
Abdulla: What is your name?
Abdulla: Nida? My name is Abdulla.
Abdulla: And her name?
Abdulla enquires about our religious beliefs and where we live in Mumbai, and goes on to tell us how he had visited Haji Ali Dargah a number of times, and Alexander and Shalimar cinemas. Near these theatres is a well known red light district called Kamathipura. On mentioning this Abdulla began talking about facing the consequences of your deeds and in this way, talking about the 'phaida and nuksan'.
See also: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_grant-road-s-reel-affair-revealed_1068470
Alexander Cinema Hall
Gain or loss
Good or bad
Phaidha aur nuksan
Shalimar Cinema Hall
Abdulla: How long are you staying here for? Four or five days?
Nida: No, we are leaving tomorrow.
Abdulla: To Mumbai? Where do you stay there?
Nida: Work is in Bandra at the moment.
Abdulla: I've never been to Bandra yet. I've gone to Haji Ali. Have been there fifteen to twenty times. Other than that, I stay here. Our people mostly wander around these parts... Alexander Cinema hall and Shalimar Cinema hall.
Abdulla: Well whatever one does, eventually in life they'll get what they deserve. Whoever it maybe... it could be a brother, a sister, a father or even you, yourself. Whatever you do now, tomorrow you'll have to see... do the right thing or the wrong thing, you'll collect it. You will gain as well as loose ('phaida aur nuksan').
Abdulla lights a beedi. Explains how businesses get bigger and how it can led to a loss if you take the wrong route.
Abdulla: One of our smaller launches have gone for fishing at around four-five o'clock. You know the big one... Lobster? Had taken it to...(unclear)? They had really lowered the price. It was selling for 445/- rupees.
Abdulla: Found out a few days back this is available. It wasn't so before. They will probably come back today... 'in sha'allah'. That's the place... all the fishermen live there.. that side.
Nida: That side? Yes. Where do the owners of the launch live?
Abdulla: The owners come this side.
Nida: They live here as well? Which direction?
Abdulla: In the surrounding areas. All the owners live around here. Initially they had smaller boats. Later they became bigger.
Nida: How did this happen? How did it become so big?
Abdulla: Just as business grows. Just as... how people start by selling 'paan' and 'bedis' in small baskets, then they get a cart made, then a shop and then a big store. You know right? In that way.
Nida: True. That's right.
Abdulla: But if a loss creating, unfortunate child is born in a family... boy or a girl and they invest on their children... then they will be ruined. It's the same for everyone. Right? Take the wrong path and your done for... whoever it maybe. Nothing lasts once you've taken a destructive route. There is only 'nuksan' (loss/mishaps) in that.
Abdulla: Have you come because of your job or your own interest?
Nida: We have a small organisation in Bombay... in Bandra. But initially we did this project in Sharjah...
Abdulla: You had gone to Sharjah?
Nida: Yes. This book was made in Sharjah.
Abdulla: I was in Sharjah for three years. I had stalled there for some reason. There is a big Shia mosque. Many people get married there. It is at the shore... in front of the ferry station (Abrah). All the small launch come there... there is a big Shia's mosque.
Abdulla: I was nearby for three years.
Nida: Really. What did you do there?
Abdulla: The launch had halted there. Everyone had absconded. It was small launch. We did not have much money. We have to deposit the crew-card. If there are three of us in a group and one or two disappear. Then we have to deposit the crew-card and only after declaring that can we separate.
Nida: And that took three years?
Abdulla: Yes. But we started working on a launch there. If we saved anything from that work we'd bring it back home for the family.
Talks about Sharjah and why he got held up there for three years.
Abdulla: For this place. What do they call it... watchman. We call it 'chowkidar'. I'm the watchman of this place.
Siddique, another one of our friends from Sharjah, told us there must be around 35-40 dhows being built in the town this year, which he says costs Rs 50 lakhs to 2 crores a piece, and take around 2 years to build. As we walk around we pass huge and hollow wooden shapes, supported by logs, slowly taking form, emerging as if from the ground, in spaces of land that had been rented out and dug up especially for them from the water. To make a new dhow, the owners have to pay rent to the port authorities in Salaya, Rs 7200 for 6 months. The cement that was set to prevent the tide, could be removed, water then pumped in from underneath. The boat would be lifted up from underneath and be broken into the sea. The ramps built on the side of the dhows are meant for taking the planks to the higher reaches of the dhow.
