Koli women, fish and tattoos!
I could hear distant chattering of women which grew louder as we kept walking towards the fish market in Vanakbara, Diu guarded by the ships ashore. The market was in its full glory in the early morning – it was just 6 am. In Gujarat, the Koli community is mainly located in the southern portion of the state, particularly around the cities of Surat, Navsari ,Valsad and some are also scattered along the coast. We were here in Diu to see one of the most colorful markets in India.
This fish market was all about women, even the buyers were mostly women! Women were carrying the baskets on their head and setting up their little shop on the ground and there was the hustle-bustle all around. Fish were being spread in small heaps. Apparently they pool the money to buy fish and later they share the profit and that was the reason I guessed for the constant bickering among the buyers and sellers.
Soon we started the hunt for the best snapper in the market. So buying a fish, followed by photography and then a feast on fish tandoori was our usual day in Diu. Those were some of the best fish I had eaten and some best moments of my life I had enjoyed.
There was so much happening around us, it was difficult to absorb them all at the first day! Gradually we started to notice patterns and familiar faces after multiple visits. I became friend of a Koli woman named Veera. While fish market is quite a filthy and stinky place to work in general, it was so surprising that women there were so conscious about their looks. The first and foremost thing to notice about Koli women was their tattoos. Veera flaunted her tattoos on neck and explained that this was all old fashion . For Koli women the tattoos are considered to be a mark of recognition by God. They believe that after death , at the gates of heaven, a woman is asked “do you bear the mark of God or are you sneaking in?” She also shyly said that she did it before marriage to impress her husband
I felt so good being with those Koli women who enjoyed their work and did it not as a burden but as a celebration, day in and day out, unmindful of all the odds and hardships. They laughed, danced and made merry no matter whether the sales were good or bad. Truly they had set a living example for city people like us and I realized that life always contained mixture of easy and difficult moments but how we faced it with equanimity and made it memorable and enjoyable that only matters in the end.