The city of Panvel is just like any other busy and well planned towns. Grid shaped and clean streets, which have trees lined on both sides, and high rise buildings etc. You find all the high powered cars as preferred by the upper middle class. The hustle and bustle is worthy of a metropolis, which Panvel is apparently trying to become.
Just three kilometers from the Panvel railway station, you do a time travel in the auto-rickshaw you are traveling in. The grid planned streets are replaced by dirt roads, embellished by tractor ruts and potholes, which the Autowallah blissfully ignores. The greenery is multiplied 10 times and high rise buildings make way for quaint houses and small thatched huts. High powered cars are replaced by bullock carts and cycles. It’s silent. It’s beautiful. It’s a real village in Raigad district. There’s no bustle, as the residents of this heaven don’t aspire to be anything else. They are happy to sit and watch the rocks grow. I live here.
Although all the seasons look beautiful here, winter is when Panvel is at its most beautiful. The rains are recently gone and have washed the atmosphere clean. The grass and plants are fresh and young and yet to experience the merciless heat of that angry sun. Like an idealistic youth fresh from a college, they ignore the harsh truth of life and think that they will remain young forever with the same chutzpah. The river near my home is flowing slowly, like a shy and beautiful bride going to the kitchen for the first time. Wonder what the heat of the kitchen will do to her beauty! This is the time, I and my son begin our annual fishing business on weekends.
Last year, we prepared our high tech fishing gear, which comprises of a leafless branch of a sapling, a reel of stitching thread, a piece of slice bread, packets of wafers, cans of cold drinks and a torn mat. Well, fishing requires a lot of patience and waiting!
We don’t use any fishing hook and rely on our indelible charms to woo the fishes in. We tie a piece of slice bread in the thread and sit there, sipping our drinks and talking slowly, so as not to scare the aqua beauties. We sit till mid-day or the end of the snacks and drinks-whichever happens first, and then we go home. Glowing with the satisfaction of a hard day’s work done! Unnecessary to say that we also are devoid of any fishes. I and my son are a laughing stock, but famous amongst the fishermen /women and the villagers. Sometimes I suspect that even the fishes laugh at us! Who cares! We are enjoying! But, today was different!
We reached at our favorite spot at the river bank, under a sprawling tree of who-knows-what (I always failed in botany) and set station. Everything was in place, but we didn’t have a slice bread available today. Rakesh, the Improviser immediately found a workaround. I kneaded some dough and made small balls. Fishes are stupid. What they will know? We stuck some on the end of the thread and the CEO of Pandey Fisheries, Shashwat Pandey reeled it out and we sat to wait patiently. Fishing, like photography teaches us that nothing in the life goes according to our plan. Like the famed Chaos Theory, things get affected by certain phenomenon, which we don’t even register. Suddenly, there was a tug on the line. This was a first in last 4 years! Till date, no fish cared for us. We thought that it’s a river current, and ignored. The tug was insistent. Shanu went and reeled in. Reeled in is a make believe term as we don’t have a reel. He pulled out with a 8 inches fish hanging on at the bottom of the line. The fish jumped off as soon as the line was on the bank.
Shanu was shocked and hid behind me. Fearing attack from this peculiar creature. I’m scared of all the creatures of God, except snakes, but I didn’t have the option of running away. I stood my ground. We both were agog and watching our guest, till it spoke.
“What do you think you are playing at?”
I was reeled without a punch! By God! This is hard! Here I am, spending my valuable times to feed these beasties and all this creature has is abuse for me? I flared up. The famous Pandey Temper, but with a restraint.
“Hello! Didn’t you get the dough? What do you think I should arrange when I ran out of slice bread? Pizza?”
The fish smiled, my sarcasm lost on him. I presumed it was a male. “Why not? We don’t mind pizza. But, it’s not about food I’m here. I want to talk to you about your behavior.”
I was afraid now. My behavior is something even I don’t want to know about. But, did I have any option?
Fish: “Have you ever given your entire life for someone, who never appreciated, but just found faults?”
I: “Yes, I gave my… “
Fish, cutting me short: “Did you feel good when you knew that you are straining your soul, still you are not appreciated?”
F: “My family, since last 170 generations have ended on your plates. Still what we get? Nothing?”
I: “Listen! I’m a Brahmin and we don’t eat you or anything.”
F smiled.: “Really? How about that evening in your hostel? That’s another thing I don’t like about human. They lie to save their skin. The skin, which is more fragile than our bladder. If you need to protect your skins, why don’t you grow some scales? Why lie?”
I know of some guys, who had scales, but I let it pass. And, that harpoon hit home.
F: “We are raised to be eaten. We are picked up from our natural inhabitant, to be fried. We accept it. Have you guys ever done anything for us, when we spread our soul and body on your dining table? “
I thought hard. Got it! I: “I had a fishing tank in 1998…”
F, cutting across, :”I know. A tank, which you expected your wife to clean. And, you got rid of it when you found that she won’t. Would you accept it if we say that we don’t want to be eaten and please eat scorpions now? Will you adjust? Did you even think of the souls in that tank, which you gave away? You human write books on souls and don’t even read them. Geeta says that all animate has souls. Did you even stopped to think?”
I: “I know fish, we were hard but.. “
F, cutting me down again. “You know? It’s the same with all your pets. You humans think this planet is yours by right. How? Do you have any notarized letter from the Almighty? You smoke like a chimney. You spill your poison in the basic necessity for you -water. You cut down the root of the water. Trees, and no pun intended.” He smiled.
I was abashed. “But, I’m doing my best! The other day.. “
F: “How about those oil spills? You just go on with your business. You humans have spoiled your own life with the concept of money. We fishes are happy. We don’t have to pay for anything. You are paying. And, you are getting paid. Like a servant.”
I hated it. This was too much! Shanu was not hiding anymore. He was looking at me incredulously. As if, I did all that I was accused of. I got angry.
“Listen, you bloody fish! You cannot come and accuse me of deeds I didn’t do. You will be glad to know that we always have petted animals, birds and other creatures since I don’t know when. You… “
F: “Yes. I know about the dog, which had to wait for you before it can die. I know about that kitten, which your wife left in the jungle and you were too coward to speak against. Yes, Rakesh. I also know about that kitten, whom you forgot out on Deepawali night and who was bitten by a snake, two years ago. I also know how you left your best friend when you understood that he’s diagnosed with AIDS in 2002. He always was with you in all the brawls. You are a coward, Rakesh.”
I didn’t have anything to say. I found two water drops on my toes. It wasn’t raining.
I shut my burning eyes. When I opened, Shanu was leaning on me. “Papa, let’s go. It’s 12 o’clock.”
I asked, “Where’s the fish? “
Shanu laughed. “Papa! Have we ever caught one?”
We walked silently to our home, which is just across the road. Shanu suddenly asked me.
“Papa.. Suppose we catch a fish some day, what will we do? “
I looked across the deep river with its horrible underworld denizens and said.
“We will call for Police Protection, son.”
The fish I dreamed about was a female. No male cuts across a conversation ever!