Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Suffering Catfish..

There were many such afternoons before this, and many after. While the adults were either asleep or watching TV, us kids had all descended on the little bridge over the canal just outside of our colony. I guess the grown-ups were rather happy to have us off their backs for a few hours. We were engaged in one of our favourite post-monsoon activities - fishing. The rains would bring water into the canal, which would first wash away all the bushes that had filled its waterless bed over summer, and then, once the rains had gone, there would be fishes. And we would go fishing.

There were many ways to do this, none of which we were really all that good at. Mammoonju, the local grocer, would keep fishing hooks and twine, which we acquired for a buck and fifty paise. A shrub in the neighbourhood would lose a long-ish branch, and we were in business. Worms would be dug and speared on the hook, a bit of thermocol for a bobber, and all we had to do was wait. We never caught much fish this way, maybe less than a dozen in all the years combined. On the few occasions we did catch one, we never knew what to do with it. The first time we caught one, bigger boys from the colony nearby told us we should put fevicol on its lip over the hook wound so that it would heal and we could keep it as a pet. The only reason that fish lived was because amma's suspicions were aroused when she saw us heading towards the garage with a bottle of fevicol and a bottle with the fish in it.

As we grew older, and dare I say braver, we began to get into the water. We would take old towels from home, stand at a suitable place downstream with the towel stretched across the flow, and someone would chase the fishes from upstream. We would catch many, and were suitably gladdened. But of course, soon we wanted to catch bigger fish. Catfish were the holy grail, because they hid in cracks between rocks. The same cracks also housed water snakes, and that was the main reason why fishing in the canal was a clandestine activity. The adults should never know.

Which brings me back to the afternoon. We had seen the boys from the other colony catch huge catfish by ferreting them out of their cracks and chopping them with long knifes while they were still in the water. They took home their prize to cook. We wanted one for a pet, a catfish would've made a very cool pet. We had spotted one in the cracks beneath a little bridge that ran over the canal, and for the first time, we were venturing under it. The fact that it was almost pitch dark under the low bridge made it even more of an adventure. For at least an hour we searched, and even the kids who normally wouldn't get into the water were braving the possibility of water snakes in search of the holy grail in juvenile ichthyology. Since there was only one towel, the others were carrying plastic covers in desperation.

After an hour, spirits were flagging, and I was looking a bit worried as my brother went further under the bridge than all of us had dared so far. Even that intrepid move did not produce the catfish we were after. Just as we were beating retreat and coming out from under the bridge one by one, I looked at Jeffrey. Jeffrey did not particularly like getting wet in the dirty water of the canal, and rarely shared our enthusiasm for such hands-on fishing. He was standing there in the water, his arms drooping, looking as dejected as the rest of us, when a small fish jumped into the air in front of him. I saw his hand move quick as a flash, and the next thing I know is that the fish was flapping about in the plastic cover he was holding. He had snatched a fish out of thin air! The ecstatic scene that followed was not dissimilar to a football team who had just scored a goal. We had just seen the single most amazing thing in our short lives that far. We did not get the damn catfish, but we went home with grins plastered to our faces. No grown up could be told the story. No one would've believed us anyway.