Nida: Someone is coming in. Saw?
Radha: Yeah I got it.
Salemama was introduced to us in Salaya through Siddique. He took us on a tour of the dhows that he was building. He says his job is to take the wooden planks all the way up on the ramps to the highest point of the dhow. He gives us details about what has been done so far and how the construction is proceeding. He is a precise prototype of a young man from these parts who learns the skill of building dhows through the oral tradition of knowledge transfer and apprenticeship.
(Salemama takes us around the dhow he is currently working on.)
Radha: It's so nice. It's very nice.
Nida: Do you draw on paper and make this?
Nida: I'll go?
Salemama: Do you want to see the otherside?
Salemama: This is where the engine is kept. This and that. The engine is kept on both sides. One engine here and another there.
Radha: How many more days will it take for it to be completed?
Salemama: Twelve months more for this one.
Radha: And how many days were you working on this?
Salemama: Me? It's been a year.
Radha: It's been a year...
Salemama: The work has taken a year.
Salemama: This is the complete branch of a tree. See it.
Salemama's friend: He will tell you the entire history.
Salemama: That will make it strong.
Salemama: That branch which has been cut from the tree? It makes the launch extremely strong. Go ahead. Go and see it.
Salemama: Soon all this will be filled up with wood. All this vast empty space? Wood will be placed there.
Salemama: This kind of wood will fill up the space. All over. After the wood is positioned, then the really big wood is placed on top. Once that is done, it's arranged like this for the engine.
Salemama: We arrange the wood for the engine as well.
Salemama: Book? Do you have the book?
Salemama: Lets see it then? Sit.
Salemama's friend: No they stop at the launch only.
Radha: They don't get out?
Nida: This is Sharjah.
Salemama: This picture is from the Bhaya Company.
Salemama: This is Bhaya Company.
Nida: What company?
Salemama's friend: Bhaya Company.
Nida: Is from here?
Nida: Whose is that?
Salemam's friend: If it has the colour yellow on it, then that is Bhaya Company.
Nida: Is that how it is?
Salemama: Yes. The area where you went... four brother's get their launch constructed there.
Nida: I see. One is Bhaya?
Salemama: Yes. They are called Bhaya Company.
Salemama's friend: Is this all you have? Don't you have more?
(Inaudible Kacchi conversation)
Nida: So what companies are here? How many companies are here?
Salemama: There are a lot of companies here.
Salemama and his friend start flipping through the Wharfage book and begin identifying the dhows owned by companies established around the region. Bhaya company seems to be popular and owns those dhows that are painted yellow.
Under the dhow is a ditch. Three large logs hold up the spine of the dhow. Once the dhow is ready, they have to be sawed off in order to bring the dhow to ground level. Sacks packed with soil then replace the existing foundation.
Radha: What is it that you saw off?
Radha: What was it that you saw off?
Salemama: Okay...so when the launch has to be brought down they fill the sacks up. Whenever the launch has to be bought to ground level the log that its sitting on has to be taken out and replaced with sacks. Can you see how much above ground level it is?
Salemama: Here you will get Rs250/- and there you will get Rs500/-. So where would you go? You will go there, right?
Nida: That is true.
Salemama: Exactly. That is how it is.
Nida: So you would not get a carpenter for a new launch.
Salemama: Yes. You will not get a carpenter for a new launch. Just for those few months. Then all the old dhows set sail and the carpenters come back to work on the new ones. It that way...
Depending on where they get more money for their work, carpenters work on the launch according to the season. This makes it difficult to get carpenters for a new launch during those few months when dhows come back home for maintenance.
Radha: So where does this wood come from?
Salemama: This big one... the biggest one.
Radha: Is one whole piece?
Salemama: This big one...
Salemama's friend: There are three big ones aligned. Very big ones. Reaches both ends.
Salemama: This one comes from there...
Salemama's friend: Gandhidham.
Salemama: Gandhidham. It comes in a steamer boat.
Salemama's friend: From Malyasia.
Salemama: From Malyasia. Yes. It comes in a steamer. From Malaysia.
Radha: And from Gandhidham.
Salemama: Yes the boss will go from here to Gandhidham. He will load it and come back. Then I will then go with my men. Wherever the unloading needs to be done from the car. We'll empty the car and keep it up right. Later tie it up and put it underneath.
