Jam Salaya: The Town
Director: Radhamohini Prasad, Nida Ghouse
Duration: 00:24:42; Aspect Ratio: 1.250:1; Hue: 50.986; Saturation: 0.106; Lightness: 0.465; Volume: 0.198; Cuts per Minute: 19.665; Words per Minute: 10.035
Jam Salaya, one of the dhow building port towns on the Gulf of Kutch, has 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 in Jam Salaya 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 and was part of the 2009 Sharjah Biennial, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. (To download the book, go to http://www.camputer.org/event.php?this=wharfage
The video begins with the ride from Jam Nagar to Jam Khambalia and then, on to Jam Salaya. We see images of the town and dhow construction sites. The annotations that accompany this video footage are excerpts from Nida's travel diary.
Due to the nature of their visit, Nida and Radha found themselves having to completely submit to their hosts' desires of showing them around specific areas of the town. These videos, therefore, became a collection of images of places their hosts wanted them to see and know about.
En route to Jam Khambalia from Jam Nagar.
Vasrambhai: Work was going on. But they stopped the work. All the labourers left.
Nida: What did they say?
Vasrambhai: They both have the same business. They both have refineries. Wherever ESSAR has opened a petrol pump so has Reliance. ESSAR will be located on one side and Reliance on the other.
Person Driving: ESSAR was the only company at par with Reliance.
Vasrambhai: Reliance is the other refinery. It is the biggest refinery. ESSAR is also big. And they are in close proximity to each other.
Nida: But at that time Reliance had not started work yet?
Vasrambhai: No they hadn't. First this was built and then after two years Reliance started building.
Person Driving: When this factory was set up, it was the first to start work. You know? Realising this, Dhirubhai started work as well. His became ambitious. Dhilrubhai got ESSAR to shut down their work. So that when this stops functioning his company will move forward.
Person Driving: After Dhirubhai died this company started work again.
September 6, 2009:
On our way to Jam Kambalia, 70 kilometres away from Jam Nagar. After a healthy exchange of niceties which started in the car ride from the Jam Nagar train station and extended over a breakfast of idli,sweet sambar, samosa and milky tea. The conversation got local context as we crossed markers of the Modi-supported industrialisation of Gujarat, in the name of the ESSAR and Reliance oil refineries and factories.
The first site which came up on our left was ESSAR's residential colony: housing estates for company employees (engineers and officers) in typical picture perfect cookie cutter villa and condominium style. For a moment there was confusion about whether this was housing for workers/labourers, but it was soon clarified that it wasn't. It was there as well, but not like this; it was separate, different.
The factory land owned by ESSAR is 8km x 8km and that owned by Reliance, 10km x 10km. And as we sped past the barbed wire walls of the Reliance factory land, we learnt that this was, in fact, once farm land, growing cotton and 'apoos' (mangoes). (Reliance continues to grow some of the latter.) The farmers had been paid off by the company and were given as much money as they could ask for. Some, it seems, got up to Rs 2 crores. And where did they go? What happened to them we asked? And the reply from our two (truly) lovely die-hard 'Gujarat ke citizens', who had showed nothing but gusto for everything that happened in the name of their state, except of course for Salaya which was Mohammedian, and full of 'jhopadpatis' (slums), where we'd find no reason to spend more than a day, was this: What is going to happen when you give a poor man two crores? He's not going to know how to bring it to any good use. He's going to go a bit berzerk. 'Uska dimaag to ghoom hi jata hai' (He will go crazy), and he's going to 'udao' (spend) all the 'paisa' (money), spend it all in 'ghoomne aur peene mein' (drinking and a good time), and then what? None of them have any of it left, one of them said, they're all starving and scattered. And in that moment he tipped over from admiration to sharpness for a man like Dhirubhai Ambani, to say this is what big companies do to poor farmers.
