The duck-farmers. They are a common sight in my part of Kerala. During my regular visits to my grandmother’s ancestral home, I used to wonder at the countless number of ducklings being managed by one single person with a stick. Our car used to be often stopped by this army of ducks on the road. They’d pass us ‘quack-quack-quacking’, rubbing each other, followed by a human commander, forcing some of the wanderers back in to the group with his long wooden stick. The caretakers are very careful with the ducks. They gently touch them with the edge of the stick, which is often padded with a cloth, and tuck them back into the army. It is a majestic sight.
Kuttanad, famed as the ‘Venice of the East’ with its scenic villages and green canals carefully interwoven in to them, is where my mother hails from. Although we visit her moody uncle not too often, the job of driving my grandmother back to her people often falls on my shoulder. Refusing to adapt to the modern world knocking on her door, Kuttanad still has shady country roads with its brown gravel and coconut groves bordering on canals. Less than four years ago, a bridge was inaugurated connecting Thakazhi (Grandmother’s village) to the rest of the world. It gave me relief from a long-term worry; the Ferry, that we had to take during our earlier visits.
The ferry was a strange formation of two big wooden boats with a heavy wooden shield nailed on top. This thing was then connected to a boat with a diesel engine. Vehicles were loaded on to the wooden platform to be crossed over to the other side of the river. The very first time I had to drive a car on to this thing was when I was 17. I was terrified beyond imagination but I managed to do it at the first chance.
Coming back to the Duck Farmers of Kuttanad… My father once stated that there were three jobs that he had much respect for; Nursery Teachers, Traffic Police and Duck Farmers… because all three of these jobs required unlimited patience. The duck farmers have to take care of these birds from the moment they come out of the eggs! They have to feed them, adapt them to the environment, and go around with them through land and lake, alike… Driving through the magnificent Alappuzha – Changanacherry Road, one can see vast armadas of duck(ling)s on the lakes on both sides, managed by a single farmer, balancing himself on a small fibre boat.
Yes, it is true that some of these ducks end up in a plate of curry or a semi dry gravy of onion and chilli, nourishing your taste buds like anything. For me, that itself is the highest reward for a duck farmer’s patient job. :P
P.S: The above given photograph was taken during my recent visit to Kuttanad, along with some friends. More photographs of the visit can be seen in my Facebook album.