BY TAJAMUL HUSSAIN
‘Samandari gaad…! Panjaabi gaad…! Zoumba gaad…!’ A sudden loud outcry, from the unruly pack of teenagers, loitering around at the street corner, in a wanton mood, filled the atmosphere. The lantern-jawed forty-something, returning from the workplace felt awkwardly uncomfortable. As the poor fellow vainly tried to give his pursuers the slip, he’d get visions of the fateful day. He always cursed it, for it was the root cause of all the blitzkrieg of indecent humiliation that he had been put to for decades now. Ironically enough, the miscreants never went into the whys and the wherefores of their onslaught. People hardly knew the identity of the culprit.
No, it was not a fishing competition. It was neither an Ostallato Canal Challenge nor was it a World Club Championship. There were no legendary anglers in the fray. Kevin Ashurst, the runner to Bob Nudd, the British winner of the gold medal was not there. World champion Brian Leadbetter and the well-known angler Bob Church too were not there. It was instantaneous fishing theatrics that was staged on the banks of Sunderkul, in the neighborhood of Darwesh Kadal in the Down Town. The director (and the villain) was the frail, weak, and pale teenager, who happened to be my elder brother. The ‘beleaguered me’ played the role of the little buddy (saouvieth/salka) and a close witness to the drama.
For an hour and a half that I sat alongside my firstborn brother, I watched the little angler rolling the bait every now and then, fixing it to the fishing hook, and reeling out the fishing line as far as possible in the deep muddy waters of the kaetakoul. Angling had been a tranquil pastime for my brother. Sitting astride on a log timber, moored near the bank of the kul, with an intention to while his time pleasantly and give vent to his passion the ace angler’s eyes were fixated at the little float (penna-kaet). Every time he asked for the fishing bait, with the kind of lemmings’ obedience, the 'yours faithfully' handed over the required material to him, instantaneously.
Should I call it angling? The crude method of fishing that my brother and his friends made use of, was a kind of "angle" (fish hook). The hook would be attached to the fishing line, the bislaii, made of nylon thread, and the line knotted to the fishing rod at one end. Fishing rods fitted with a fishing reel would function as a mechanism for storing, retrieving, and paying out the line.
The hook itself was dressed with lures or bait. A bite indicator such as a float was either a piece of straw or a cork and was called penna-kaet in the local fisherman’s parlance. When a fish swallowed the bait, a tug on the line would cause the gorge to orient itself at right angles to the line, thereby sticking in the fish's gullet.
Common natural baits that my brother and the fellow anglers used, included earthworms, atta and piece of bread, and sometimes chicken/sheep intestines. The common earthworm was universal/effective bait for our kind of angling. A fishing sinker or Knoch was a weight used in conjunction with a fishing line or hook to increase its rate of sink, anchoring ability, and/or casting distance.
A few yards away from where my brother operated, sat our cousin, yet another angling buff, on a lichen-infested rock that was partially submerged in the serene river waters. He was a regular angler and also my brother’s close pal. But on that fateful day, the duo was not on talking terms with each other.
They had squabbled with each other a few days back on some trivial issue. The young fishing masters had been sitting there for quite long now, without talking to each other, and keenly watching for who would hook the fish first. The eerie silence that prevailed would occasionally be broken with the thudding sound of the fishing lines that were cast into the muddy waters by the two anglers.
Much to their chagrin every time the two anglers cast their fishing lines into the river waters the smart fish nibbled at the bait and vanished into thick waters without leaving any trace. The Penna-kaet, which occasionally bobbed up and down in the process, however, did not help our anglers to make a prize catch.
The duo was fated to return home innocent of a catch. As my brother threw in the towel, he simply shut up shop to murmur. ‘Enough is enough; the fish are too smart. I think I better call it a day. Better try next time.' He stood up, looked at me, held the fishing rod by its tail end, and swung the line to wind it round and round the rod itself. ‘Yemis lageii temiss lageii sarkari, mahraj saabani zima waari (he who gets hit will be hit by sarkar; the responsibility therefore for any damage that is caused lies with the Maharaja, the king).’ my brother sang aloud.
‘Ammma, ammma…' A sudden outburst of pain and cry startled the two of us siblings. 'I am hurt! I’m dead, Look what happened to my nose, it is bleeding.’ As we turned back to see what had happened we were shell-shocked.
The poor fellow held his bleeding nose with one hand and the fishing hook with another. In our frenzy, my brother and I ran amuck without actually knowing what had happened. It wasn’t long before the cacophonic sound of the people that gathered there filled the atmosphere.
After hiding for an hour or so in the (ghav ghaaan) historically used for cattle, at the basement of our house, we came out to learn that the barbed metal fishing hook that my brother swung had pierced through the nostril of our cousin. It was only, when the goldsmith, cut the hook into two that he was relieved of the pain. In the absence of her husband who was posted outside the town, our mother, who learned soon about the episode, would utter a wail of grief over the wrongdoings of her children.