Located on the banks of the Cauvery, a short distance from the ancient site of Talakad in Mysore district, lies the hamlet of Hemmige. It’s home to a small fishing community of about 20 households, dependent completely on the Cauvery for their livelihood. However, the Cauvery, like any other river, can be stingy and generous at the same time — the life of the community is woven intricately with her shifting moods. And sadly, the rhythm of this river has been ravaged by human disruptions: polluted waters and sand mining means that fish are dying and catches aren’t like they used to be. But there’s one constant in the lives of these fisherfolk, says Sivu, a twenty-something young fisherman.
As we stand by the Cauvery talking to Sivu, a siren goes off. Sivu suddenly says, “I have to go.” He jumps into his fibreglass coracle and paddles away quickly into the distance. Others rush to the riverbank too, jump into their coracles, and head off into other parts of the river.
Sivu is back in about 15 minutes. His net is empty but some of the others have had better luck. Sivu points upstream to a building, about half a kilometre from where we are standing. At the base of what’s the Madhavamantri Anicut, lies the 3 MW Bhoruka hydel power unit, commissioned in 2001. While the Anicut (a diversion structure built across the river) itself is very old, the barrage built recently is used to regulate the river flow to meet the needs of power generation. In the monsoon, this has a direct impact on the lives of the fisherfolk who live both upstream and downstream of the barrage.
The siren is actually an indication of the power plant being switched off for 10 minutes as a concession to the fishing community. During these precious minutes, the water flows straight and fast into the main channel of the river, offering the fishermen their best chance to get a catch. This happens three to five times a day: a 10-minute window not in control of the river or the fisherman, but on which his life is dependent almost completely.