I am sorry, this is all I could manage," says Sarsuakka as we sit at her dinner table. There is a bowl of fluffy, boiled brown rice hugged by two more bowls, one full of fiery fish curry and the other containing a few pieces of fried fish.

I had arrived unannounced that night at The Blue Matsya beach house in Kapu (or Kaup), a town on Karnataka’s coast. Really, Sarsuakka is not obliged to provide me with a meal, but she has gathered whatever is left of her cooking and put it together for me.

I can hear the sea and its constant roar. The salty breeze batters the bright blue door, which has been salvaged from an old building. The dining table too was once an ornate door in another old building in the neighbourhood. The walls of the house have been painted with a mixture of egg and lime, which acts as an insect repellent. A mural in the house, Tree Of Life, is based on the theme of transience.

Karnataka’s coastline lacks the frenzied tourist buzz of Goa’s. The beaches here are fringed by coconut palm groves and are tucked away neatly beyond fishing hamlets. Their pristine sands are covered by scenes of coastal life—of fishermen setting out for their daily catch, and languid women cutting up fish for their meals.

I had discovered it when I found out that a friend’s friend owned The Blue Matsya there. The allure of a beach house was irresistible, and I convinced a few friends to rent it for a few nights.

I had arrived a day earlier. Sarsuakka and Ramanna, her husband, hover around me and watch while I eat. Armed with his traditional fishing net, Ramanna leaves at 3am to fish in his motorboat. It does not stand a chance against the monstrous trawlers that litter the sea these days, and rather than bringing back anything that can be sold, he now generally gets fish for his kitchen. He is a creature of habit, so to speak.

Slender, angular-faced Sarsuakka works her magic on these mostly nameless fish and cooks up meal after meal, often sharing them with Blue Matsya’s guests.

I contemplate joining Ramanna on one of his fishing expeditions. But he is not too keen. It could be dangerous, he says, smiling sheepishly. I would be an additional burden for him, I realize. Disappointed, I let go of my aspirations of being a Manolin from The Old Man And The Sea and let him be with his sea.

That night, I want to spend a few hours strolling and reading on the front porch that is lit by pale yellow lights. The sound of fierce waves keeps me company. I see Ramanna is still up. Watching me, the city slicker, go out on my own into the darkness for a walk, he must have felt jittery and waited until I returned. We spend some time chatting. I ask about dolphins, and whether he has encountered any during his fishing trips.

“They are a nuisance," Ramanna says. They swim vigorously into his fishing area and most often destroy or scatter away shoals of fish. But trawlers cause greater damage. Their drivers, often asleep, rip into Ramanna’s nets.

Women selling fish at the market.

Ramanna and I buy two different types of fish to barbecue. We also check out some of the other items: palm jaggery rolled in dried leaves, strong-smelling asafoetida wrapped in cellophane, and dried tamarind, a souring agent in curries.

With my shorts and sunglasses, I look completely out of place. Sellers are eager to strike up conversation with us, explain things patiently and satiate my city-bred curiosity. My broken Kannada comes in handy.

During a long walk on the beach, I come across a lighthouse perched on a clump of rocks. Operated by the directorate general of lighthouses and lightships, it is more than 100 years old.

The lighthouse at Kapu is a century old.
The lighthouse at Kapu is a century old.

One evening, we walk up to the lighthouse, buy tickets and enter. We ascend the precarious winding stairs to take in the coastal panorama. An estuary empties into the sea, and the long coastline bordered by greenery gets some more colour from the tiny boats moored on the shore. We spend the rest of the evening on the beach, watching the sky turn orange, and indigo, and counting the lights of the fishing boats approaching land.

An abiding memory of the Kapu trip remains Sarsuakka’s neer dosas (rice pancakes). Each morning, she would bring in feathery white neer dosas stacked on a plate with coconut chutney. The dosas would disappear as soon as they arrived; I was profusely thankful for them.

As our visit comes to an end, I go on one of my last long walks—by now it has become a routine. As I sit on the beach, watching the sunset, I see fishermen heading home in the twilight, their boat-lights twinkling. It’s a weekend, the beach is scattered with a sparse crowd of families and couples. Some walk up to the lighthouse, some are content to play in the waves that crash into their shins.

I buy myself a paper cone of churumuri (bhel with puffed rice). I’m ready for the long walk home.

Getting there

The closest airport is in Mangaluru, connected by air to all major Indian cities. A bus ride from Mangaluru, around 45km away, costs 50, while a taxi costs 1,300. You can also drive to Kapu from Mumbai or Bengaluru on NH 17, which hugs the coast and offers scenic views.

Places to stay

The Blue Matsya is a beach house (Thebluematsya.com). Rooms start at 1,900-2,500 per person. There are a few other expensive beach resorts; for low-budget accommodation, you will have to search for something inland.

Places to eat

Try the fish-curry rice and fresh fried fish at the rustic, nameless restaurant near the express-bus stand in Kapu. A meal costs 100.

Things to do

Visit the Kapu lighthouse, open from 4–6pm. Entry is 10.