To Every Woman Ever Called A ‘Fisherwoman’

When some ignorant, angry and illogical man accuses his wife of being “No better than a fisherwoman!” consider it a compliment and say “Thank you.”


1/16/2019 2:52:39 AM
written By : Shobhaa De Print

There is a historic Koli village known as Machhimar Nagar very close to where I live. It is a tiny fishing village where one of the oldest Koli communities of Bombay resides, following pretty much the same traditions as its forefathers. Just across the road, another world exists — the one of posh Cuffe Parade homes and the beautifully maintained Badhwar Park.

Last week, during Diwali, I watched the bejewelled Koli women and their children, dressed in festive finery, celebrating the Festival of Lights with gusto and full dhoom dhaam. It is an annual ritual I try and catch, perhaps out of nostalgia. I have grown up around the area and over the years, I have watched three generations of these extraordinarily hard-working, capable and entirely amazing women going about their lives industriously and cheerfully with enviable energy and spirit. Which is why it always amuses me when some ignorant, angry and illogical man accuses his wife of being ‘No better than a fisherwoman!”.

Perhaps in his crazed-with-rage state, he doesn’t realise he is actually paying her a huge compliment! No wife should have problems being called a ‘fisherwoman’. On the contrary, she should feel flattered. So... when my teary-eyed girlfriends tell me they feel deeply insulted when the insensitive, uninspiring and unintelligent men in their lives, unable to carry forward a logical argument, hurl the ‘fisherwoman’ tag at them, I advise the women to smile and say ‘Thank you’.

It always disturbs me to note just how deep-rooted such prejudices are in our so-called cultured and educated society. In a film I really enjoyed, ‘Stree’, there is a scene in which the hero (marvellously played by Rajkumar Rao, one of Bollywood’s most accomplished actors) is told in hushed tones that he is a son of a ‘tawaif’. So? The bewilderment and shock on his face are enough to reveal what the others in the small town feel about such a ‘disgraceful’ past. A past the young man has been naively ignorant about for so many years, even though his dead mother’s portrait hangs on a wall in his home. When urban idiots indulge in name calling and resort to the ‘fisherwoman’ put-down, they behave no differently from those small-town fellows.

And these are some of our ghastly realities that get swept under the carpet because the truth is so hard to swallow. Why give fisherwomen a bad name? Why assume a woman will be devastated and shamed if she is called that?

Each time I go to the village, I am struck by the strong sense of community that binds the Kolis. Collectively and joyously, they celebrate rituals and traditions going back centuries. The women enjoy the same status as the menfolk in Koli society and contribute equally to the business — after all, they are the ones who run it! Today’s fisherwoman conducts her daily sales using mobile phone apps and can be heard negotiating sharp deals while examining the day’s catch. Her children attend schools and colleges in the area, and have switched to ‘respectable’ jobs in ‘big’ companies. Despite these developments, the everyday pattern of life has not changed all that much. Most Koli women invest profits in gold ornaments (bought on Dhanteras), which they proudly wear round the year.

During Narali Purnima, the women load on the hoard of chains and bangles, nose rings and anklets (always silver) as they expertly sort out prawns and pomfrets, rawas and baby sharks from huge baskets, before rushing home to prepare meals. In between, they find the time to sing and dance, while the men knock back shots of their favourite tipple. What is there not to admire about these wonderful women? I even like the way they cuss and shout at customers who haggle and talk down to them. I have seen grown men cowering in fear while getting a well-deserved tongue-lashing from these proud and self-respecting women.

Perhaps some of our uncouth urban idiots need to take a short walk to this vibrant, buzzed village and come back better educated. Those who talk about ‘respecting’ women and treating them like ‘Devis’, because their evolved culture teaches them to, may end up having to eat their fake sentiments and words after an encounter with our Kolis. Someone needs to open the eyes of these smug men and inform them that labelling ANY woman is nothing but a cheap shot at pumping up their own fragile, damaged male ego. This is what I advise girlfriends when they whine and complain after being called names. It’s time our courts recognised emotional violence as a serious marital issue. It is as damaging as physical abuse. With equally terrible consequences. A walk through a Koli village can provide more life lessons than all those impressive books on a walnut wood shelf. 

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