Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fish, Forts and Pirates

Walking in the Worli fishing village is a bit surreal, especially under the hot afternoon sun.

The sky is the deepest blue, the sea dizzyingly shiny. The flags fluttering on the boats make me want to paint (not that I have any skills in that department).

How different it is, from my week in Greece by the sea!

The beach at Greece is dotted with umbrellas, beckoning tourists. The catch is arranged attractively in waterfront tavernas, where hundreds of tourists walk around. In fact, large parts of Crete seem to be designed specifically for tourists. Come holiday here, says Crete! We have the sun! We have the sea!

In contrast, here in Mumbai, living by the sea is gritty and real. The boats are small, almost defiantly colourful. The day's catch is dried on terraces blazing in the sun. Or it is loaded in simple baskets, and the women carry it to market. There are no visiting hordes, clicking away with cameras.

It is even more surreal to see the old British Worli Fort, sitting incongruously among the shanties.

The Worli Fort is more than 300 years old, and it is on top of a little hill. It was built by the British in 1675, overlooking Mahim Bay. It was used as a lookout for enemy ships and pirates. And if you look at this map of Bombay, you can see how strategically the fort is positioned, and why the British picked this spot.

For the British, the threat from "pirates" was real - and the most feared of them all was the dashing Kanhoji Angre.

The growth of the Maratha power under Shivaji in 1674 was accompanied by the formation of a formidable naval fleet which controlled the coast of the Konkan. In 1698 Kanhoji Angre succeeded to the command of the Maratha navy. With his strong navy, Kanhoji became the undisputed master of the whole Western coast, from Bombay to Vingorla.

He sought to protect Maratha interests against the British, Dutch and Portuguese, and inflicted heavy damage on their ships. He captured several trading vessels of the East India company, held hostages, and received hefty sums in ransom. Several expeditions were mounted against him, to no avail. He remained, until his death in 1729, the uncrowned king of the western coast.


helga said...

How amazingly beautiful and real..How come the fishermen's village is NOT invaded by tourists?
Not that they have to for ME.. They can all stay away please until I've been there..-with a camera yes - but preferable without any other tourist around.
I had the luxury to see the Greek, the Spanish,the Italian fishermen's villages just like that (without!!) but that's 35 years back..Now most of them look like you describe Crete..not to MY likings but very much to the likings - and economical well-being- of the fishermen and women involved..(a boat or more of them.. your own restaurant close to the beach..preparing "local" fish-related "high cuisine" lunches and dinners and while at it sell souvenirs).
Munbai HAS tourists.. where are they???

sambar42 said...

I am glad you mentioned Kanhoji Angre. When I first came upon his reference, I was very surprised. Indian history has very few naval heros. This guy seems to have been quite a handful. As is typical, the British claimed that he was a pirate . Reminds me of Jack Sparrow :-)
We should make a movie called 'Pirates of Maharashtra' about the intrepid Maratha Navy :-)

Anonymous said...

bombay is a treasure and so does our so many villages and cities in india. so many places are not documented.

the spirit of the city is lost when the visit becomes touristy - the true spirit of the city is captured when we see the city as a localite sees it.

i have had the opportunity in going to rural places and seeing very ancient houses, fort etc which are not part of the tourist culture. boy i wish i had the money to make a coffee book table.

Rohit said...

About Kanhoji Angre: the main naval unit in Mumbai is named after him: INS ANGRE

Anonymous said...

I thought I will learn about the Worli Fishing Villege. But you too me to Greece, Bombay to Vingorla, from 2006 to 1674.

:) :) :)


Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a Fishing site.

Come and check it out if you get time ;)

Rudolph.Andrew.Furtado said...

Proud to say that i have been one of the innovators in getting the "Worli Fort" recognised in the 20th century as an important monument of history to the city of Mumbai.The "Wikipedia Encyclopedia " has also been updated by me and others please help in making it more informative to a tourist intending visiting the fort.I live in Old Prabhadevi and hence spent some leisure hours visiting the fort area and later writing letters to the media to help save the Fort from complete destruction.Recently in November 2007 i had taken some photographs of the Fort and the same can be viewed in "Wikipedia commons".
The "Worli Fort" is absolutely unique in its location as well as non- adaptation to 21st century Mumbai.Time has stood still and seems to have evolved very less since 1675 in "Worli Fort(MumbaI)", except that now there are some slums.
A/504 Vaibhav Apts,
Old Prabhadevi Road.