The grand gate of the Reliance plant with its super security system passed us by on the left. Soon after Reliance Greens, its employee housing estates, full with super markets and shopping malls, came up on the right. And then, at one point, the road leading to the Reliance jetty. Later on a farmers' market with cheaper vegetables that they all ditch the fancy facilities for. More dirt is spilled a little bit later, when in passing the ESSAR plant with a full view of bright red and steel grey chimneys rising up into the sky, they tell us how while this refinery was built much before Reliance's was, it only started functioning after Dhirubhai Ambani's death. He had his in with the state ministers, and though he came on to this particular scene later, got the idea from ESSAR. He didn't want ESSAR to get ahead of Reliance, for which reason he managed to intervene and stall their progress by having the state clamp down on their establishment. All activity was halted even before it had got going. This is of course nothing but typical of the man's business ethics so perhaps we needn't be so surprised.
Gujarat pride: Best food, best ghee, no place like home. Even though no one is educated in Gujarat, we are told, they all manage to run businesses by sheer 'mehnat ka kaam' (hard work). Dhirubhai Ambani was after all, also Gujarati born in some place near Surat. Before all this 'Modification', there was nothing here, not even a road, so this has all come up and reconfigured the relationship to the land. Radha was surprised when she spoke to her uncle in Jamnagar who too could map where we were in kilometres from the refineries.
People working in the refineries though were not from Gujarat. Most of them were from outside, and therefore it might be silly to expect that this development be something whose benefits extend to a place like Salaya, whose people speak Kutchhi and don't share the same affiliations and sense of belonging to the state.
V.M. Tank (a.k.a Vasrambhai) has a marble and granite business and gets his raw material from Rajasthan, since there is no marble in the state. He polishes and finishes it, and sells locally. He pointed to his godown which was across the field, beyond the 'naryal ke ped' (coconut trees), from the common balcony of our Hotel Aarti. He, much like Dhirubhai Ambani, barely had an education, but he managed.
The sweet sturdy guy who drove told us we were guests and therefore 'bhagwan' (god). 'Yehaan mehman ko bhagwan mante hain' (Here guests are considered gods). We don't know exactly what else he did. Speaking of 'bhagwan', the unavoidable and much apprehended conversation about 'dharm' (religion) did eventually occur, (and perhaps I'm only thankful that it happened quite late) when we were asked if we were Hindus. When we appeared absolutely oblivious to the presence of such things like statues and scriptures in our life, it was all described in case we thought we could escape the point. 'You must go to a temple, pooja ke liye (for worship), mustn't you?', and 'You're not Muslim, right? As in those people who believe in Allah and pray (with the action of sajda) namaaz'. There was no overt disdain perhaps, but just a definitive 'us' and 'them'. And though I mentioned right away 'Yes, guilty, Muslim', they decided they didn't hear. Then, Radha took front seat on this one and explained quite comically how her family is entirely mixed up, and she doesn't have 'vishwas' (belief) in god or anything else. Caste wasn't brushed under the carpet either, but I can't care to recall the tediousness with which this was delineated.
Siddique Umar Sanghar
Who said you're stupid if you fight for the window seat on a bike? Clearly, those joke writers never travelled in a Bullet-cum-rickshaw. Some old jokes need revision. Or a fresh infusion of 'jugaad'.
Driver: Come on! Get off. Get off the seat.
Passenger: Is it empty?
Driver: Yes it is empty.
Driver: Salaya! Salaya!
Driver: Yes take the change. How much do you want?
On our first day in Jam Khambalia we headed off to Jam Salaya to meet Siddique Umar Sanghar, captain of Sabir Priya, who I first met in Sharjah and who, while sailing around the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa this past season, has kept in touch.
We took a Bullet-cum-rickshaw from Jam Khambalia to Jam Salaya, with which Radha was most fascinated. It soon became a joke between Siddique and her that she would stay on in Salaya, get one of these things, and ride people up and down, to which he'd add that if a young woman runs a shop, she attracts a lot more business than if an old man were to. Therefore, her vehicle would do well here. The pick up stop for these rickshaws in Khambalia was right opposite our Hotel Aarti, where they would line up, from the early hours of dawn to late at night.
