Fishing Away

There were those special occasions on our coffee estate, when to please the family and especially us children, father would wind up work and declare a half-holiday to the coolies. To march the whole lot down to the stream, to temporarily dam and divert its waters, catch the trapped denizen of the deep and have a share in the spoils. The giant share of course went to the Sahukar's bungalow. This almost monthly ritual was going to be a 'fishing day'. A day of maha excitement!

On the estate we were blessed with two perennial rivulets running through our property. One with plenty of water through the year, a sizeable all weather stream that hugged the bottom of our hill where the paddy fields started. The other, 'midst the coffee blocks in the main estate and not very accessible to us as it made its way through the gorges, to be a feeder to a delightful small lake at Manjjammana Golla. This one served as a water point to all the wild life that abounded in the surrounding jungle. There hangs a tale by this place, but that's another story! But fishing in these streams whether by angling, or by 'dam'-ing, was indeed a sport for us to indulge in, - not only for the sheer thrill of it, but also for the excellent fare it provided to mum's tasty table.

The fishing spots to target were carefully selected, from where the waters were diverted. It had to be just above a point where the water flow was not noticeable, and surfaces were still. Indicating pockets of depth and stationary waters, where larger fish could burrow and nest. Upstream from rocky patches with alcoves and enclaves, that lent room for tiny lagoons with still waters which the fish preferred. And to effectively divert the flow, the coolies with their 'mumties' or spades and shovels had to labour with speed to build a dam horizontally across the stream. By blocking the breadth with criss-crossing trunks of small trees, using stones and rocks, and earth from the sides, - and reinforcing them with scores of leafy branches from the surrounding dense foliage to sandwich and effectively plug the leaks. This helped in raising the level of in-flowing water to be easily channelled into the narrow trench dug for the purpose alongside and parallel to the stream, and meet the main flow once again downstream below the spot chosen.

And then the tedious task of emptying the waters in the selected area. At times if lucky, with a portable field pump transported to the spot, or else with pails and troughs to bale out over and to the other side of the temporary dam. And as the waters emptied, the excitement and thrill would fill the air to see all types of slippery slithery fishes make their way into the diminishing water puddle at the middle. Only to be scooped up into baskets and other secure containers. To be carried away to the kitchens later. The Denklle, Madonji, Kutchi and Thigur - all fresh-water local stream variety, - we didn't spare any.

But this was not half as much fun as identifying some of the larger ones that cleverly remained in the swampy slush they had taken shelter in and the combing of burrows under rocks and along stream side walls that were sure to hold some of the best catch. With no fear we dug our hands shoulder deep into the unknown bowels, burying the length of our arms into burrows, searching and probing for possible hidden treasure. With gay abandon and blind confidence, and not a care or thought to the possibility of harm from reptiles or unsavoury creatures. Not even the steel-pincer clawed rock-crabs that invariably gave you something to remember them by for days to come, deterred us from this sport! And we screamed in delight each time a good catch was gripped by its head and lifted high above for all to see - its gills and tail flapping in protest.

The repast that followed had a special taste. Not only due to mother's touch and culinary expertise, but also because of our personal participation and endeavour involved. The memories of the slurpy lip-licking of it all, is something no gourmet fare of latter years has ever been able to erase.

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