Starting my next India journey in Puri, I wanted to capture nice photographs. It turned out to be harder than I thought. This is how it sometimes happens in photography. At one place you make a good connection to people, but you just won’t get the right picture. The next day you find a nice package of opportunities just along the way, presented to you just by chance. This time, it was a mix of everything.
Staying in Puri for a good start
Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know, what you’re gonna get. Some chocolates may look tasty but aren’t. Others look fascinating and will indeed become an unknown experience to you. And some are simply the ones you know and always take. Every piece can be an adventure, maybe they turn out to be a disaster. I believe that one should try every piece before judging, except maybe the ones that will obviously be poisonous and kill you.
My momma always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
– Forest Gump
I am staying in Puri at the moment, a lovely little town in the Indian state of Odisha. It is right next to the beach, which is overwhelmingly polluted by garbage. Some of it is an obvious side-product of tourism, but some of the materials there, formerly belonged to fishermen. Besides tourism, fishing is the biggest business here. Thousands of people are involved in it. I did not come for a holiday. At least, not completely.
I wanted a nice space to work on the blog, on my own portfolio and to get a smooth start for my India journey. After having spent months at the desk in the library to finish my M.A. thesis, I also need some practice for photography. Ideally some projects involving humans and labour as I want this to be my focus. Puri offers all of these things. I can plan, write and work on my laptop in a nice beach hut, which I share with two geckos and several mosquitos. I can also go out to make photographs, whenever the light allows me to do it.
The dangerous places
I am searching for something special, so my first expedition did not take me towards the nicer part of the beach. Okay, I admit: The first thing I did, was jump into the sea. Guilty. Right after that I went towards where I expected the fishermen to live. It’s easy to find, because you can see all their boats on the beach in the distance. Upon arrival, I was shocked by the pollution and trash next to the sea. This area definitely tells a different story than the touristy parts of the town. I felt a little uncomfortable to enter, because people seemed so busy working and I did not know how people would welcome me going there with my camera. I was also hungry and assert that a new adventure should never be tackled with an empty stomach.
You should not go to this area. It’s dangerous.
While having a good Veg Thali in a restaurant, I made the plan to approach the community from a different side. I sought to find less busy people and observe what their everyday, non-work life looked like. Suddenly, I was approached by a young guy from behind. “You should not go to this area. It’s dangerous”, the boy told me. I went on walking and replied: “I don’t think that the people there are bad people.” One should be careful, sometimes. There are places which can be dangerous, indeed. Mostly, however, dangerous will mean that it might not be a tourist area. Sometimes it even might just be a way for people to approach you. So judge wisely. As I replied in Hindi, the boy hesitated for a second but then decided to simply join me, as I was a possible partner for conversation.
Finding a boat
Charan is 18 years old and lives amongst the fisher community, even though he wants to become a businessman and is not involved with fishing himself. His dreams are to go abroad to Japan (or Germany) and start a business of any kind. I see it as my mission to give people a more realistic view about what to expect abroad as a not-so-well educated person without native language skills. I was busy trying to talk him out of this idea until we reached the very part of the beach that I have left a little more than an hour before. I told him that I want to become a photographer and want to take pictures of the fishermen community. He was willing to help me.
A meeting at 6:00 often means that by that time people will maybe start to think about meeting you.
We met David, a friend with a boat, who was willing to take me out the next morning. We made an appointment for 6 o’clock. Here is another thing that is useful to know in many places of the world: Don’t trust your watch, trust your phone. If you are going to meet someone at 6:00, maybe give him a ring before you walk to the meeting point at 5:45. A meeting at 6:00 often means that by that time people will maybe start to think about meeting you, but it will take time until they get dressed, have food and leave their place. I don’t know how it worked in the past, but the phone really does its job here. I called Charan, just to figure out that the whole meeting was cancelled because he got some family guests. It was fine to me, I had not slept too much and there were a few more days to come.
A few more days passed quickly and still nothing happened apart from roaming around on a Scooty and waiting for a boat and fishermen to fall from the sky to invite me to join an adventurous ride. When I sat in a bakery with Charan, he discussed with his friends that they could just take an uncle’s boat and take me with them. I insisted to look for other possibilities. Telling my new friends that I want to go out with real fishermen, I was told it was too dangerous. They will go with me at eight or ten the next morning. This response made me take a decision regarding my box of chocolate: I will eat a different chocolate. One that might taste good or maybe a little bitter. I planned to get up at sunrise and search for a boat that would take me. It is as simple as that. Just go and ask. The only thing that can happen is me being rejected. A bitter chocolate is better than none.
Success comes step by step
I did it and it was easier than I thought, though not what I have expected. While I was walking along the beach with my camera, I saw some people struggling with pushing a boat into the water. Instead of simply taking pictures of it, I did the most natural thing and helped. While we were pushing and waiting for the next wave to pull the boat into the water – and well, it really was a struggle, especially with the camera around my wrist – I asked if I could join the boat. The people just spoke Telugu, which is not even close to any language I know, yet they gave signs to jump on board. The next wave carried me and two boys, Jagdeesh and Shiva, out to the open sea. I was relieved and started shooting away some pictures. The boat did not seem to be equipped for fishing and Shiva, the young boy, still had a toothbrush in his mouth. I was wondering where the journey will lead us. The first big wave crashed against the boat and I simply started enjoying the ride.
It was just a short trip. We went out and headed for one of the many boats, which lay about 300 meters from the beach. Just at this time, I realized that these boats were not the actual fishing boats. Here, people store their nets and other equipment. All of these boats, which I thought were boats for fishing, were abandoned. The two boys took some stuff from the boat and started cleaning ours. This must have been the purpose. It was just a cleaning trip. I continued making images and we soon went back to the beach. On the way back, we found some crab-fishers, which cheered me up, because of their miraculous, impossible make-shift boat and the fun they had. At least I got some new information and knowledge. Actually, I am a bit embarrassed to naively believe that the fishing happens right next to the beach. Indeed, the fishermen have to go up to 30 kilometres to find the right spots.
Considering the positive parts.
My trip was not what I had expected. Nonetheless, trying something new and tasting the unknown chocolate brought me a little forward. I could practice photography,
deconstruct my own inhibitions of cold approaches and learn a little more about the business of fishing. The ten o’ clock boat-tour still did not happen, and I am glad to have left this bland chocolate, which appeared so nice in the beginning. Still I am meeting Charan, but when I want adventures, I know I should trust myself a little more. Dependence doesn’t taste too good to me.
After finishing this blogpost, I went out again. Insistent to find a fishing boat that took me out. I had to pass a lot of “too dangerous” opinions before I found someone who would take me. Unfortunately, the police would not allow it and the fishermen would have to pay a fine. The good part of the story is that I am invited into the heart of the lovely fishermen community for the very day this blogpost will go online. The world is an amazing place and full of opportunities.