Siddique would mention to Radha on the last day, in the case that she was seriously considering, that this wasn't actually an easy job, and had much more to it than the pleasure of riding a Bullet on a road through green fields. The day goes by waiting in lines for the rickshaws, and then, you're waiting for yours to fill up. By then, you miss your meals and barely break even.
A used Bullet-cum-rickshaw costs 30,000, to 50,000 rupees. A new one is about a lakh. And we'd pay 7 rupees for a ride one way. 8 people at the minimum pile up into the back for the thing to get moving, a couple more on the ledge, sometimes a few by the driver's side.
That first afternoon of our arrival, after a while of waiting for movement, and after finally filling up, the bullet fired away across 13 km of the countryside and onward to Salaya. A middle aged woman with the craziest buck teeth ever and a heavily spotted face, gave off this jovial madwoman vibe, and instantly asked us why we were here. As we told her, another younger pretty woman with her child, originally from Kalyan, followed suit, 'But where are you from? Where are you staying? Do you speak Kutchi? People might insult you if you don't.' She explained all this in Hindi -- how we'd have a hard time, how we'd need to know Gujarati at least, if not Kutchhi, how people would give us 'gaalis' (insults) otherwise. It came in sweetness and coupled with acts of extending excessive hospitality. Stay with me; or no, stay with me, both women bantered. They probably meant as paying guests we later figured. 'And if you don't find Siddique waiting for you', the younger woman offered, 'he lives next to ours, come with me, I'll take you to him.' Almost everyone, except Siddique's wife, Sakhina, spoke to us in Hindi, so that wasn't much of a problem. As for the insults, none to our face at least. But we did learn later, while talking to that one old man, that there was a bit of banter being passed around about these-women-in-this-place.
Later in the week, on our third last night, we met the middle aged woman, on the bus back, on her way to the hospital in Khambalia where her mother lay sick. She told us all sorts of stories of how women who come to entertain the boat owner men in Salaya leave the next morning with a lot of money in their pocket, and therefore was encouraging us by saying "in logo ko to loot lena chahiye" (these people should be robbed), "sab paisa wale hai" (they're people with lots of money), "Salaya ko to isi leye Sonapur kehlaya jata hai", (probably also a reference to the days in the late fifties of smuggling in gold via Dubai), and she kept using a word I cant remember, I think it was badmaash, "vo sab badmaash hai, yahaan sabhi badmaash hai" (they are all notorious people). And the way in which she said it we found terribly funny, as her eyes would grow bigger than her buck teeth and gleam with the glee of someone wanting to/plotting to/believing we actually had a chance to scam and bring down the local bourgeoisie.
All India Federation of Dhows
Fish Market Road
Jam Ranjit Singh
Mercentile Marine Department
Bundar Road ran like a spine through Salaya starting at the rickshaw and bus stop where the town begins, and ending at the jetty where dhows take off. The 'Macchi Bazaar' or the Fish Market Road came up on our right. This market is open every morning and later, we learnt, that it is a ladies only zone. Still later, we saw the precincts of a fort wall, hidden now in a newer landscape.
Just off Bunder Road, one of the main left turns leads to Custom Road, which runs adjacent to the new school and opposite what used to be the school in Siddique's childhood days. At some point along the way, this road turned residential. It is also where the Custom Office stands. Given that one of the main elements of Wharfage, in its first iteration at the Sharjah Biennial entailed an encounter and obsession with official records of dhow trade, it felt almost imperative that we walk in there to see if we could get a sense of what they had in store. Unlike our conversations with the port officials in Sharjah, which were initiated with blessings from the Sheikh, here we walked in and sat down unannounced.
On the 7th of September 2009, Vishaal and Naveen, father and son, sitting behind their desks, confused about what might have brought us in here, entertained us, but only with answers to a couple of basic questions:
Goats leave on dhows via from the following ports in India: Tuna (Mundra), Bombay, Calicut, Mangalore. They do go to Sharjah, among other places. As of a month ago, goats were going from Somalia as well, directly to Humriaya.
