Sunday, October 25, 2009

Enjoy my fishing tales but don't emulate me


Rohu fishes are selling at Rs 260 per kilogram in Patna marts. The draught has caused short supply of fishes this year. Normally, the lakes and ponds stay filled with waters during October and November, heralding the winter season. But this season got scanty rainfall which failed to fill these reservoirs in which the fresh water fishes grow.

Understandably, the rohu which is a delicacy in Indian states of Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh is selling at spiraling prices. It is tough time for fish lovers, especially for those living on salary. The salary amount has a tendency to dwindle with each passing day as the full moon dwindles with each passing evening till he vanishes at the end of the fortnight.

I am a professional, living on salary. A fish lover, I long for fishes. It is hard time for me too.

While buying the fish, the other day, my mind traveled to my ‘fishing days’. I recounted my halcyon years as a toddler out with fishing poles near the ponds in one of the remotest of Bihar villages I was born and brought up at.

Dasrath and I reached out to the pond with our fishing poles. Holding the poles, we stood on the pond’s bank in clever silence. The pole on its other end had a string attached to it. A dainty hook knotted with the string’s end rested inside the water. Before releasing it in the water, we would coat the hook in tightly kneaded dough or small piece of crab’s meet to lure the gullible denizens of the deep. A light piece of wood latched to string would float on the water’s surface giving the signal about the fish’s pursuit with the illusory ‘eatable’ inside. The floating wood was a perfect indictor. It would swiftly sink when the fish gobbled up the ‘tasty’ hook. I would sharply pull out the pole, fetching the catch with its jaws tangled in the hook. The fish then would be untangled and removed in a pot. We would make homeward journey with several fishes-big and small- in the fading light of the setting sun.

My father was a village based primary school teacher. He abhorred me going out to the ponds with Dasrath and other school dropouts. He thought that I would be spoiled in company of my ‘rustic’ peers. He wanted me to study hard and move out to the city for better education and job.

In my late teens in 1970’s, I could not think of living without my fishing poles, Dasrath and many other unlettered pals. I got pleasure in fishing, playing, shepherding our cows with them. They helped me learn fishing and swimming. They rallied round me.

Dasrath, other friends and I would gather around a bone-fire lit with dried cow dung cakes, woods and hays. We roasted the fishes in the bonfire while warming ourselves up in the winter evenings. Then we peeled off the fishes, removed their bones and mash them. We mixed the concoction of mustard oil, chopped garlic, green chilies and red chili pickles with the roasted fishes. My father made face at our ‘indiscreet’ acts but my generous mother provided the ingredients to make our preparation delicious. We ate the preparation either with chapatee (roti) or rice and lentil before dispersing and going to sleep.

Many times, my mother cooked the fishes in curry made up of mustard, dried red chili, oil, salt and other spices. But I loved eating the catch in the company of friends.

In my 40’s now I am settled down in Bihar capital as a scribe on the staff of a reputed English newspaper. I am living the life an ‘elite’ pen-pusher.

But I, at times, miss the taste and flavour of the fish that I caught, roasted and ate while sharing the fish trapping tales with my childhood pals. I long for that flavour and that distinct milieu. I long for my carefree friends who were full with time for me. They always accompanied me at fishing and playing the games which I have never seen in the city.

“Why do you go to school? What will the school give you,” Dasrath used to tell me. He would advice, “If you give up the school we will have enough time to play together, shepherd our cows, laugh our heart out and go for fishing. The school is full with boring teachers pestering the children to cram ‘ka, kha, ga, gha (Hindi alphabets). ” In the heart of my heart I agreed to Dasrath.

But we indulged in these talks away from my father’s ears and eyes. Firm to get me educated, he admonished me for ruining myself in company of the ‘idyllic’ friends. My friends had no reason to study. Education had no meaning to their unlettered parents too. For instance, Dasrath’s father- a farm tool maker- had no objection to his son perfecting the skill of fishing and shepherding the cattle.

The village had no link to road and trains. It was devoid of motor vehicles. It was surrounded by ponds, lakes, trees and many other villages. We traveled on feet. There was no electricity. We lit lantern after the sunset. Some elderly villagers told us the long stories through the night to entertain us.

My father cajoled me, “Son! I do not want you to end up as a poor man like me. I too used to spend time in fishing during my childhood. I did not study well for I had no means. That is why I am a lowly paid teacher. I want you to study well and go out to the cities for higher education and decent employment”.

He would argue that my obsession with fishing and friends would not let me concentrate on the study that he had set as my ‘primary’ vocation. “You will have enough money to buy fishes and things of your choice once you complete your studies and land in good job”, he would plead.

