In the world of fish work of Kamalaveni, men are supposed to catch the fish while women sell them. Not many realise how central women’s work is in sustaining this economy. The Cuddalore Fishing Harbour, however, is mostly a man’s terrain. For a woman to navigate it takes a bit more. Still, women remain central to its working as they assume roles of sellers, auctioneers, and credit suppliers. It takes supreme confidence and courage to perform a woman’s job, every day in the harbour, trying to arbitrate and participate in the transactions involving fishers, traders and brokers. Kamalaveni navigates this space with ease, with a commanding presence in the fishing harbour of Cuddalore old town.
Ethnographic documentation, Bhagat Singh, N. Bautès
It is fascinating for a visitor to see her at work – with her tray lined with all the big fish, which she managed to get at a good bargain. She displays elegance while cutting the fish as she continues to engage her buyers in conversation.
Married at the age of fourteen, her husband moved in with another woman when she was twenty. Kamalaveni started selling fish at the age of seventeen and has become a wholesale dealer over the years. The buzzing harbour has been part of her routine for thirty-seven years now. At the same time, she also raised three sons and a daughter, each of them doing well for themselves.
Kamalaveni lives by herself, rides her Honda scooter with character, daily making a grand entry into the harbour, a sight that does not escape people’s notice. She is among the most respected personalities of the harbour, as she is self-made, starting as a small-time fish vendor and becoming a supplier to restaurants in Cuddalore and to the nearby tourist town of Pondicherry. She employs three men and three women in her enterprise. ‘… it is not possible to do business in this port unless you speak boldly. If I go to the harbour at four in the morning, I return home only after dark in the evening. We have to stand on our own. We can’t afford to expect support from others. And we have to ensure our own safety’, says Kamalaveni.