What The Fish!

(Continued from the last story on a fish called Sol in Assam!)


Decades back I was working in my hometown on my first job assignment. My office happened to be very near to the riverside and therefore, the local fish market at the jetty that thrived in selling fresh and live fish directly caught from the river was within walking distance. My mother’s constant errand had been to buy some fresh and ‘jumping’ local fish on my way back home from office. I wanted to on many occasions, but every time felt too bored to stroll down to the market and initiate a buying that invariably involved touching and ‘feeling’ the fishes on show.


One day I made a resolve to fulfill her long-standing wish. So, after office hours I went to that local fish market and indulged myself fully in the pre-buying spree of seeing around. Really! The fishes there were very fresh with some of them alive and jumping, literally. There were many choices before me and I had to make up my mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t carry a bag and therefore, I could not afford to buy several varieties together. The fish traders there were mostly fishermen from the nearby villages who could not realistically offer the usual facilities like bags and clean-ups or cuttings—something you had to forego for the ‘local and fresh’ tag.


After much ado about fish-finding I finally decided upon a Sol fish—large-sized and live. As the fisherman took it out of his container it nearly jumped out of his hands. He gave it a few lusty hits with his wooden hammer, and the fish seemed to be out and gone. Then he wrapped it up neatly with a newspaper sheet. I told him I had no bag and requested him to double wrap. He did so telling me that the fish was not likely to revive and give any sort of trouble to me while carrying.


I took the fish-parcel under my right arm putting my left hand too on it and walked to the nearby city-bus stop. There was no trouble on the way except for an occasional stirring from within the newspaper wrap. As luck would have it I got an empty slot at the middle of the longish rearmost seat that was officially supposed to seat four passengers, but normally six packed in. Seated in the middle I had no handrails for support in view of the jumps the bus took while negotiating the usual bumps on the road, and I had no other option but to put the parcel on my lap keeping my hands loosely over it.


Before the bus reached the next stop there was a road-bump-induced jump that lifted me nearly two feet up in air; however, I landed back safely, my hand clinging to the parcel more tightly now. And then, there was another bump or jump or whatever I was not at all prepared for.


It seemed to have emanated from within the parcel. Before I could decipher it correctly there was one more…rather a heave! This time I knew! The fish revived too fast and was now trying to break free of the newspaper wrap giving me no leverage whatsoever to protect against or prevent it. I got really worried. The bus ride would take at least half an hour to reach my destination and there would be an additional ten-minute walk home. I looked around at the fellow passengers; luckily nobody was paying me any attention. So far, yes!


Bumps, jumps and heaves followed at excruciatingly regular intervals, to my worsening predicament. Even when there were no external bumps and jumps, I had the heaves which made me shake uncontrollably. The fellow passengers now started looking at me, not knowing the reasons for my apparent unrest or discomfort. I just smiled back at them, somehow conveying an ‘understanding’ nod which, to my further embarrassment, might have indicated certain medical conditions. I had to do those ‘smiles’ and ‘nods’ several times more while putting all my efforts and strength in keeping the fish under control.


Like a seemingly endless night does end to a dawn of light, the tortuous journey finally ended as the bus came to my destination stop. I shot up from the seat and nearly jumped out of the bus. On the street now, I walked very fast holding the parcel in both of my hands with all my might. The tireless fish kept me extremely busy with the furtive looks around as an add-on, and as I hit the veranda of my house it was my turn to heave a long…long sigh of relief.


My mother was busy in the kitchen. I entered without any announcement and dumped the parcel on the hard cement floor with tremendous force. My mother looked up surprised at me, and then at the parcel on the floor. Seeing the rumpled curves of the wrap quiver unevenly, my mother immediately unwrapped the parcel and stared at the big fish. She was soon profuse with joy and appreciation. But I was not in a reciprocating mood at all.

“Next time you want live fish, provide me with a strong bag in advance,’ I commanded, “Oh God! How exasperated and tired this damned fish made me!”

“A mere fish making a healthy guy of 25 tired, huh? Ha…ha!” my mother laughed out preparing to do the cleaning.


I turned back impatiently and headed towards the wash basin. As I washed my hands and face I could not help a smile too, a bit ruefully perhaps.


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