Mangaluru: It was 5am Monday morning- I woke up for the set alarm, quickly took a shower, had a light breakfast and rushed to the Bunder Fish Port on my Swish-125 scooter. I always wanted do a article on this busy fishing port, and the time finally arrived- in the past I had made articles on the early morning Flower, and also vegetables business in town. I wonder why in spite of growing up in Kudla, it has taken me so many years to come here. Oh well, better late than never, as they say. Now I will take you the busiest early morning fishing port in Coastal City-Mangaluru, where thousands of people throng to bargain and get the best fish at very reasonable prices. When I say reasonable price, I mean, cheap price- when you are paying Rs 600 for fish at a local fish market, you can get the same for Rs 200-300 at this fish port.
We all know that Mangaluru is very famous for its seafood? But at the same time when you want to buy them it is very expensive at the fish markets. But a visit to this fishing port at Bunder, you’ll experience the arrival of the tasty fish, the delicious prawns, crabs, King fish (Anjal), Silver fish (Kane), Mackerel, Pomfret, Sardines etc .Morning visit to this port will be a perfect time to see the boats arrive and the fishermen unload their fishing.You can see and hear people bargain, sometimes arguing, the auctions are fascinating, it is a spectacle that shouldn’t be missed. You can get an insight into fishing life, different kinds of fishing, women working in that area and life of people.
I’m finally here at the Bunder Fish Port. I stand there for a moment watching the silhouettes of people and baskets in the first light of the morning. Sometimes, there is so much that one doesn’t know about within one’s own city. I start to walk deeper into the market. The environment is changing rapidly – more people molecules and less space molecules. I try to be here without being noticed, try to not be in anyone’s way, which is so difficult to do, because there are so many Kudla men and women walking about and moving fast. You can’t afford to be in the way of a fisher-woman who is going past with an empty basket or a filled basket. In both cases, she is in a hurry and if you so much as fall within her path, she will either push you aside and move ahead or will swear at you.
The paths are not even defined, so you are always right in the middle of a path that you didn’t know would happen. This could be the only time you wished you wouldn’t understand even a bit of Tulu or had never heard any of these swear words to know their meaning. If they are flung at you, they sound worse than they ever did before. You sense your body mechanisms preparing their second and their third line of defense at this point. And later, as you think about it, you realize that you only like the fisher-women for being themselves. That’s them and they don’t believe in packaging themselves in politeness.
An early morning visit to this Port is certainly not for the faint hearted. But if you can overcome the smell that hits you far before you even reach the main entrance, you will be impressed by the frenzied activity of the Kudla fishermen and women that lies beyond. Although the fishing boats return to the docks at 5am, some during the wee hours the activity continues all morning long. When I reached there I saw men already making repairs to their nets and busily trading fish in a covered area beside the sea. The main fish that you see in the big plastic tubs and crates are pomfret, mackerel, rawas (Indian salmon), kingfish , Mackerel, Sardines etc. It’s absolute mayhem as the fish are dragged from the boats to the side of the dock and carted around by porters on long handcarts as other men and women crowd around to negotiate their trades. You have to be very careful where you step – I slipped on a squid which had fallen off a basket- – thankfully I did not fall over into a fetid puddle .
The Kudla fisher-women – brightly dressed in traditional costume, clean, process, pack the fish before sending it off to other destinations. The women are an extremely grumpy bunch and don’t allow you to take their photos – aggressively putting up their hands when you try to interact with them. But somehow I managed to click a few photos of their smiling faces?? But men allowed me to take photos without any hesitations, so I gave up clicking pics of fisher-women. I can’t blame them really – they were after all breaking their backs at work while I was spying on them with my lenses.
The fish move through a series of people and locations, from small baskets that come off the boats to large baskets and plastic bags, from the fishermen who are still on their boats to the wholesalers who are stationed along both edges of the jetty. Along the centre of the jetty, there are roofed sheds and the space is primarily occupied by baskets that are waiting to be filled and taken into the city. Around this space and along the edges of the jetty is where the people movement is and where the bargains happen.
Perishability of the fish gives rise to another enterprise – the selling of ice. There are those who only sell ice to all the fisher-women. For a fair price , the fisher-women buy ice that come in basket. It is put into their baskets and they immediately buy either one or two measures of crushed ice to cover the fish with. Outside the market gate, there are small ice factories, where these vendors buy the crushed ice for selling inside the market. It is a supply chain design strategy that interlinks various stakeholders who must each maximize efficiency to reach their peak values.
