Friday, August 08, 2014

The Other Day, We Went Fishing

When a lot of other shit was happening all around us, two of my favourite boys took me fishing. It was my first time. 

Armed with one hook and a bamboo rod, some snacks in an old cloth bag, we start out, three troopers, one mid-morning. Stopping along the way under a tall tree where the mud was still damp, they dig up some worms, thin earth-toned earthworms, some fat, juicy albino types. Some get away, but most end up as a pile upon a sheet of silver foil. I hold on tight to the bamboo rod all along, morbidly fascinated with the wiggling, poor worms.

We come to the pond inside the estate. Would it rain? It threatens to, the whole time we are there, which is a few hours. It drizzles, not enough though to pack up and run back. 

The pro shows us how it was done. Having fished from the time he was little, in farms with the neighbours' boys, he has to only lazily fling the rod into the water and out would fly a struggling fish. As for me, it was like this one time last December when I watched a man place the head of a cow atop a wooden pedestal and yank, yank its jaws open to pull out its tongue, a delicacy for Christmas, apparently. It was both fascinating and horrifying, all that blood everywhere, the smells. 

You can never tell when you will realize there is in you a streak of the morbid. Or the tad self destructive, for that matter. 

The apparatus we share consists of a long pole, at the end of which is a metal hook tied to string. Through that hook, you push in a live worm and arrange it in a lump, partly dangling off the hook to tease the fish in, but not too much either. Towards the end is another small stick tied to the bigger one. This one floats on the surface of the water. When the fish has swum up to the worm on the hook and starts tugging at it, this small stick wobbles slightly because of the pressure. You have to judge this one right now. Remember to yank out the pole with a swift hand, the old hand veteran instructs me. If you pull out too fast, the hook won't have gotten stuck in the fish's throat yet, too late and a fish would have swum away, happy on a juicy worm. 

It takes me a couple of tries, of course. My favourite boys thread the worms for me, I can't bring myself to touch them, very much alive as they are. I feel sorry for the worms, the boys, well they would rather just start catching some fish soon. I take the pole and lower the hook into the water, arrange the short stick appropriately and prepare myself for a long wait. I am told to concentrate and watch out for slight movements. Then I feel a slight tug. It's hardly been a couple of minutes. I am a bit disappointed, for I had all these visions of sitting companionably for endless minutes, pondering on life's questions and that day's dinner. You can hardly answer existential stuff in two minutes now, can you?

I am told to pull up the pole. I do, with a jerk. And at the end of it is a shiny little fellow, wide eyed and fighting to get free. He lands in the bushes nearby and the three of us poke around the grass a bit before we find him, beating against the ground. There he is, my first catch! He is struggling and I want to throw him back, almost. But the veteran fisherman has told me that the hook hurts the fishes bad, and they don't survive long that way. It is more merciful not to throw them back. Maybe he says so to make me feel better. 

You can never tell when you will recognize the hunter in you. Maybe deep within, we all are hunters. You cannot wish away the primitive residual DNA. It is the one that stirs longing and dance in you when the drums beat, the one that arouses the hunter in you. Something hidden, never previously used, never acknowledged stirs. I take to this act of killing fish for food. There is something indescribably stirring, disturbing, fascinating about foraging.

They say the first kill is always the hardest. After the first fish, I go on to catch five more, different kinds that have beautiful names like Silopi and others I cannot remember now. Beginner's luck, the second greenhorn grumbles. He fashions a bowl out of banana leaf and some twigs - he is excellent at those things - and we put all our catch there, to heave and gasp and die slowly. He manages two fishes, the teacher, even when just showing us the ropes, catches two. I show off the number six often after that. I like fishing, I tell everyone.

Those few hours there are wonderfully peaceful. There is scant conversation, a slight drizzle, a lazy sun now and then and the unhurried ease that comes with being with people you are comfortable with. We leave when we realize we haven't eaten lunch yet, it is close to 5 pm. 

Later, they will clean the ten small fishes. They will scrap off the scales and pull out the guts. They will shoo away the dogs that wait nearby for scraps. They will mix turmeric and chilly powders and let the fishes marinate till when the rest of the cooking begins. One will make excellent biriyani. One will fry these fishes. I will cut some vegetables for myself. There will also be some left over pork. There will be a warm fire, around which toasts will be raised and stories exchanged. Much later, around a small table next to a window that I open to let the cold wind in, four friends will sit and share a lovely meal over laughter, drink, stories and merriment.