An old woman with a wrinkled face and a quirky smile camped near the shore is not something that catches the hold of your eyes every other Saturday. Awaiting the tides won’t bring anything new.  Selvi, a 72-year-old woman is an exception. An avid collector of sea shells Selvi sells it to the tourists who visits the beach. One can find her camped near the shore on a typical day in Tranquebar beach, Tamil Nadu.

1.What do you know about sea shells?

I don’t know much about the biology of sea shells but I’ve heard that it holds life inside it. When I listen closely to a shell I can feel the warmth of life that echoes in my ear.

2.Since when did you start collecting sea shells?

I’ve been travelling from beaches to rivers to collect shells ever since I was a little child, this is the only trade I know.

3.Anybody can collect sea shells. So what makes people come to you and buy from your collection?

My grandmother used to tell me that I had the blessing of ‘Kadalamma’ (referring to the sea). Kadalamma has miraculously saved me once in my life. When I was six years old, I was drowning and luckily got saved as I was not taken away by the sea. So she brings me the best shells in this vast sea.

4.How’s your typical day like?

I wake up every morning and collect the sea shells using my fish net and then go to sleep again. Later during the day, I sort and separate them. Tourists visiting Tranquebar beach will buy it from me.

5.Do you go for some other work apart from this?

No, my husband and two sons go to the sea for fishing. We are basically fisher folk and sea is a part of our life. The sea goddess (kadalamma) is the giver and destroyer of our lives.


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