In 1997 a cyclone had hit the town and a flood had washed away all the documents in the Custom Office's possession.
To make a new dhow, the owners have to pay rent to the port authorities in Salaya: 35 x 42 = Rs 7200 + a deposit (Rs 7200/6 months). Once made, the dhow gets registered at the Mercentile Marine Department in Jamnagar.
The new passports that were now being issued to every sailor were because dhows are now so big in size that they have the same capacity as some steamers and so should have the same rules. But the All India Federation of Dhows in Bombay had asked for a stay order on the 8th of September 2009, that was the next day. They had fought for the stay order in the High court.
Back in the day, dates used to come from Basra directly to Salaya, and also to Porbunder. They continue to come to Porbunder but no longer do they come to Salaya. It's an old trade route that dates back maybe some 150 or 250 years. It was only when Karachi was lost as a port that departures from Salaya increased.
It was Jam Ranjit Singh who built the fort whose walls we had seen in the village. Before that Jam Sataji had come from Kutch to protect the place.
A day or so later, having heard about our arrival, the guy in charge came out of the Customs Office to find us hanging out on the side of the street. He got Naveen to invite us in to a cluster they had formed around the bonnet of some car and offered us a chance to provide our defense with regards to our inquisition. When we told him all about Wharfage and produced a copy of the book, he seemed a bit defensive and said, 'But this could never happen here. We could never give you our records. India is a nation-state, and not a kingdom, there is no sheikh here to hand out such favours'. The sense was that, we understand you are 'serious', if you were a journalist we'd drive you out of here, but you're not, so we'll cooperate with you, but in so far as records, please don't even try'. Flipping through the book, he asked if he could keep a copy, and insisted that we sign it, and address it to the Customs Office of Salaya. It just so happened that he landed on a page, that was a scan of a manifest for a dhow made before its departure from Salaya, a document whose format and print type he was obviously familiar with, and so he stayed with it, and it was some strange kind of surprise with which he pointed at the signature and claimed, 'But this is my bosses signature. How could you get it?'
On one of our mornings, we waited in the rickshaw that took us to Salaya, discussing our plan for the day. A young Gujarati teacher, teaching at the primary school in Salaya, sat at the corner of the carrier listening to us intently. After a while, Jitendra turned to his two women colleague sitting opposite him and explained what he gathered from our conversation about the purpose of our visit to Salaya. Smiles exchanged and they were up for showing us around. We met up with the teachers later at the school. They took us to the terrace of the school (also on Custom's road) from where all Salaya and its jetty were visible. On our right lay the town and on the left, the beginning of the dhow building yards. We see a lot of really old houses, big stones, heavy wooden doors and gates with metal rings in the middle that lead to large enclosed courtyards meant to accommodate the stockpile of wood used for the building these dhows. The architecture speaks of another era, and points to a history we do not know. Later, we see the precincts of the fort wall, hidden now, in and out of a newer landscapes.
On one side of the main road are plots bought by people working in Dubai and sending money home. When asked why this separation, we were told that it just so happened that when the people working in Dubai had money to buy land, this was the land that was up for sale. So now when people like Siddique have got together enough money, they are buying plots in Maruti Nagar, which will come up in a few more years and will be like a kind of open colony. Most of the labour for the construction of their homes comes from outside Salaya. In Maruti Nagar is a barely visible chowk (crossroad) called Hussaine Chowk marked by a green flag in the centre.
People have also shut shop, sold their houses and other belongings, and left Salaya for various reasons like better jobs. Sometimes women get married to men from neighbouring towns and sometimes, as Siddique put it, men with birth defects or physical disabilities who do not get women in Salaya and have to bring their brides from Malegaon and Mangalore. Most girls and boys get engaged at the age of 15 or 16 and two years get married later.