Wood comes from the rainforests of Malaysia through Gandhidham, Gujarat. Salemama also explains what is left for the construction of this dhow to be completed.
Radha: Now how much bigger will this launch become?
Salemama's friend: This is it. It's over.
Salemama: This... this is it's complete size. But now whats left is, filling it up with wood.
Radha: That's it?
Salemama's friend: Have to fill it up with wood like this. The finishing is to be done.
Salemama: Wood like this... then later send it off.
Radha: Then you will fill the cargo inside this?
Salemama: Yes. Later.
Salemama's friend: The big sized wood will come on top.
Salemama: What you are sitting on is big wood. But even bigger pieces of wood will be placed on top. Completely. This will be fully packed.
Salemama's friend: The one here will be taken out and bigger ones will be put in. So that the launch will not collapse.
Nida: And the captain's cabin is made at the very end?
Salemama: Yes it will be made at the end. It will be made there.
Salemama: You see where the crow is sitting. That is where it will be. The captain's cabin... from there all the way to the back is where it will be.
Salemama: Do you see the big wood over there? That is for the rope of the anchor. That is where rope will be tied.
Nida: And... where will the crew sleep?
Salemama: They will be on top.
Salemama's friend: Above... this will be completely packed up.
Salemama: And the finishing will be done on top.
Salemama's friend: In the cabin that is built at the back. That's where.
Nida: All of them sleep in the cabin.
Salemama: Yes all of them. Right now there is a lot of work left on this launch. Massive wooden beams have to be placed... like this now... where the engine is kept. Two engines will be put. One on this side and the other over there.
Radha: When you were a kid, did you go overseas? I heard that small boys are also taken on the voyage.
Salemama's friend: Yes but not anymore.
Salemama: Not anymore.
Salemama's friend: Because they ask for passports now. Passport is not available for those below the age of eighteen.
Nida: But previously everyone used to go?
The new seaman's passport puts down regulations for those who can and cannot sail. Prior to this, sailors used to take children overseas to other countries. Salemama's friend talks about his experiences in Abu Dhabi as a child. An interesting parallel conversation begins as Salemama describes the conditions and commitments of his work and his friend explains the situations that keep him from sailing overseas.
Salemama's friend: Previously, anything would go. Even before you got a moustache you would be sent off. You'd have have to wash the pots... not anymore. Now they will not allow you... at the customs there. They'll ask, "why did you get this kid along?"
Radha: Did you go when you were a kid?
Salemama's friend: Yes. My moustache had not come out yet when I left.
Radha: So what all do you remember of that time?
Salemama's friend: We left from here with onions that came from Mundra.
Nida: Okay. Where?
Salemama's friend: We had taken it to Abu Dhabi. The customs people there were carrying me around. They weren't giving me back to the sailor. They told them, "you go. This child is ours now. We'll take care of him." They would not let me go. Pampered me with Pepsi, biscuits, clothes and all kinds of things. They told me, "you stay here now." Then I screamed and cried. I said, "no, I want to go back to the launch."
Radha: Did you like it...
Salemama's friend: I have not been overseas for the last three years. My elder brother told me to stay here. Make these dhows. He is my bigger brother...
(Parallel conversation begins.)
Salemama's friend and Nida.
Nida: Do you feel like going overseas?
Salemama's friend: I feel like it but I'm not allowed to go. My brother tells me, "you look after this. I live in Mumbai. Who will take care of this? So you manage this. Keep in mind what happens and what doesn't happen around you. Pay the workers. Hire workers and carpenters. That's my responsibility.
Salamama and Radha
Radha: And you?
Salemama: I've been here. This is my boss's launch. Later his other launch will arrive. I will leave the work here then start there. Complete the work there by putting colour and also by check if anything is broken. Replace it with a new one and work there for fifteen to twenty days. Later that launch will set sail. Then I'll come back and finish work here.
Nida: Do you know the name of this launch? Or have you not yet kept a name for it?
Salemama's friend: No not yet.
Salemama: Once this is completely fininshed...
Salemama's friend: This will be completely fininshed...
Salemama: And then after that.
Salemama's friend: And then after that.
Nida: So how do you decided on the name?
Salemama's friend: The name is added in the survey... 'cole' (register) for the launch. We go to the customs and tell them what name we want in the 'cole' (register) for the launch.
Nida: But who decides the name?
Salemama's friend: The owner.
Nida: Oh. So you don't decide the name for it?
