Tag Archives: rural cultures

Life in a Round Boat

My first guest contributor is my colleague and friend from EMS, John Davison.

In the southern tip of India, in a land called Kerala, a vast network of waterways flows through the richest farmland on earth. Every year for millennia two monsoons have come to this very fortunate place, not just one as in most tropical lands. This bountiful rainfall has enabled the backwaters of Kerala to produce two robust annual harvests. This unimaginable fertility was legendary eons before the Romans traveled long and hard to trade with this verdant place. All this bounty is taken to the wanting outside world by boat and barge for there are no roads here. There never have been. In every way, water has always set the pace of life here. It was in this grand rural Venice that I was witness to yet another lesson from mother India. One that again would make apparent to me another time, another place, another way far different from my own.

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As is typical of someone whose assumptions are in the process of falling away, it took me a while to really see what was in front of me . . .

At sun rise pairs of men, women and children in shallow, round wicker vessels much like large bread baskets – float past the window of my boat in silence. Even though they were just a few feet away, I wouldn’t have noticed them if I hadn’t happened to look up from my notebook. They made no sound. Slowly they drifted by, as they gently pulled up fine, delicate fishing nets that had been laying beneath my boat the entire night, trapping a few, flat fish that happened to swim by in the darkness. The fishermen had no paddles, oars and certainly not a motor of any sort. There was complete calm as they slowly drifted by and spun around and around on the surface of the water. The warm, still silence was complete.

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At first it all seemed so directionless and unguided, spinning and turning any which way in powerless circular boats that had no front or back, no left or right. But when I watched them, really watched them, I could see that they used the current, the breeze and the slow pull of the nets to guide them along. At any moment they may face east, west, north or south, but the direction they were facing ultimately didn’t matter. They were moving. They were collecting fish. They were together. And during all the slow spinning and turning no words were spoken between them. The experience of generations united them with exceptional skill. Why speak? What needed to be said? Confidence in themselves and each other was profound and absolute. As was their knowledge that these prolific backwaters would certainly give them what they needed and could only take them to where they were going. Once you trust yourself, your friends, your place why struggle to always face forward – the auspicious path just may lay in some other direction.

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