Sailors are usually out at sea for ten months and stay home for the remaining two, while their dhows get renovated and refurbished. Siddique complains that the women are the only ones around during the elections and they do go to vote but don't know who or what they are voting for. To that he also added that the women are great cooks of fish and know exactly which fish is good for what season. There is also a female doctor residing in Salaya, who helps the women during pregnancy and childbirth.
Wood comes from Malaysia via Gandhidham. Three of the largest wooden beams make up the entire backbone of the dhow.
Siddique tells us till 40 years ago, or something, there weren't even engines on the boat, forget radio, they used to use the sail. Now they have engines and then they got radios, and now they have to install these newer things. Before the sailors used to send telegrams to their homes, saying they have reached and it would take long to come. Now they can call their wives every time they reach a port, if they are close they can even call everyday. If it's cheap for them, they call, if it's not they give a missd call and the wife gets an Airtell card for 10 or 20 rupees and calls. They send money via Western Union. Earlier Western Union used to come to the door. Now they have to go collect the money at the post office. Their husbands text them the number of the transaction and they collect it that way.
Siddique's money, however, comes straight home from his owner, and all his expenses on board while travelling, including phones and other things, are covered. His owner, who is also his uncle's son, is someone he's afraid of. But the owner is also building him his house (for which Siddique himself bought the land in Maruti Nagar, and he seems proud that in a couple of years it will all be built).
Siddique saw benefit in staying committed to one guy, but a lot of sailors keep hopping from one jahaaz (dhow) to another, seeing no faida (advantage) in one, only to realise there is no faida in that one either. Sometimes, you have to stick it out to make your way up, but maybe that also doesn't really always work.
100 rupees a day to work on the boat while it's docked, that's less than what a crew guy would make while at sea, which is to say he'd make less than 3,000 rupees. As captain you make more. Back in the day, you'd make 40 rupees for the whole year.
Jitenndar: Over there... over there is a village called Vadinar. There is a big jetty there. You can see it from here. From here... You can see it like a torch... from here... that is the ESSAR company and Reliance.
Jitenndar: This is smoke. Like pollution. Yes factory pollution. It looks like a torch from here.
(Background conversation in Gujarati)
Later we asked Siddique about Somalia, the politics of place and trade over there. He used the rickshaw ride he took us on as an analogy to explain how he thought things worked. He said of the rickshaw driver, who took us to all corners of the town, waited on us while we walked around the port and talked or stepped in at relatives' houses for a cup of tea, or got off at other places like the rain water harvesting area we wanted to see, that the driver did not make it his business to ask any questions about who we were and what Siddique was doing with us. His only matlab was that he was hired and would be paid at the end of it. It was not in his interest to enquire about more than that. In that same way, en route to Somalia via Sharjah, these Salaya sailors, docked on the port, prefer, or at least, as in this instance of conversation, claim an oblivion of what goes on in the depths of the mainland beyond those Somali shores. Living those days of unloading and loading on the dhow, their heterotropic positioning is perhaps what grants them the choice of this cover.
Smaller fishing boats. These boats help to drag out larger boats from their ditches after being completed.
Some of the men who don't go on the larger dhows take shorter trips, sometimes from five weeks to eight weeks, fishing and selling, both in the local market and the export market. We met a man on our bus ride back to Jam Khambhalia who is involved with the export of blue crabs. Young boys usually start their experience at sea by joining fishing crews and then graduating to larger dhows. But they also go fishing seasonally depending on whether or not they're sailing.
Profit and Loss
When I ask whether more ships must mean business is doing well, people are making profit, Siddique said with great profit comes great/equal risk of loss/nuksan, pointing to a dhow that had been burnt to the ground, adding that ships sink, goods drown. And though by this point in the conversation we would have already left the bunder, and stopped for tea at mausi's place, and crossed over to the the other side where most of the building activity was on, in the convenience of this reconstructed narrative, it is around then that we are just getting off the rickshaw and onto the port and he points to the pirated dhow, engulfed in a dense stench rising from a mound of rotting fish that had been on its way to Africa and lay abandoned on the ground.
