My nemesis are fish

By Bhoot Jolokia

“You fit into me like a hook into an eye 

A fish hook, an open eye”

– Margaret Atwood

I love eating fish and I would assume that many people in the eastern part of the country would agree. With free-flowing rivers comes a free flow of fresh fish.We have managed to tether celebrations to fish, as the freshest and biggest catch would inevitably lead to a celebratory feast in a home.

If you ever feel that your significant other is bereft of passion, then drag him/her to Uzanbazar in Guwahati and take them to bustling fish market in the wee hours of morning. The passion with which people bargain for prices and haggle for the best cut of fish would stir the most pragmatic person.

But personally, fish are my nemesis. I do love consuming them. Seeing their dead flesh crackling in piping hot mustard oil is a joyous sight. Yet, they remain my nemesis, as I have been bested by fish twice in my life.

During nights, when my friend Johnny Walker visits, I often wonder if gods are real, and these fish who bested me were just Vishnu in his Matsya avatar telling me personally that life will regularly fool you. Johnny Walker is not the most reliable friend though, is he?

The first time that I was bested by a fish, I was aparticularly rambunctious kid. I would visit my grandparents, who lived a few kilometers away, but these few kilometers also separated a sleepy little town and a village. There was a pond in my grandparents’ backyard, the purpose of its existence was a mystery. I fail to recall if the pond ever had crystal clear water,as all I remember is the pond covered in algae.

Soon I had developed a fascination with fishing. It started after watching the fevicol ad of a man using astick with fevicol and catching a bunch of fish. The ad was fascinating, and it certainly impressed me. After irritating the entire household for days, finally, my uncle took pity and built a rickety fishing rod for me. He also found some worms to be used as bait and went as far as to release a single fish in the pond so that I could catch it. I would probably be the face of nepotism in fishing.

Now, the stage was set. It was that one lone fish, a climbing perch, versus one particularly annoying kid. For the fish, its fate was sealed. It would die in one way or another, and its only victory would be to thwartmy efforts to catch it. For me, my dream of becoming a celebrated fisherman was on the line; I really did seriously consider becoming one at that age.

I took my makeshift fishing rod, with the bait of worms, and a polythene bag for my tryst with the lone climbing perch. After two hours of effort, I realized that fishing is not as fascinating as it seems and requirespatience. The fish, perhaps realizing the amateur endeavours, remained conspicuously hidden. Soon, it is 12 pm, and I gave up my battle with the fish and raninside to watch the drug of every 90s kid, a hypersanskaari superhero show called Shaktimaan.

As soon as the episode finished, I came running to resume fishing, and to my amazement, the little climbing perch had eaten the bait and evaded capture. I could see the ripples forming in the pond, almost like a pagan ritual of victory and to mock the fallen foe. Here, the fallen foe was I. If the universe was keeping score, then I was a goal down to one for the fishes.

The One That Got Away

My second tryst with fishing happened in the final year of school. I had licked my wounds after the debacle of the first fishing incident and now, I was ready to even the scores. This time, I took my uncle with me to fish. The fish were not bountiful that season, but we still went to catch some. Again, we waited for hours but to no avail. Our polythene bags remained as empty as the small stream seemed to be of fish.

Finally, my uncle managed to snag a fish. It was an Asian catfish and a fat one. I did not manage to catch any, but I was glad to take credit by association. Now, I am not one to forget past slights, and out of spite, I decided to execute the fish in a grand fashion. All of this to salvage some pride and if the universe was the narrator, then it would sigh and suggest repeated sessions of therapy.

I grabbed the fish and thrashed it on the ground, where it flopped weakly. But the catfish was resilient, and it would not die. So, as a perfectly reasonable human being, I continued to thrash it to the ground repeatedly until its tail stopped twitching. It was not a grand victory, but it was one I would happily accept. As I stood there admiring my handiwork, I thought of giving the dust laden corpse of the fish a wash.

But there was one cruel trick still up the fish’s sleeve, and if the universe was watching, it was surely guffawing in unbridled mirth. As I doused and submerged it in the stream for a wash, the fish turned out to be alive; I do not know if it was alive through sheer herculean will or through gargantuan pettiness. It wriggled and escaped my hand, probably spinning its tail in slimy mocking gesture. I was aghast at my own idiocy. I wondered if I had single-handedly managed to set humanity back a few steps in evolution by my idiocy. If the fish ever evolve to enslave humans,then you know whom to blame.

Years have passed, and sometimes, I light one of the little sticks of death, and often wonder, if that was just the universe’s clarion call for me; one which I have ignored till now.

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