The imagery of Goa is as incomplete without fisherwomen as it is without its coconut-lined pristine beaches. Even Mario Miranda could not help but make them an extensive part of his drawings of Goa.
Typically dressed in sarees with either their fresh catches in a cane basket or kept in front of them on a small platform, these women are a regular feature in all markets and bus stands.
Meet Sushila, one such wonder woman amongst many like her.
Sushila started working at the age of 8 and since then she knows nothing else but to sell fish. For as long as she can recall, she has been doing the same work. Her day starts at 7 AM and she goes on working till about 10 PM before retiring to her home after a long and hard-working day. For her, most days are the same, redundant, and monotonous, yet she always greets you with the widest smile possible and never forgets to ask about your well-being.
I remember meeting her a few years ago when I went to the Panjim fish market to buy some prawns. It was one of my first times and I clearly remember how she helped me pick the freshest fish and prawns. Since then, every time I go to Panjim, I meet her, even on days when I am not buying anything, I go up to her just to chit-chat with her for a few minutes and check on her well-being.
On one of our chit-chats, she told me, how she struggled to raise her 3 kids. She got married quite late as per yesteryear’s standards, but her husband only added to her misery further. He was an alcoholic and did not provide much for the household. Sushila kept working and making the ends meet and with great difficulty raised her 3 children. Excessive alcohol led to her husband’s death just a few years after suffering a long stay in the hospital. Recalling those days Sushila shared that she had exhausted all her savings in her husband’s treatment, so much so that on the day he died, she wasn’t left with a single penny. For 3 days she could not even cremate him. One of her customers came to know of her plight and gave her some money to complete her husband’s last riots with dignity.
Despite tough situations, she never gave up and woke up each day with the hope of better times. She educated her children and provided them with whatever best she could, but only to be left alone in her old age. Today, she is nearing 70 years of age and works every day for an average of 15-16 hours which does not include cooking for herself or doing the household chores. She barely earns Rs 500 per day and yet is content with whatever she has. She is a positive soul, happy and works tirelessly, but somewhere she has succumbed to the situations, she isn’t ambitious, she doesn’t dream of good days anymore but you won’t see her ever with a sad face. Only when she was telling me her story did tears roll from both our eyes, but she quickly wiped them saying she never talks about all this and told me her story because she feels I am one of the very few people who talk politely and respectfully to her. Most people don’t treat them well.
And this is the reason that sometimes I visit her only to talk, not to buy anything but just to say a genuine and heartfelt hi.
If you happen to visit the Panjim fish market, you will find Sushila in the most cheerful way selling her fresh catch every day, but when you look at her wrinkled and semi-frozen hands, the story of her struggles will speak for itself.
I know I have become biased and I end up going to Sushila whenever I have to buy fish and sometimes even when I don’t, but this really isn’t Sushila’s story alone, I am sure every fisherwoman has her own story to tell and I see them all as Wonder Women of the real world.