A woman walks along the sand pulling a red thread behind her. She wears a purple sari printed with yellow daisies and pink trim. Her flip fops, ‘flip flop’ on the damp sand. The red line stretches back to the estuary where a man stands, patiently attached. The woman drops the line and walks back to him.
Behind me a sneeze. A girl of 8 or so is collecting drift wood, she uses the machete in her hand to turn over the sea’s wares for inspection. Nani (maternal grandmother) and little bhai (brother) follow her. He waves his hands and kicks the sand; dropping the sandal he is carrying, the other catches around his foot, and he stumbles. He is not helping. Nani with her shiny hair bends and picks up more fuel for her basket. She jangles as she moves.
The woman, the fisherman’s wife, returns into the frame in front of me, with more of the fishing line. She stops, takes up the slack and leans back. The fisherman pulls back; the tug o’war of mutuality. The red line stretches along the horizon and I, the voyeur, make slight shifts so that it becomes the distinction between the sea and sky.
The sound of a game of cricket fills the air. Yesterday, in Rajapuri, we cycled through a seaside match, that was split on two levels. The 6 boundary occupied the coastal road 10 metres higher than the rest of the pitch. We pedalled quickly past the smartly kitted out-fielders and stopped just past the chalked line to witness the game below. The whole town was out to watch, the women and children sat tightly under an ornate canopy shading them from the high sun. The tannoy narrated play over the anchored fishing boats, flying the saffron flags of Maharashtra. The sound of leather on willow carried to the small dhows ferrying sightseers back and forth to Murud Janjari Fort.
The island fort was built in the 17th Century by Malik Ambar an Abyssinian Minister who was born around 1550 in Harar, Ethiopia. After his arrival in India, Ambar achieved great power in the west Indian region of Ahmadnagar. The fort he built was a impenetrable Siddi strong-hold that remained unconquered despite Portuguese, British and Marathas attempts.
The dhows were crammed with people and we hadn’t the nerve to get on board. We watched from the shore, as school excursions learnt the history of the Konkan coast by taking to the seas on unsteady vessels. Africans came here, to this Indian shore, and created kingdoms. They came as soldiers in attacking Arab armies, as mercenaries, slaves, sailors and merchants. They came as midwives, herbalists and musicians.
The ancestors of Ethiopians and Bantu people from the Great Lakes Region are still here – sailing, fishing and working the land of the shores from Gujarat to Karnataka. Their dark skin and kinked hair testify to the truth that we – humans – have always moved, whether it be out of necessity, curiosity or by force. Hidden within each of us is the navigable history of our ancestors and by learning to read that mapped heritage, by unravelling the red lines of lineage, we can take a step back into our stateless selves. We can collectively free ourselves from the labyrinth of separation, a myth drilled into us as unwilded children on nations.
The cry of the crows settling to roost in the grove of wispy suru (Casuarina) trees, bring me back to the shore of Divegar. A shoal of humans has entered the beach scene and I watch their movements, I want to capture the natural choreography of what I see. A circling mass that breaks, advances in millipede formation, before regrouping to shoal. I am mesmerized by their legs, moving in unison. Someone is in charge, a conductor. The sand has turned pinky-red beneath their dark silhouette; they reach the edge of the receded water and create a line.
Bhai is still not being useful. Sensing my gaze he picks up the machete that Didi (older sister) has temporarily put down so that she can arrange Nani’s basket of wood. He makes a half-hearted attempt to cut a stick, but he is doing it all wrong and Didi is quick to reprimand him. Bhai leaves his efforts unphased and wanders off, absent mindedly kicking the sand. Didi carefully adds the wood she has gleaned to Nani’s, she has a small slim red thread tied around her wrist. A kalava tied during a prayer ceremony to balance the gunas (literally means strand or fiber) or qualities of nature – rajas (passion), tamas (darkness or destruction) and satra (purity). She picks up the basket and they move on, scanning the water line for wood, discarding the plastic detritus. Treasure is hard found in modernity.
The fisherman’s wife walks backwards pulling with all her weight on the red line; the fisherman is very far away yet she trusts him and the line. The Chinese have a legend that the Gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. Destined lovers, regardless of place, time or circumstance are forever connected by the red thread of fate.
It is mid January 2017 and Ioan and I are 8 months into our cycling odyssey, we have known each other little over a year. Our red thread stretched from Scorton to Bucharest got tangled and knotted many ties but never snapped. This is the ‘final push’ – cycling 700km from Pune to Goa along the Konkan coast. Again I chose the road, thinking that perhaps a coastal route might be a gentle promenade with sea swims and sunbathing. Instead we find ourselves on a rollercoaster road that takes us from the Deccan Plateau, over the Western Ghats onto scorching hot fields of pumice that plunge down into lush, humid ravines to cross wide-mouthed river estuaries on ferries, only to climb back up through chucks of solidified lava to the relentless sun above. It was hard, what part of this journey hasn’t been, but we were refreshed after a cycle-free month in the Siranwa hills and an indulgent New Years treat at a 5 star hotel in Pune. We had six weeks left to let India soak into us, to wrap her red threads of balance and wisdom around us. Six weeks to find other souls to which the gods have connected us.