Salemama's friend: No.
Salemama: JamNagar. In JamNagar.
Salemama's friend: We can choose the names for those that are our own.
Nida: But you have to register it there?
Salemama: Yes, the name will be registered by the owner. We'll tell him this is the name we want for our launch. Then we have to go to JamNagar. The name will be registered by him.
Salemama's friend: The owner's name will be noted and the name of the launch.
Nida: And the captain's name. The captains keep changing?
Salemama's friend: Captains keep changing. That's no problem. The owner's name will not change. The owner's name will only change when the launch will be given to another owner then the name will have to be changed.
They explain the procedure of giving names to the dhows. Once made, the dhow is registered at the Mercentile Marine Department in Jamnagar.
Al Hamriya Port
Radha: Were you in Sharjah this time?
Salemama's friend: Sharjah, Dubai, Hamriya.
Nida: He's been here for three years. He has not...
Radha: Ah... yes.
Salemama's friend: Near the Twin Tower.
Salemama: Do you travel everywhere? I've not been to Dubai and other places.
Nida: Went to Dubai and Sharjah, but didn't go to Somalia.
Radha: I haven't gone.
Salemama: Did you go to Dubai? You have not gone. You have gone? To Dubai? To Sharjah? Went to all the places?
Nida: Yes. This project took place there. This book was published for the project in Sharjah.
Salemama: Yes. In Sharjah.
Nida: There was a radio show alongside that.
Salemama's friend: You know when kids are born here they start eating this 'masala' (betelnut).
Nida: Yes we saw a lot of people eating this.
Salemama: This 'masala' (betelnut) is very popular here.
Nida: Supari? Tobacco?
Salemama: Even girls eat this 'masala'.
Almost everyone we met in Salaya was addicted to betelnut mixed with caustic lime, which they called 'masala'. Even children would come into the store to buy themselves their dose for the day. We were told that sailors would sometimes take up to five kilograms of masala on board which would only last through the first twenty days. And if they earned 100 rupees a day they would spend 40 rupees just on masala.
He talks about the communication issues at the ports in Somalia, but explains why most of the dhows travel to Somalia and do maximum business there. Another reason for that, he says, is the mechanical and technological development of the dhows, which decreased traders' dependency on sailing rigs.
Radha: Did you go to Somalia as well?
Salemama's friend: Somalia, Bosaso, Yemen, Gisan (Turkey), Said...
Nida: Which place did you like the most?
Salemama's friend: The most I liked was Dubai.
Nida: You enjoy yourself there?
Salemama's friend: Yes it's fun. You can roam around. That side (Somalia), there is nothing. There are only dark skinned people. They are bad. You cannot understand what they are saying. In Dubai you can understand. They speak in Hindi and Arabic. Arabic I understand. There you cannot understand anything.
Radha: You don't have friends there?
Salemama's friend: Yes there are lots of friends. But you cannot understand what they saying.
Nida: But most of the demand comes from there.
Salemama's friend: Yes.
Nida: Most of the dhows are heading there, right?
Salemama's friend: Yes most of the dhows are going there. Because they get good money there.
Nida: No, that way there is a lot more money in Dubai. But for most of the launch here, the demand comes from Somalia.
Salemama's friend: But the reason they go to Somalia is because one gets a lot of money there. Dubai currency is there... loads of it. One can get eight thousand dhirams, one lakh dhirams and two lakh dhirams... depending on the size of the launch. Then one goes to Somalia, they'll get fourthy-fifty lakh, sixty lakh and one crore dirams. Thats how much they'll get... the bosses. So why should they not go?
Radha: It's dangerous as well.
Salemama's friend: Yes.
Nida: So when did this start though? Going to Somalia?
Salemama's friend: It's started already.
Nida: No no no. They would not go to Somalia before, would they?
Salemama's friend: No they didn't before. There was no engine then. They had sails. At that time there were no aeroplanes either.
From here the journey would take two to three months. They would dock at the port. In the morning they would leave. Now, the engine and the GPRS is available.
Nida: Since when? When did the use of the engine and the GPRS start here?
Salemama's friend: That was long back. I was not even born then.
Salemama's friend talks of his grandfather who passed away. He says his grandfather had a vessel with sails. His brother who arrives at that point is asked to come in and speak to us about his experiences at sea and then, the places he sailed to. At the same time, Salemama seems to be advising him in Kutchi to stay away from trouble with someone called Shiv Shambhu because he is a family man.
