Imagine Indian Subcontinent, what if there were no coasts! Geographically speaking, the oceans bring in moisture and that get converted into monsoon rains every year sustaining billions of human and wildlife and thus making India as world’s densest region. Likewise historically speaking, the oceans brought in revenue, resources and ideas.
The Mughals might have chosen the land route to arrive at India, but the key attraction was the prosperity that came through sea. The Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British were all allured to India’s coast and established factories. The high sea that surrounds the Indian peninsula has been part of Indian Ocean network for millennia. Our navigators braved the high sea and ventured into the west coast of Arabia in the west and in the east to as far as Java, Sumatra and Borneo.
Gujarat, especially the Gulf of Coast had played critical role in the Indian Ocean trade owing to its strategic location as a maritime outlet to Arab and the western world.
Today the coast of Gulf of Kutch serves as a magnet in the economic landscape of India, thanks to the well-established Kandla and Mundra ports and their surrounding special economic zones. But this prosperity is not new. Historically till 19th century its ports such as Mundra, Mandvi, Jakhau, Koteshwar and Lakhpat played vital role in region’s economy.
From these ports the Kutchi seamen ventured into the deep sea sailing as far as Mozambique, Arab, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean coast using the navigational skill. The ships, called kutia in Kutchi language are traditionally built sharing similarity with Arab Dhow boats.
Today a handful of kutia boats are made in Mandvi, the chief among all the historical forts of the gulf and are also mechanized. These are made for Arab clients as the local people have opted out the seafaring craft. There are also a few captains left having experience and skills of using non-mechanized crafts. One of them is the 85 year old Shivji Buda Fotidi. Here we present his story through an interview.