THE RAINS AND THE FISHY FOLKS AROUND SANTINIKETAN
The rains have been in for a month and half now, technically on the last leg of its rather amusing journey. From this time onwards to right upto the Puja vacations FISHY FOLKS, that is to say, folks fond of catching fish, are to be found almost everywhere. Interestingly for many it is a favourite past time, rather than a profession. In any case some fish in a Bengali dish is highly rejuvenating.
Over some years, on my aimless trips into the country side, often I come across amazing methods and skills to catch fish in several possible situations, sometimes even in drier seasons. Naturally photographing of such instances remains pretty interesting affair for me. Incredibly I am always amazed to note the immense patience and incredible innovation and craftsmanship people apply to catch fishes—definitely “fishy folks” for me! Angling after all is a serious sport, and catching fish is quite a complicated game!
In fact just to study the fishy folks in a rather dry area like Bolpur Santiniketan can be an interesting project for school children and a fairly serious study for guys dealing with rural society. This particular study in a more river proliferated area can be much more interesting. I shall start with kids, as it was in our kid days we got initiated into fish catching just for fun. The intriguing afternoons till date remain cherished moments for me in the labyrinth of Khoai, along with my friends. The breed of Patha Bhavana boys catching fish in the rivulets of Khoai have by now vanished altogether from the scenario. But the kids from the villages are into the game as vigorously as we were.
The collection of fishes (mostly tiny lyatas) amazed me, the catch by our own kid standards is genuinely fabulous, whatever may be the method applied. As bonus, the prospect of mudslinging between each other is too tempting, honestly! Turning the funny mixture of the catch into a palatable dish can be quite complicated for their mothers, as it happened with us, at times!
Kids can be serious anglers too. As in the sporting field, there will be friendly competitions, a few attempts to steal the catch from others, the top catcher will boast his ability much to the envy of others, and some heroes will emerge on that date. A boy with little luck will remain morose for the rest of the day, ruing the futility of existence. How we have passed those times.
Some kids are thoroughly professional, perhaps initiated by their fathers. Interestingly neither the boy above, or his father on the fishing spree is professional in the strict sense, they are out just for the heck of it.
A very convenient way to catch fish in full rains around the paddy field is to prevent the fishes from jumping out of the restricted zone by a closely knit bamboo sliced sheet. The man with a leg infected by polio, was in the process of knitting such a sheet, a pretty intricate but a simple job to him. A close inspection of the catch with such a simplistic device amazed me to a great extent. The catch in about less than an hour was quite nice. Such arrangements over a large area can be quite useful, indeed. All one has to do is to dip the arrangement, lift it after sometime, collect the catch, and dip those again. A pretty simple affair, conceived with just a bit of craftsmanship which comes naturally to the village folks.
This is a slight variation of the same process from the earlier one. The flow of water will be restricted, then diverted into a hole dug in to trap the fishes, only to lift them at convenient intervals. What one gets into hand can be tricky. It was fairly intriguing for me to find a fairly large Ban Mach (a snaky kind of very tasty fish) conveniently pierced and tied with date leaves. Once, a surprise catch was a fairly large crab which can be a bit harmful to the catching fingers. Any way that is the part and parcel of life with these fishy folks.
There can be several other methods, some pretty rudimentary, some quite elaborate. In the picture below I was fairly amazed to find a pretty old lady out for a daily fish and snail catching venture, no not out of necessity, but more out in the lure of spending an enjoyable time. Any catch is actually a bonus, an addition of few tasty dishes in the menu. She has been doing this in the rainy season for ages, and she is a game even now. Along with her, for company is her great granddaughter !
The fishing arrangement above is pretty tricky for the fishes, virtually shutting out any chance to escape. It is quite a crafty venture, mostly used by the Santhals, who are deft at weaving such convenient fish catching apparatuses. Technically the whole arrangement is pretty precise in nature, and do not need continuous monitoring as well, An hourly visit is enough to manage the whole thing, after a rather elaborate primary setting up process.
Catching of fish by nets is an ancient process still carried on, as we all know. Several methods are applied, with reasonably decent results. The volume of catch also remains higher than other methods applied, and the effort is intense in the sense at least one has to remain engaged with the process continuously.
The continuity of palatable life in the form of fish to the people of the Earth, especially for the Bengalis, is a genuine bliss. The supply may dwindle, but the adventure hardly diminishes. To end this rather long pictorial narration, I was seriously bemused when I found, as per snaps below, people trying rather unusual techniques just for the fun of it. All the guys, trying out that odd thing, are business men of Bolpur area, enjoying their day out on a business holiday on the banks of Kopai. I had a talk with them and hugely appreciated the spirit. Well, they are the genuine fishy folks of this area!
The story however never ends. There will be hundreds of different methods and techniques to catch fishes even in rural Bengal. It is a pretty intriguing affair indeed. At the end of the day, it’s the fun that matters really.