His brother tells us about the restrictions on livestock.
"The Somali economy has been largely based on the rearing of livestock. The export of livestock from Somalia to Sharjah traces trade links that the Gulf countries have had with the Somali region since colonial times. In Europe's scramble for Africa, the British made Somaliland a protectorate and built the Berbera port to ship goats and sheep across the Gulf of Aden to feed their garrisons in Yemen. Export of Berberawi, as the black-headed goats are called in the Middle East, continued unabated till very recently, and the UAE's meat consumption relied mostly on imports of Somali livestock that used to peak during Haj and Eid. In 1998 and 2000, following an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, most Gulf countries banned the import of livestock from Somalia (and other countries of the Horn of Africa), which adversely affected the economy of the region, as boats returned empty."- Wharfage, March 2009.
Salemama's friend: My grand-father had a launch with sails. Used to move with the wind.
Radha: You grandfather also... work on the launch?
Salemama's friend: No he passed away.
Radha: But when you were a kid, he was alive. Did he get gifts when he came back?
Salemama: (In Kacchi) Come come quickle!
Salemama's friend: Yes. Lots of it. Chewing gum and chocolates for kids. This is my big brother.
Salemama's friend: I didn't see my grandfather. But my father used to tell me about him. Your grandfather used to this and that.
Salemama's friend: His father used to have a launch with sails on it. There was no engine then. His father was a captain... used to do labour work.
Salemama: You remember, Shiv Shambhu and what orders he had got. He said that he doesn't care about people and will throw bombs and nail them up. But why do you want to ruin your life? You have a wife and kids. You are a family man.
Salemama's friend: He went... he went to Oman, Kismayu and Africa.
Nida: Really. How did you like it?
Brother: On the launch. It was good. We didn't go in. Only at the jetty.
Nida: For how many days were you there?
Brother: For fifteen days. Oman and Kismayu.
Nida: So what did you transport from there?
Brother: Coal. Took it to Dubai. Also got sheep to Dubai.
Nida: But trading sheep has stopped.
Brother: It's banned in Dubai. But 'Salala', 'Jabodi' and
Oman. In these place it is allowed.
Nida: Initially one didn't have to go to Somalia so often. Now you do. More money is being made there. The demand has also increased. Why do you think this has happened?
Brother: We'll go wherever we'll get money.
Salemama's friend: This launch will be comlpletely loaded with the goods and then he'll get his wage.
Salemama: Will you go to Siddique's place?
Nida: We'll be going to Junis's place.
Salemama's friend: His father-in-law cuts wood? In front of the mosque.
Nida. Yes. In their home. How long will it take from here?
Salemama: From here?
Salemama: Fifteen minutes.
Salemama takes us on a tour of a dhow that is half-way finished. He explains how various parts of how the dhow function.
Salemama: This is the engine. If the anchor is submerged, with the help of this it will be pulled back out. What happens is that if the anchor is put into the water and the launch needs set course, a rope is tied to it, the engine is started and the rope is yanked.
Radha: Okay. How deep does the anchor go usually?
Salemama: The anchor? That depends on the depth of the water. Sometimes it's twenty to thirty feet deep.
Radha: And this is all the rope that is for the anchor?
Salemama: Yes. This is the rope for the anchor.
Salemama: Whenever the launch is to set out or the anchor is to be lifted, this is what is used. Even two people can take it out. This engine is started... the rope of the anchor is placed on it. There is a lever here which, on being pushed back rotates these cylinders. It beings to reel in the rope and begins pulling in as much rope as possible. There will be a person standing behind here, pulling on the rope like this. The anchor will be lifted.
If this doesn't work for some reason because it's stuck, old or ruined (unclear). A man will keep pulling from here. And this lanuch will begin to move forward. However long the rope is launch will keep moving ahead. Once the rope gets over, the engine is started and the launch will set out.
Salemama: Can you see this? The finishing has to be done on it. Later finishing will be done on this as well. First the launch will be taken out to the jetty.
Radha: First the finishing is done and then...?
Salemama: No. The finishing will be done there. First they will first take it out onto the jetty. A lot of the work is still left. Come and have a look ahead.
In conversation with Ibrahim (the owner of the dhow being built), we learn his point of view on the trade in Somalia.
