Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fishseller's Tale of Surviving High Tide of Agitations

Squatting on the side of a busy stretch of road, Maal is busy scraping away the scales of a fish, while two customers wait by her side. A large metallic container carrying a few fish in blood-tinged water lies in front of her and a black umbrella fixed on a long stick protects her from the sun. It is morning hour at the Soura market, the crunch time.

While bees buzz around the fish-carrying container, she yells at the customer. The price he is fixing is too low. "Life is difficult, I have to strive so hard."

Maal is a fisherwoman, who has to come out of her small shack in the interiors of Jenab Saheb Soura to earn a living for herself and for her family. She has a family of ten and her husband is dead.

"I live with my only daughter. Her husband is kind," she says and settles for a bargain price.

Maal belongs to that section of the society who do not get the monthly salary at the end of the every month. She lives a hand to mouth life. And the recent protests and curfews in the Valley did not help the matters. Daily wagers like Maal were left in the lurch.

"Business did incur losses, but then what could I do." She wipes her hina-tinged hands on her pheran. "All I could do was stay inside the home."

Maal has six granddaughters and two grandsons. Her grandsons and the younger granddaughters go to a local government school. Others spin yarn. "We are poor people, cannot afford schooling for all," she says. "Life is hard for wagers like us."

Her daily work day starts at nine in the morning. She buys the quota of fish from a local fisherman and tries to sell the stocks till evening. "Then I go home." Today, however she came to the market at eight.

"We had no fish during the curfew, so no business to do and so no earning." A few customers dart their way through the carts piled with tomatoes and brinjal and start looking at the fish in her container, Maal beckons them, "come, come, they are fresh."

"There was a day when we had no vegetables to cook at home. But I didn't allow my son-in-law to go out. We had heard that they beat up people," she recounts. "During any relaxation in curfew, we would rush to the market and fetch bread and vegetables."

Maal, however, says that she herself would not venture to do business during the deal hours. "What business would I do in one hour, where from would I get the fish? she questions.

The fear of military barging into homes and beating and abusing women also held her from going out. "I would be at home all the time even during the deal. My son-in-law and my grandsons would go out." She says that the relaxation hour in curfew was like Eid for her grandsons.

She hopes the fragile peace would last. That is the only way she can carry her life smoothly. But looking at the situation in Kashmir, where everyday people are shot dead, her worst fears seem to be coming true.

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