Nishant's Interview Summary
Nishant Fofindi joined his grandfather’s ship model making enterprise three years ago. The innovative enterprise was started by Nishant’s grandfathers paternal uncle. Their business centres around making a varied range of ship models based on real ship-building techniques. They make many ship models right including those of the Dhangi, Guia, and Vahanto the famed Kotia.
Being acquainted with the astronomical movement of constellations and stars and seven stars known as ‘ Saptrushi’ , used for the sailors’ guidance on the high sea, they made ship models based on seven stars calculations.
They make accurate wooden versions of the ships of around three or four feet. For instance, a small model of three feet is normally made for a Dhangi(a Kachchhi vessel) of 100 to 200 tons. The small wooden replicas are made to give an idea to the shipwright about how to execute the design of the real ship. Once the ship builder purchases the model he might makes some variations before creating a final vessel. They make models for the ship builders of Proebandar, Veraval and also have some orders from Pakistan. Nishant does not find making the models challenging but in the whole business, his grandfather’s knowledge comes in very handy.
The teak wood for making the models is imported from Malaysia, and bamboo, or vaansh, is brought from Kerala. The colours are bought from the local market. Nishant has two workers under him who are his paternal aunts’ sons. They do not employ anyone outside their family as, they believe, an outsider would not follow the work either sincerely with enough understanding. One model takes around one month to complete. His father could not adjust to the craft and worked in Dubai, but Nishant always intended to follow his grandfather’s business. One of the models made by the Fofondis is even stored in the Goa museum. They are recipients of several merit certificates and among the list of the visitors to their workshop they can include the name of Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India. Nehru visited their old shop (now around 100 years old) which was situated in the middle of the market area of Mandvi. Since the area was particularly crowded they opened up another shop near the port. Shivji Fofindi, Nishant’s grandfather, says that it was because of his service with the government that they managed to obtain the present shop on rental. They have also gifted a ship model to the current chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.
They keep making the ship models throughout the year and their workers are paid on a monthly basis. There is little opportunity for expansion, and they remain quite a small concern with two workshops. They often use modern communication techniques in communicating with their matajito ensure safe arrival.
Shivji Fofindi has first-hand experience of sailing. At the age of just fourteen, Shivji Fofindi became, by default, a captain (nakhudaor malam) of the ship Kalavati bound to Dar-es-Salam. He visited the East African ports of Mombasa, Lamu, and Dar es Salam several times, and further south the Portuguese ports of Mozambique, Karmani, and also Madagascar.
Kachchhi sailors on their way to East Africa often stop at Socotra to pay homage to Goddess Sikotar Mata, offering her ship models and seeking Her blessings. The temple of Sikotar Mata (padia) situated on the Sikotar Hill coast is maintained by a Hindu priest known as the pujari. The priest stays with his family near the coast. This visit to the temple is an integral part of the beliefs, i.e. manyata, the seafarers have followed for centuries to protect them from the perils of the sea. Shivji himself frequently visited the priest.
His long career spans 70 years, and since 25 or 30 years ago he has developed his ship model shop. When he started with the work, he made the models with whatever instruments were handily available. Later on, as he expanded, he added instruments to his collection in order to make more professional models. He is in possession of a 100-year-old compass. His ships’ models can be found in museums in Bhuj, Baroda, Veraval, and Madras. Foreigners from London, Japan and America come and purchase the models too. The workshop’s working hours are usually 9 to1, and 3 to 7. From 7 pm, for a couple of hours, he sits in the old shop named Jahaj Bhuvan. Shivji and his workers make models ranging from 2,000 to 1,00,000 rupees.
He balanced his careers as both a seaman and ship model maker. He continued to sail frequently whilst developing his model business. He is well versed with the practice of finding latitude and longitude by locating star of the North Pole known as the ‘Dhruv taro’. According to his reckoning, the distance between India and Muscat through the sea lane is around 540 km.
He is the proud recipient of 350 awards. He was first given one in 1962 by Mr. Kamraj in south India.
Since he has spent nearly whole of his life exploring the sea, Shivji is fearless and feels that storms are just part of a normal sea voyage. When the sailors on the board sense a storm is coming, they can take several precautionary measures to avoid potential damage to the vessel, including getting rid of excess goods overboard. Shivji asserts that 24 hours before an occurrence of a storm, they can be ‘mapped’ through their extensive marine knowledge that helps them to plan for the worst eventualities. He himself has witnessed 35 to 40 such storms. The most dangerous among them was near African waters when a large piece of wood from the damaged ship fell on some of the sailors and killed two. He adds that their minds are always on high alert and they must be ready to act quickly in such circumstances. Usually, according to Shivji’s understanding, until a full moon appears there is little worry about storms, but, if a blue moon appears then the fear will surface.
Shivji also described to us the existing hierarchies within the shipping crew. They consist of the lowest petbaliyo, tokhalasi,panjiri andnakhudaas per their role and earnings. He started his career as a petbaliyoor petorioat a tender age after his father had passed away. He group up in a single parent household; being on ship was a blessing in disguise for his mother as she could work free from the responsibility of her son. Through doing small jobs for the rest of the crew members he managed to earn a small amount. In Africa, in his free time he played with cowries and often brought some back home to give to his mother to sell. Each time he visited the African coast as a petoriohe was looked after the same as any one of the crew members, and even given a small share of the commodities traded, such as cashew nuts. He was never paid for the work he did but was compensated in kind. Whatever collections of commodities from his fellow crew members he managed to gather he gave over to his mother to sell. Shivji’s story is a fascinating one, a rare insight into the working of the apprenticeship system on board from a former apprentice himself.
His career as a petoriocommenced at the tender age of eight when in 1946 he first boarded a ship named ‘ Lilavati’ and visited Dar-es-Salam. In two years, he was made a khalasiin the crew and visited Mozambique. He thereafter worked as a sarangand a panjarito move on to become the captain of the ship. He strongly feels that merely by knowing how to determine longitude and latitude one cannot become an experienced seaman. To become a successful seafarer it is essential that the person is associated with sea from a young age and works their way up the crew hierarchy through promotion and recommendation.
Nishant Hiralal Fofindi and Shivji Bhudabhai Fofindi
Education: B.Com graduate (Nishant)
Ages: 21 and 79
Date of interview: 28/5/2012