PAST THE BRIDGE over the Upputeru salt creek in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, which empties into the Bay of Bengal; past the skeleton of a split-open boat; past a garage crammed with dead engines; past a huge trawler abandoned midway through construction; past a herd of pigs rooting through mounds of trash—here is P Narasimha Murthy standing next to a boat, instructing his assistants to hammer nails into its hull.
His boatshop, a ramshackle thatched shed, is located on the potholed Wharf Road in Jagannadhapuram village in Kakinada district of Andhra Pradesh, just beside a creek in which clumps of hyacinth float in muddy, jet-black water. Once the hub for boatbuilding in the village, this stretch of road now is home to just a handful working in the trade, prominent among who is Murthy.
The acrid stench of molten tar and paint rides the wind, mingling with the pervasive odour of fish guts. Along the banks of the creek, about 500 boats and dinghies are tethered to stakes driven into the mud. On many decks, weatherbeaten boatmen chatter with one another, or with themselves, about the adventures they had the previous night. They smell of Thati kallu (country liquor) and toss around colourful swear words that would singe many a high-brow ear. Their banter forms a constant background to engines being tested, nets being tied. About 50,000 people in the village and surrounding areas live off the sea.