He is there at the beginning of the day, on his hands and knees, marking out a giant square grid upon the dusty ground, on which he will begin his picture. Colours, made from rice flour, ground lime leaves, turmeric, and burnt paddy husks, lie in neat mounds in front of him. He is a small man, slender limbed and narrow boned, with a face that is slightly too elongated and thin. But his eyes are bright, olive coloured and striking amidst the crowds of brown eyed locals that pass him by. He kneels, mutters a short prayer and then he begins. He has no brush, no tools. He uses his forefingers and his thumb, applying the colours with slow deliberation, square by square, creating an image that grows outwards. He works silently. Even his movements are quiet, as if his work were some kind of meditation. For this is the ritual of Kalamezhuthu, an act of religious worshipping laid down for the Gods Devi, Naga and Sastha. The patterns, the minute details, dimensions and colours, are all mandatory, not arbitrary. Even the order of creation is laid down by Divine law.
In contrast to the quietness of his act, the world around him is loud and frantic. Behind him are the Chinese fishing nets, lined up along the shore, silhouetted against the bright sky like gargantuan insects lifting and bowing their heads into the waters. There are six to seven men manning each of them, working in the humidity, beneath the dabbled shade of the giant rain trees that loom high into the sky above them, and surrounded by a rowdy crowd who have gathered in the early hours to barter for the fish when the great nets are pulled up and out of the water. Then five men rush to the ropes, and heave in a unison of movement, the stone weights that hold the nets down, rising and hovering perilously above their heads. A fisherman who works on the Chinese fishing nets is an honest man, we have been told. He believes that were he not, the stones might fall to punish him. The boys are transfixed.
“I want to be a fisherman,” say Orly as the great net in front of him is hoisted upwards, and two men scramble up the giant teak poles that span from one end of the structure to the other, balancing above the water to get there before circling birds can swoop down and steal their precious silver fish. The more frequently they can lower and lift these nets, the more they will catch in a day. Up down, up down, relentlessly, time and time again, as the hot sun moves across the sky.
The market runs along the shore line where they work. Fish are sold as soon as they are caught, carried straight away to waiting market sellers. There are trays of mud crabs, yellow snapper, tuna and pearl spot, all glistening in the sun, their gills still quivering, still fighting to suck in the air.
The day draws on. Loud and chaotic. There is much shouting. Much noise, as scooters rev and trucks honk past. Ladies walk by, shaded beneath umbrellas. Children, decorated in black, kohl around their eyes and brows, bracelets and necklaces weighted on their tiny limbs, in the belief that if they are made ugly the devil will not come to take them.
All this as the fishermen keep the ritual of heaving up and lowering down, just a dozen or so fish in every catch. And the artist keeps his ritual of creating, head bowed, silent still, his picture slowly forming before him, beautifully coloured, a green faced figure, white fanged and kohl eyed, staring out with a sardonic smile.
The sun begins its descent, a pale pink spreading across the horizon that deepens the lower it gets, melting eventually into the waters, like a liquid fire. The fishermen are packing up. The market stalls are being dismantled. The light is going.
The artist’s hand drops to his side. He sits up, rests upon his haunches. Finally the picture is finished. The boys and I stand behind it, taking in the lines and strokes that make up the image. There is only a moment, a short breath of time to look down at the mysticism of this day long creation, before the artist’s hand rises up once more and in a single movement, he swipes it through the entire picture. A cloud of colour rises and catches on the wind. It moves over the boys and I, dusts us in a film of powder, in reds, and greens, and yellows, before passing out across the waters, and dispersing into the distant dusky light.
The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (http://www.warchild.org.uk) as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow.
If you would like to donate please go to https://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.
Lindsay’s trip was supported in part by Inventing Futures, a global youth agency, based in Bath, that works with 9-24 year old who are at a transitional stage in their lives, giving them the chance to create a future full of opportunity. If you would like to know more please visit:
Audley Travel (01883838200; audleytravel.com) offers tailor-made trips to India and specialised tours and home-stays to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.