We met Ibrahim, a successful boat owner from Salaya, through Salemama, who was managing the making of one of his boats. Initially, we had asked Salemama if we could take a ride out into the sea, and it was Ibrahim, because of his position, who could afford us this hospitality and was able to make this happen. He was nonchalant about being spotted with these strangers from elsewhere, which spoke of his status.
Nida: How many more dhows do you own?
Ibrahim: One, two and three.
Nida: Where do the head most of the time?
Nida: This is what we want to understand, fifty years back they were small in size.
Nida: And they would sail to Africa often but not much to Somalia?
Ibrahim: Seldom. They would travel to Oman a lot.
Nida: How did the frequency of business to Somalia increase? The trade that happens now is mostly with Somalia. And evey year this has been increasing. Why has it increased? With regard to the conversation that you have been having with the traders there what is your understanging of what is happening in Somalia?
Ibrahim: There are just three ports in Somalia. Bosaso, Berbera and Mogadishu. The population there is big. So mostly food and goods as such go there.
Nida: But in Sharjah we saw cars also being exported.
Ibrahim: Yes the old cars go there. New cars will not go.
Nida: No no no, not new cars. Why is the demand for the old cars increasing? Assume India wants to import old cars, then hundred percent tax will be imposed. But old car can be exported to Somalia.
Ibrahim: The system there is different. Due to the duty imposed here we cannot import cars. They probably have it dutyfree or less for that matter. You know about their currency.
Ibrahim: The currency they have is the lowest in value.
Nida: But Berbera is different isn't it?
Ibrahim: Yes, Berbera is different. But their currency is very low. It has no great value... Somalia's currency. Because of that the duty imposed on them must be low.
Nida: So you are saying... do most of the goods go from Sharjah or are there anyother ports?
Ibrahim: No. From Sharjah and Dubai... both.
Nida: But we felt that...
Ibrahim: Rice goes from Karachi.
Nida: The reason we made this was because we found it interesting that goods are kept there at the port. All the goods are collected and left there.
Ibrahim: There will be wood, barrels, oil, diesel...
Nida: All the goods that go from there we...
Ibrahim: You noted it down completely.
Nida: Yes, we noted it, because that is what we found interesting. That all these old doors, hospital goods, everything possible goes there.
Ibrahim: Yes. There is a lot of poverty there.
Ibrahim: There is a lot of poverty there and they have no other business. Here we have rice, wheat and many more industries. There is no such thing there. They have two things. One is charcoal and the other is sheep. Aside from that, they have nothing there. And even if they have, they don't do anything about it. Like say these people have gold in one location. They have valuable material like diamonds which can be extracted from big mountains. But these people have nothing with it. So what they do mostly is that they use old goods. If there is a hospital and a complete shop is to be built, then they will not be able to afford the new stock. Due to poverty. And if they want to purchase a dhow... it is is too expensive for them. There are smaller dhows though. And now the danger has increased as well.
Nida: Yes. But with the increase of the danger, trade is also flourishing.
Ibrahim: No, the number of dhows have increased. Not the trade. In fact this year it's very little.
Nida: Really. Why?
Ibrahim: God knows. We don't know why. We'll have to see what happens ahead. This year it's reduced a lot.
(Salamama continues explaining the process in which dhows are built.)
Salemama: When the water becomes less. The diesel tank will be placed below. The tube of the tyre to a big car called 'Trailer' is also kept there. Even old barrels are used. When the water reduces, all this raises the launch a bit. Later they tie the ropes and it is pulled out. This engine also does the work. (unclear) It is started and that also helps taking the launch out.
Radha: And you also give money to smaller boats?
Salemama: Yes. Smaller boats are given money. Some take 10,000 to 15,000 rupees. If the launch is very big or belongs to a company, they pay more. They give 20,000 rupees and sometimes they even give diesel... one-two barrels of diesel. Even that does the job.
Radha: What do the smaller boats do?
Salemama: Those smaller boats, well... when water fills up, and the launch is brought to the ground level, what they do is... there will be fifteen to twenty men on the launch to take it out. Two men stay on the smaller boats and the rest of them on this launch will give them a rope (inaudible)... and the engine is started. That will pull the launch into the jetty.
Salemama tells us how the dhows are removed from the ditch and taken to the jetty.
Salemama: (Inaudible)...fill the sacks with sand. They keep the sacks below the launch. It's been fifteen days since this launch has been bought to ground level.
