Migration Diaries

Shells to the rescue of the old and frail
Authors: Ch. Pratima
Languages Known
Son, Daughter, Grandchildren
Migrated From
Podampeta, Ganjam, Odisha
Migrated To
Various nearby coasts
Types of Work
Gathering and selling clam shells


Reason for Migration


Surukulu Potamma and Surukulu Shriram hail from the Podampeta village in the Ganjam district, Odisha, and belong to the fishing Noliya caste. In their younger days, both were active fish workers. Potamma was a fish vendor who used to travel from village to village selling fish. This was nearly ten years ago.

Now at 63, she finds it hard to do this arduous work. Her husband, Shriram, once an active fisher on this coast, cannot go fishing. At 80, no one is willing to take him out to sea either. The last five years have brought this elderly couple great financial distress.  With a son and daughter living separately with their own families, and caught up in their own worlds and woes, there is no one to help this couple. Potamma says bluntly, “We are orphans today despite having a son and a daughter. No parent should ever experience this.” The world they are a part of is not helping either. They receive no work because of their age, and old men are never taken fishing. Between them, Shriram alone receives a monthly pension from a government scheme of a meager Rs 500 each month, which is insufficient to cover any reasonable expense. The couple struggles to recognize people far away due to their reduced vision. Despite this, they manage to look down in the sand and pick out shells and live clams. The old couple now earns a daily wage relying on beach gleaning, and collecting clam shells. 

The old couple help each other lift baskets of shells. Photo by Ch. Pratima.

The majority of clams are only found for roughly 5 to 6 months of the year, not all year round. The shoreline is teeming with clams at low tide, even when it rains for five to six months. They gather 20 to 25 bags at a time which takes them about 5 to 6 months. Despite their efforts, they barely make 100 rupees for every bag. They use the money they make during those five to six months to pay for all their costs for the entire year. 

At this age, instead of spending time with grandchildren like other older villagers, the couple walks up and down the beach daily, gathering shells, struggling to make a daily living, and relying on the sea’s remaining creatures as a last resort.

Despite their efforts, they barely make 100 rupees every bag.

Pottamma and Shriram while sorting the shells and packing into baskets. Photo by Ch. Pratima.

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