After having read Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ I was inspired to go exploring in the coastal town of Cambay to perhaps look for remnants of the glorious port city that the 14th century traveller Ibn Battuta had documented during his passage through India. I was particularly interested in understanding the phenomenon of how a port, once a major stop-over for merchants on the silk route and having been compared to flourishing cities of the Middle East and north Africa, could now be reduced to a stagnant economy with only a few large dilapidated bungalows that stand as an unsure testimony to its beautiful past. The sea was of course what brought Ibn Battuta to Cambay and I wanted to see how it had changed over the past few centuries.
I was informed that it was a delicate and risky exercise to attempt to get to the edge of the sea since the large variation in the tides has created a unique landscape that is understood only by the local fishermen. The silting gulf has pushed the water beyond easy accessibility and in between it formed a haven for flamingoes. A fisherman who accompanied me stopped every now and then to examine the further course of our path lest we get stuck in a quicksand like situation. The noise of the Cambay bazaar was long replaced by deafening silence that enveloped us. There wasn’t a breeze; everything seemed muted as if I had gone deaf.
It was a world where sizes didn’t seem proportionate. Camels looked like pegs on a board game; patches of wild grass seemed taller than the herdsmen. Fishermen returning back after work, hauling their half empty nets were dwarfed to a mere spec in the horizon. I strained my eyes to see the pink flamingoes skimming the shallow waters in a mechanically routine. I looked back to reassure myself that I wasn’t too far from civilization but Cambay was lost behind a veil of shimmering mirage. In the silence there was nothing much I could do.
I imagined ships approaching us, wooden boats awaiting them and many more docked at the jetty. I saw people with weary skin wearing turbans which were yellowed with age and some studded with emeralds, stepping out only to vanish among the sea of merchants and vendors crowding the water front. There were tangles of rope, sound of noisy footsteps as they fell on wooden floors and the occasional whiff of a perfume that was completely foreign. The sea, I noticed, was very much alive with crests of wave crashing the rocky embankment to the distant sound of adhan from the Jama Masjid.
I looked around for the flamingoes, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Vivek Muthuramalingam is an independent photographer and visual journalist based out of Bangalore, India.
In his documentary work, Vivek seeks for ideas that can serve humanitarian purposes. He strives to dedicate his abilities for projects that can illustrate and inform socially relevant, ecologically urgent and culturally important themes that can perhaps help serve a greater cause of change and sustenance. He is partial to ideas that coax a narrative and inform a deeper connection with the subject. Vivek also loves chronicling the city Bangalore, through its existing rich cultural past and the struggle with modernity and new found status as India’s software capital.
He studied fine-art at the Ken School of Art, Bangalore and completed his studies in medicine at Kolar, Karnataka. He worked briefly as a junior surgical resident in the Department of Urology at the Manipal Hospital in Bangalore before he turned to photography.