Radha: How did they do it?
Salemama: What they do is... first they fill sand... in those sacks that come for rice and cement? They fill it with sand. It is put next to the 'pathan'. 'Pathan' is that long wooded beam that is right at the bottom. They will put the sacks below the 'pathan'. After the sack is put the beam is removed. The sack is put next to all the logs that are supporting the launch from beneath. And all the logs are removed. They will make a complete padding, even on either sides with the sacks. When they remove all the logs, the launch will rest on the sacks. In order to bring the launch down to the ground, they will cut open the sacks and the sand will fall out. The launch will slowly, slowly come down. We have to crawl towards the 'pathan' and saw it off. Once it's completely sawed off, the launch will be ready to be taken out into the jetty. So in this process, it's really the sand that does all the work. They fill the sacks with sand and bring the launch down.
Salemama: This is called 'dhar'. So when they fill water, the wood swells up and the gaps close. It gets completely jammed. It is important to keep this in water for a whole month. The more it fits into each other the better it is. Once that happens even a hair will not be able to fall in between. Later that water is removed. Then when they load the launch, water is filled in again. What happens is that due to the intensity of the heat, those areas that don't get enough water, their gaps open up. So water is filled one more time during loading for these gaps to close. They open up due to the heat. They take this fish oil. It's called 'Shipha'and smells a lot. That is used so that the gaps inbetween the logs don't open up. The panels fuse into eachother. That is why they do it.
Radha: That is why they do what?
Salemama: That is why it's important to fill it with water. Once this is done for a month they take it out. After that no matter how much you load the launch with cargo it will remain completely water proof. Some amount of water will seep into the area where the engine is. That is where the propellers are. There some little water will come in. But it is important for that to happen because it cools the propellers. You can shut it as well but the the thing is that those propellers are bound to breakdown anywhere at sea if it is not given that little amount of water.
The wooden planks get soaked and sprinkled with water so they can swell up and fill the gaps between them. Soaking cotton in whale oil brought from Yemen, they hammer strings of cotton and jam it into the grooves between planks, thus waterproofing the surface of the dhow.
Radha: So when this is newly made then...
Salemama: Yes. Water is put in. There is this machine called 'Phitriya' (Sprinkler). It's lying there. They keep that there, connect it with a pipeline, start it up and it sprinkles water all over the insides of the launch.
Bundar Road: This is the main road that runs through the town of Salaya and leads to the pier.
When we met Siddique on the first day, I could see he was nervous, and he was kind of ill at ease about being seen going around with two young, outsider girls. He asked if we would mind walking down the main Bundar Road to the jetty, whether we could handle it, or if it was going to be too long and the sun too hot, and then even though we suggested we'd prefer to walk and see things, he decided, though he didn't say this so explicitly and hinted at it only later, that it was safer for him to be hidden in the anonymity of a rickshaw ride. And so we got into a 6-seater and set off.
Then, tea at his wife's sister's place, who he called mausi, which was on the banks of the other side of the Bundar and it was government land the lady was occupying. She had levelled it with the sea, and made it hers by filling it up with cement, not by filling any papers. She'd been there for some 25 years, with a young and beautiful daughter-in-law. Her son had left just the day before to fish. She had a chicken coup, and Siddique said she had the strength of four people in her, but had hurt her leg because of carrying a bit too much weight.
In the days following the first, Siddique would always meet us after sun down, even if he would see us at the port while working on Sabir Priya, which stood looking so grand along the other bank, he wouldn't wave out to us, but would call us only later. And while he would always ask after us, whether we'd eaten, managed with meals, those next days he'd meet us only very briefly. Usually, he would come to see us off and we would talk along this same stretch of Bundar Road, shielded somewhat safely by the shroud of night, as we waited for our ride back. In hindsight, his nervous nature comes across to us as prudence, since as far as we knew, the police were not knocking at his door then. They were, however, by the end of it, by the end of our trail.
Salemama: This is the smaller boat that is lying below.
Radha: One minute.
Radha: Those are the barrels.
Salemama: Yes. That is the propeller.
Nida: What time will you go tomorrow?
Ibrahim: Ten thirty. That's okay.
Nida: And return?
Ibrahim: Four or five...
Nida: Have you kept the name yet?
Ibrahim: No I haven't. What is your name?
Nida: Nida. N...I...D...A
Ibrahim: N...I...D...A. Your pen.