It was hard for me at that stage to even think of buying the fishes. The village had no fish market. The villagers always caught their fishes from the ponds, paddy fields and water streams. Still, I could not have rejected what my father suggested me. After all, living a frugal existence, he spent more on my books and stationeries.

My father had his own idea of “decent life”. He had his relatively “fortunate” brothers working in the railways in various Indian cities. Though they were ordinary railway officials, they came attired in fancy shirts and pants in the holidays. They would bring fancy pens, cloths and the toys which we had not seen in the village. He wanted me, at least, to become like my uncles.

My father loved me more than he cared for himself. He observed a “promising” boy in me for the reason best known to him. He wanted me to pass the secondary school examination as soon as possible and switch over to a city college. I was the only village boy going to a high school, three miles away from our village. I would go to school on feet. The long and lonely journey to school was a nightmare. I missed my pals on the forlorn path. But I never wanted to hurt my father’s sentiment. I would study and learn my lessons for his satisfaction.

* * *                  * * *                                  * * *

I did my homework fast to get free for fishing and friends. My school got only four out of 100 students passing out the matriculation exams conducted by the Bihar School Secondary Examination Board in 1976. I was one of the four.

My father was at cloud nine to see me successful. He instantly got me admitted to a college in Patna. The college had majority of the students wearing fancy shoes, trousers and shirts. Most of them were drawn from the convent schools and conversed in the lingo downright alien to me.

I had never put on shoes in my school days. My teachers too came bare-footed. I wore loose fitting kurta and pyjama in my school days. My school mates too wore similar cloths.

My father got some cash by selling sugar cane to buy me two pairs of pant and shirt and a pair of shoes before sending me to college. Reluctantly, I wore the new cloths to attend the college classes full with smart looking students.

I missed my friends, village, ponds and fishes. Confined to my hostel room, I sobbed silently.

But I had no way to escape. Gradually, I started adjusting to the company of my new friends who spoke better English and were quite nice to me. Away in an ‘alien’ milieu, I had no work other than concentrating on my books and spending time with my new found friends who talked more on terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir, operation blue star and Indira Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of her own guards, the newspaper reports and editorials besides the novels, new cinemas, competitive examinations and jobs.

I too started taking interest in these topics to get going with them. Slowly but surely I started feeling better in studying in the glow of electric lights. Days passed into months and months into years. While doing MA I had picked up the language to understand English novels. One of my hostel friends gave me ‘Old Man and the Sea’- an Earnest Hemingway creation. I enjoyed it most for its story revolved round fishing. I identified myself with the boy who pegged the old man to go for fishing.

My college days virtually morphed my life and thought process. I had spent only six years in college and university’s campus. But those six years overhauled me thoroughly. At the time of leaving the college hostel, I was more like my peers pursuing careers. The idea of going back to the village had vanished from my mind. I landed in journalism in the quest to earn my living.

I don’t know how it has happened. My editors rate me as a good reporter and powerful politicians respect me. I move out in car and work on computers. I am aware of using internet, blogs and twitter.

Had my father been alive he would have been extremely satisfied to see his son “scaling the great heights”. I may be an ordinary journalist. But my father who was cold shouldered by school inspectors would have been overjoyed to see me rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty on the land.

In a way, I have started idolizing my father. Despite his educational limitations and village existence, he was forward looking in the sense that he grasped well in advance that I would end up like a frog in the well if I was allowed to carry on with my adolescent obsessions.

Musing over my childhood days is not bad for it gives an enchanting account which the generation next may enjoy the way they enjoy Ferry Tales and Panchtantra stories. In fact, I will be delighted to find the generation next enjoying my tale. But I will never like the generation next that I love to the hilt to idolize my past.

I ponder what would have Subhas Chandra Bose done had he been alive. In his time he waged a war against the colonial rule. He would surely have organized the generation next whose concern is not being addressed by the present day leaders. He would have fought for the schools capable of producing world class students in India. He would have fought for ensuring the say of the generation next in governance. After all, this generation is full with talent, energy and skill to take the country forward. Still they have no say in the policies made to take the country forward. He would surely have tapped the vast potential of the Indian youths who have been competing with and even scoring over their peers across the globe. His ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ must have comprised the youth brigades which produce soft wires with felicity, which moves out in fancy cars on their own earning and which dominate the positions of the top companies’ high paid CEOs to guide the political course of India.

Still I think that it is easy to become writer from a fisher boy. But from here it is foolish to think of going back to the fishing days. We always undergo the process of evolution which can not be rolled back. Much water has flown down the Ganga. My past can throw enchanting tales. But I can not re-live it. In fact, the very idea of re-living it is downright wrong. It is foolhardy to think of going back to our Neanderthal existence.

So, enjoy my story. But never emulate me.

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