Through the last sailing season, five ships (not sure if they're from Salaya) sank, but no one died. Siddique would later reveal having lost a man or more to sea. In all this talk of nuskan, there are, I feel, hidden references, or not references, but sentiments, that link to his own reality, layers of which slowly, reveal themselves through the evening and the week. We had passed his Dadaji's house on Bundar Road, a huge mansion, with pastel painted gates and he pointed out the name, something Daoud written in gold, adding that they, himself and his mother, aren't with them anymore, and then later that 25 years ago they used to have a ship, but no more. How his father had divorced his mother when he was still quite young, and had married another, and how he had stayed two years with him, but then once he started earning moved over to his mother's side of the equation. In giving her a talaaq his father had bought her a house, but how eventually its roof had caved in and then what were they going to do? Couldn't put the damage down to alimony surely, but also the house has suffered the same floods that had hit the Custom Office records and the Birth Certificates as well. Fortunes, it seems, changed just as often as the tide. Stories of profit and nuksan came hand-in-hand, hung in the air.
The oldest vegetable market square in Salaya. It is different from the fish market near Bundar Road.
This water is used for washing on the cement strip, which actors as a divider between harvested water on one side and the sea on the other. To the right of us lies a crematorium. An elevated structure with a blue roof where pooja is done. There also is a religious platform facing the sea where we were told people pray their eid ki namaaz. Besides this, there is an area where the larger logs of wood were kept. Not very far off stands the police station, facing the dilapidated fort wall. It has only lock ups, no jail, and police come from Jam Khambhalia for frequent checks and inspection.
Eid ki Namaaz
Rain water harvesting
On our first day, Siddique was waiting for us, on that initial stretch of Bundar Road, where the rickshaw stand is, a few steps after where the 'bus stop' also is. 'Bus stop', in inverted commas, because there are no physical signs to announce its precise positioning except for the people we would see gather around the steps of an old abandoned house, every half hour after 8pm at night in order to catch their ride to Khambalia. Standing up from their places as the bus approached empty, its headlights leading the way out of the dimness of a side street. Nothing to indicate travel times, bus routes neither, and it made me wonder about the semiotics of such signs, and in this case, the absence of those semiotics, and maybe then the semiotics of such absence (not sure, still vague). And what does it point to, beside the far-off-ness/off-route-ness/ the all too easily deemed remoteness of a place like Salaya, (which is perhaps more connected as a geographical extension to elsewhere by way of the journeys made via its coast) that leaves basic information about public transport contained by/to locals, that seems automatically or inherently antagonistic, or maybe just merely indifferent, to the idea of strangers/passers by. I mean, there is nothing highly unusual about this with regards to small town India, or many other places, nor is this to point to any sort of impossibility of access and exit, as sure, it's not some sort of public secret, and you could always just ask.
The written-ness of road signs also leads me to mention Kutchi, which is then not text-based, but just a spoken dialect, and people always emphasised this point, especially in references to conversations about literacy in the area. And that makes me think of the importance of oral traditions, and whether it relates to the difficulty I'm facing in finding a text-based history of the place, but then also of the story that Barbara (Harrell-Bond) told us about her cook in Uganda, who would write local recipes down in a notebook, in some unwriteable tongue but using the Arabic script. And she then wrote a paper about that, about how across various parts of Africa, some or maybe a lot of local African languages and oral traditions survived despite the spread of Islam, but they also survived because of the spread of Islam, as people started to transliterate their local knowledge using Arabic script because of the Fusha' they were being made to learn in reading the Quran. If we have to make another book following Wharfage, and the question of what language it would be written in, if it was for the people in Salaya, the choices would be Gujarati or Hindi. But what would it mean to publish in a spoken language, Kutchi, which actually, even the school teachers, posted here for "service" from across Gujarat, most often don't understand?