Salemama: 'Chalo' (Lets go.) come down.
At the docks, where dhows are being repaired.
On to the jetty which is small and busy, though 80 ships have already left and more than a handful are still to set sail. A lot of those boats that had taken off, had gone to Tuna to pick up bakri (goats) before going Dubai-ward. What we saw around the bundar were men balancing on wooden planks that were hanging by ropes along the side of the dhows, finishing off a last coat of paint and the last round of repairs. This cheap paint is bought in bulk from Yemen and this cut in costs is suspected to have generated the uniformity with which these dhows are painted.
Ibrahim: You go from there?
Ibrahim: I know.
Crew member: At the Bundar.
2008 Mumbai attack
War on Terror
After spending a few hours looking around Ibrahim's dhow that was under construction, we waited for half an hour in the nearby shed for his car to come, to drive us to the jetty that was a three minute walk away. We were to take his speed boat out into the waterway leading to the sea, and spend time on Sagar Samrat, his other dhow, that was waiting to set sail. He was very generous in that sense, and basically spent all afternoon showing us around the bundar, and humouring our curiosity about the facts and fictions of dhow making and sea trade.
At the end of that evening, when Ibrahim drove us in his Ford back to Jam Khambaliya, we asked about how he had made his fortune, and the response we was fragments of how it had all worked out. Ibrahim seemed to believe in some admixture of hard work, luck and faith in god. He had started off as any other young sailor from Salaya, with no dhows to his name. At some point he suffered a huge loss, but picked up the pieces and in a short duration managed to turn things to his advantage. He gave the sense that somehow if anyone had the ambition, the business-mindedness and the networking skills then the world was his to have. Sailing to all these far-off places wasn't only learning the ways of the sea, but also meeting people and making contacts, something that he had managed to maximise on, in making his way up. That one boat then became two, and was now turning into three, was somehow then history. While he himself had not had much of a school education, he had sent his son to boarding school in Panchgani, and he was now in college at Rizvi in Bandra, Mumbai. He claimed, admitting that he didn't look it, that he was 35 years old, but the math of that just didn't make sense.
The morning we left Jam Khambalia, the Superintendent who had happened to be on leave for those two days, was back in office, and seemingly sorry for having missed the 'tamasha' of our wanderings in and around the town. He called Ibrahim to inquire about the purpose of our visit. And Ibrahim, claiming that he had nothing to hide, sent him knocking on our hotel door, and the police came, hot on our trail, only to find that we had already checked out.
Nida: Do the dhows leave the port through this route.
Ibrahim: Yes this direction.
Nida: And from Mandvi? This way?
Nida: Not much transaction happens between Mandvi and Salaya?
Nida: No? Because we heard that Mandvi also has... (inaudiable)
Ibrahim: No, because Mandvi... (inaudiable) aside from Mandvi, there is Porbander, Mundra, Tuna. Easy...
Ibrahim: Do you want to go up? This is our own launch.
Nida: So when you leave from here you leave without cargo? You pick up the goods from Porbandar and head on?
Ibrahim: Yes. From Mundra...
Nida: From Bombay.
The day we met Siddique on the jetty, he pointed, first thing, to the dhow that had been kidnapped by the pirates, Shree Shiv Samboo. All the men had been saved, but now all the dhows will have to install some new internet-enabled GIS sounding/mapping facility so that their exact location can be known to maritime security and the owners, and to anyone who knows their ID number and wants to look up the dhow on the World Wide Web.
Furthermore, as a result of this and other events, new passports are being made in the name of safety - regular ones rather than the ones that are seaman style - especially after the terror attacks in Mumbai. Siddique claims that the dhow that took the terrorists to Mumbai was from Gujarat, though the owner and the crew, not just coincidentally, he seems to suggest, and well aware of subsequent political implications, were not Muslim. A fishing boat was taken over by terrorists in the waters, and this is how they entered the Gateway of India, sailing on this Indian vessel. So the national and international response, as it had tended to be, was to resort to the use of more security and surveillance technology, that now needs be placed on sea vessels, so that they can be located and identified at anytime and from anywhere.
Surveillance of the Sea:
Makes me think of a conversation I had with Shaimaa's ship company-owning uncle two years ago in Alexandria, when he had outlined a lot of the larger politics at play as he detailed all the practical and tragic consequences that the post 9/11 War on Terror regime had for seafarers.