The smell of fish in the air is the indicator that the Machchimar Nagar is close by.
Located at Cuffe Parade in South Mumbai, considered to be the prime real estate in the bustling megapolis, this fisherman’s village is nestled amongst high-rises that seem to be touching the clouds.
At ground level, in stark contrast to the wealthy, are the colourful houses of the fishermen. The haphazardness of this colony stands out against the uniformity of the tall towers.
The Arabian Sea flowing close by touches the doorsteps of some of the quaint houses. Fishing boats of all sizes with colourful flags festooned to its stern are bobbing in the waters, while some others are resting on the white grainy sands a little ahead.
Women are busy with the household chores. Some of them are sorting the morning catch brought in by the boats. The morning activity is a noisy one, settling down as the day moves on.
The narrow lanes from the sea shore to the main road wind its way through the village. A newcomer will find it difficult to navigate. Though the colony spreads across four plots of land – eyed by real estate developers – the lanes are a puzzle.
Yet, 13 years ago on this day eight terrorists from Pakistan arrived by sea on the shores of the colony. They disembarked at the shores, found their way out of the village carrying weapons and explosives and then went on to attack several parts of South Mumbai including Nariman House and Leopold Café in Colaba, Hotel Taj Mahal, Hotel Trident and the CST station.
Following that fateful day on 26 November 2008, the village had found a place under the spotlight. The curious landed at Machchimar Nagar and went on to “see the place” where terrorist Ajmal Kasab and seven others had landed.
Terror tourism brought with it an importance to the inhabitants and soon “Kasab’s landing” found several versions. Today, it has become a part of the Machchimar Nagar folklore, told and retold several times with colourful additions. So corrupted have the versions become that the newer generation and the next to follow may never really know the “exact” truth.
When Kasab and the other terrorists had walked through the winding lanes the village had about 300 fishing boats. While some were at sea on that day, a sizeable majority of those boats were anchored close to the shores. In the 13 intervening years as the village went from fame to obscurity, the number of boats started dwindling. Today, the village has about 200 odd boats. Many of them have sold their boats to fund their daily living.
Though the primary occupation of the residents of Machchimar Nagar continues to be fishing, the dwindling numbers indicate that many have given up their primary trade. Members of the Sarvodaya Machchimar Sahakari Sanstha – a society which was formed to ensure the smooth operations of boats in the fishing colonies dotting Mumbai – say that fishing is no longer as lucrative as it used to be.
“There are so many issues. There is not fish in the sea near this area. We have to go into the high seas if we want more catch. It has become high expenditure and labour intensive with less returns,” said Parshuram, an inhabitant of the village. Many of the women have taken up jobs as domestic help in the high-rises close by. They laugh off a query on if they fear terrorists coming to their village again saying that it is hunger and unemployment they fear more.
“We do not get a good price for the fish we bring in from the sea. Everyone is haggling and we are selling because we need the money to survive,” said Suryakant. “There is sewage being dumped into the sea which has reduced the quantity of fish in the sea here. Then we find plastic in the fish we catch. Who will buy fish from a polluted place?” he questioned.
According to many of the villagers, fishermen from other coastal places in Raigad carry out purse seine fishing in the close by areas. This process involves circling the fish with a fine net and then pursing it from the bottom so that the catch is larger. This too has taken away the fish from the sea waters. Many of them have borrowed heavily from money lenders and have no means to repay the money. “We need help from the government. Once we were rich, today we are paupers,” said Tandel, another resident.
They also face another battle of getting the houses registered in their own names, as this will mean individual ownership. Presently, they are only allocated house numbers. Given their mounting problems for the inhabitants of Machchimar Nagar, their daily battle for survival and loss of livelihood is a bigger threat than any terrorist threat, said some.