Kolvalum Beach, Kerala, India
At the far end of the beach sits a small, twelve-by-twelve foot, bamboo framed, thatched roof hut. The shop counter extends in front, protected overhead by a rusting, corrugated metal rooftop serving as a protective awning against the bright sun and the seasonal monsoonal downpour. A wooden shelving unit stands to one side, its legs dug into the sand. Opening hours commence around 9 am. One and two liter mineral water bottles are neatly arranged daily, following the right angles of the countertop. Plastic jars filled with an assortment of candy and bubblegum are placed at the counter’s end. One plastic jar is filled with a mix of open cigarette packs. Single cigarettes are sold, as a full pack’s price is prohibitive. Strings of one and two rupee packets of shampoo, paan (Indian chewing tobacco) and laundry soap are draped over a rope in front. Businesses cater to the affordability of necessities. Homemade caramelized, peanut snacks cut into 1 x 1 inch squares fill a jar, selling for one rupee a piece. The jars are restocked at the start of each day and meticulously positioned into their daily, designated locations.
Husband of shopkeeper takes an empty plastic sand bag, walks about 20 feet away, fills the sandbag and empties the bag in front of the counter. The light colored sand is spread evenly over a patch of dark dirt for aesthetics. Finished with his ten-minute task, a break is taken and a local cake is consumed for refreshment. His wife continues with the stocking of the shelves and jars.
Once the shop is prepared for the day’s business, a Puga (prayer offering to the gods) is performed inside the shop and completed when the shopkeeper sprinkles water around the perimeter of the small shop. Incense is lit and waved around. The first customer of the day will set the promise for good luck and fortune for the remainder of the day.
As permanent and longstanding as the shop appears, a few days following, a complete remodeling takes place. Sweet jars and water bottles are replaced with Rajasthani puppets, Lord Shiva T- shirts, Indian textiles and jewelry. The high tourist season, commencing soon, pushes a change in merchandise for an anticipated hopeful, increase in business sales. The rusty old roof is replaced with a shiny new one. The couple shouts out to all potential buyers, “New shop, open today!”. Funding for the new shop items comes from an invested, outside source.
The shopkeeper’s children, who are bused daily to a private English-speaking school, do their homework at the shop. They assist communications with the foreign tourists who pass two-week holidays on the white sandy beaches of southern Kerala, India.
Behind the shop sits several local huts despite the tourist-ladened beachfront. Lives are carried out, mostly undisturbed, on this far corner of the beach. The cluster of huts goes unnoticed by the passing, sunburned foreigners. Focus is on the many beachfront restaurants, which boast fresh seafood caught daily by the local fisherman. Fish are caught by traditional nets, which are pulled in by two lines of men, in a more than two-hour process early morning on the beach. Most of the tourists are still dreaming during the big catch.