In the traditional shopping environments, bargaining has been an important communication channel. If one were to write a story about the art of bargaining in India, the best examples would perhaps come from a fish market. The fisher-women are the masters of the art. If there are a hundred different ways to make a bargain, they are adept at all the hundred skillful nuances of the art. The words are sharp. The tone is sharp. It’s a completely no-nonsense interaction. On both sides of the bargaining divide, there is a fisher-woman. It’s like watching a sport, to see who will win and to silently rejoice in their victory and to move on to experience more.
If you happen to visit this dock, I recommend that you wear closed shoes with a good grip as there is a lot of fishy water on the ground (and the usual Mangaluru detritus). Silhouettes of people rushing past. Fisher-women who inevitably turn abusive if you get in their way. Baskets filled with fish I have never seen in spite of being from a Coastal town. A cheerful ‘Hurray!’ from a fisherman who’s got a good catch this morning. The undefined, puddle-filled path. The chaotic environment and the pungent smell you just can’t ignore — that’s an early morning welcome at the Bunder Fish Dock.
I wasn’t there to sight-see, but to explore the salt-water fish in Mangaluru’s biggest wholesale market. I took along my friend with me who knows much about fish, since he owns a seafood restaurant All fish. Because to go it alone in a market where fish is all you see can be quite intimidating. My friend – who loves to cook fish as much as he likes to eat it — took me around, explaining in detail which fish I must pick and which ones I should avoid. Be it palm-sized lobsters, shiny pomfret, heaps of prawns, basket full of King fish or the famous Mackerel/Sardines , the heaps of fish available for sale was nothing short of fascinating. Let me share what I learnt about picking fish, from a wholesale fish dealer, while we both were having tea :
– Choose a fish market which receives a fresh shipment every day. Fish in wholesale markets are way cheaper than the market in your area, and more importantly it is fresh. Early morning is the best time to buy fish. Your best bet is to make friends with the fishmonger and find out when the new shipment arrives. Plan on being there to buy it then. Even if it means more effort, you are sure to be rewarded.
– Find out if the fish is fresh. How? Look for clear, glossy eyes, ones that pop out. Check if the gills are shiny red, which is a good sign. A fish with a firm body and free of blemishes is fresh.
– The colour of the fish is essential to judge its quality-white is the one you must go for. The fish should smell subtly of the water it has come from. If it has a strong “fishy” smell, it is not fresh. However, in a place like this Dock it is a little hard to differentiate between the fish and the market smell.
– Poke the fish. If the poke leaves a finger mark on the body of the fish, you must understand that it is spoiled. The flesh of a fresh fish should adhere firmly to the bone and the flesh should spring back when touched.
– If you are planning an extravaganza meal with crab and lobster, the best way would be to choose a happily swimming one. A crab that is sulking in the corner or hanging motionless and panting is a complete ‘no’. They might have been there for weeks.
– Before you go to a fish market, decide whether you want fish to fry or make a curry with. Although there are certain fish that tastes good both ways, there are some that are meant for either.
There are some questions that arise as you try to understand the nature of the trading practices here. How is functionality achieved in this exchange amongst the vendors and the customers in a seemingly chaotic place? What establishes trust between the people? What is the history of interactions or what are the unstated, unwritten laws of relationships within a fisher folk community? It is a long process from wholesale to retail vendoring. This is not an organised, systematized operation like that of a Fishing Corporation with its efficient trawlers and its iceboxes. And yet, there seems to be an intangible order influencing the commodity exchange that brings the fish from the sea through a series of stakeholders right up to its final consumption at a home or a restaurant/hotel in Mangaluru. Even a partial experience of the marketplace is substantial experience for one morning – memories to cherish, sights to always remember in your mind’s eye. Once you are in there, you become an insignificant, irrelevant speck within this sea of people.
After spending close to two hours trying to figure out the colloquial Tulu of the fisher-women, joking with them and slyly clicking pictures, I managed to buy a large King fish, few Silver fish (Kane), bunch of big size prawns, couple pomfrets, and few mackerels/Sardines all for Rs 1100 ( with the influence of a fish trader), which in the local fish market would have cost me over Rs 2000 or so. So it will be “Seafood Fest 2015” at Casa De Maria- that’s my residence, where we will feasting on these fresh and delicious varieties of fish throughout the week. After all it’s Lent- no consumption of meat, just fish or eat veggies! It was sheer fun- by the end of your time spend there, even if you smell like a fish, the sight, the experience, the deal and most of all a hearty lunch more than makes up for it! Go Fish…
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