Benu sculled away forthwith. In the meantime one fishing line was done to a finish. Benu returned with a ‘Sonborial‘ plant. On scrutiny Grandpa found that the plant was of a large variety, not useful for the purpose. He again fumed with rage and growled. “You bloody unlicked fledglings of your mothers, couldn’t you fetch the smaller variety of it? Damn you, hurry up and go for it.”
The damned kid was no other than Cheni. He scurried away quickly followed by defaulting Benu.
The twine was nearing completion. Both of them returned after a short while with two plants of the smaller variety of’ Sonborial’. The twine was already tied to the spool. Grandpa straitened the twine. Cheni was instructed to rub few leaves of the plant on the twine with a to-and-fro sliding movement from one end to the other. Benu detached the tip of the twine from the three sticks and tied it to the middle one so as to wind it to a shape of a prims or reel and in the process he came nearer Grandpa.
Benu received another sally of his filthy tongue before he settled down to fix him his tea. Grandpa was offered another smoke. The process of making the second twine continued as in the case of the first. Cheni was imagining a tortoise-catch by angling but alarmed by the portent discreetly shot a question, “What will happen if the tortoise clutches at the bottom?”
The old man let out a loud guffaw for quite some time with his edentate mouth and said with ease. “No problem at all, there is remedy”. Having said this he reached out the ‘Hookah’ to Benu for the wall. Now he was ready to begin the second twine by winding the thread on the spool.
“Hello Grandpa. ls there any mystical formula?” Benu asked while keeping the Hookah against the wall.”Yes. Why not? Definitely there is. You are all English learning lads. Would you believe in these? You are all westernised today. But I can tell you, there is formula for enticing fish also.” Grandpa added while examining the perfectness of the twist at the same time. He took the spool within his two palms and began to twist it, repeatedly warning with his cautionary words- ‘Hold fast’, ‘Pull straight’, ‘Loosen’ etc. till it came to a saturation point producing a hard-twisted tightly-drawn vibrant sound — ‘Katang’. The twists started advancing forward in a serpentine course. ‘There must be certain formulated charms for catching tortoise also, isn’t it? “Benu reiterated his querry.
“Yes, why not’? One should take either a broken mouthpiece of an earthen-pot or a coil of bamboo-string with him, which should be allowed to pass through the angling-rod to plumb down so as to knock at the tortoise at the bottom. The tortoise will instantly relinquish its clutch. I think, nay, I am sure, that is the formula. Do you understand? Once when angled one large sized tortoise, three sturdy men almost dropped with fatigue during the grim tussle which continued for hours roughly from 2 PM. to 10 PM. at night. None was in a mood to submit. At last the battle slowed down and the tortoise was pulled overground and had to be carried home with great difficulty by three men. The whole lot of villagers partook of a sumptuous feast on that occasion. But you callow simians, have you brought with you hooks and plummets‘?”. The old guy as usual shot up to a rage and hooted at them.
Benu and Cheni thought that the concluding words were part of his spicy account of exploits, but the next moment they came to their senses and Benu promptly took out from his pocket a matchbox containing hooks and plummets and handed over to him.
The task of tying a hook was as difficult as that of making a twine. The technique was of course easier. The knot was a simple one but when tuming the hook with the hand, proper care must have to be taken to avoid an injury by the hook. Hardly had Grandpa completed the tying of the hook and the plummet when Cheni asked him, “Grandpa. Would you mind accompanying us today?” Grandpa’s past suddenly clicked and he said pensively, “It is about forty years from now that l gave up angling.” Finding that his tone was in a low key, Cheni and Benu plucked up courage and cried out almost beseechingly, “No, No, Grandpa, you will just be seated by our side. We shall provide you with all your essentials-tobacco and betel nut, from time to time and you will be telling us about your past experiences of angling days.”
“By Jove! Can you expect a catch if you go on talking like this in the angling area? Fish can well understand human voice and hence get frightened? Grandpa admonished them, while trying to parry their request.
In fact, both of them had believed that Grandpa was possessed of magical powers to entice a fish into snapping at bait. And if once they could wheedle him into accompanying the, they had got a lot going for them. Surely, they would have a lucky catch of ‘Sol’ fish. This was their idea.
Grandpa in the meantime, finished tying the hook and the plummet to the fishing-line, On a query. he learnt from them their choice for a ‘bhog’ whether one cubit or one and a half cubit, and also the depth of water they normally preferred for angling. The distance between the hook and the spot where the float was tied to the fishing-line, was called ‘bhog’. Naturally the float changed its place in accordance with the rise or fall of the level of water’.
“Would you please oblige us Grandpa?” Cheni and Benu both implored him once again.”
It is a long since I gave up angling”. Grandpa said within voice choked to a poignant note verging on a near break-down. They had never seen him in this mood in the past. A man, always in tantrum with a rude scowl in his face, appeared to have mollified himself at the moment. He neither uttered filthy words nor scolded them. Yet they were hesitant to ask him anything lest he might return to his earlier frame of mind. Meanwhile Benu was at preparing tea strictly according to the tips Grandpa gave regarding the quantity of tea and molasses. The three then just sat for a drink.
“What bait is it you choose? Is it wasp?” Grandpa enquired while still sipping his tea.
“We will get some ‘koka-top’ as well as a full house of wasps presently available at Benu’s cow-shed”. They said.
“What you should do is to clear about four spots in deepwater, scatter the ‘koka-top’ at the bottom and muddle the water to lure ‘Magur fish”. Grandpa continued.
“But what about ‘Sol’ fish?” Both of them cried simultaneously.
“It is better if one baits a ‘Sol’ fish with a frog. For this, two hooks are required. A smaller one should be placed at the cleared space. However, a ‘Tamsing’ hook is needed to bait a ‘Sol’ fish ’.”He added.
But they knew they did not possess two kinds of hooks with them. Obviously they became little disappointed. Nevertheless, they would be quite content with the ‘Sal’ fish if caught. Grandpa did never talk with anybody in the past so intimately as now. In the meantime, he read formulas upon the two fishing-lines with three blows of air from his mouth. Cheni and Benu tried once again but in vain to inveigle him into accompanying them.
The old guy nearly broke down this time. With a mellowed voice he said, “Ever since that day I never laid my hand on the angling-rod. In the hey-day of my youth I too had gone to it with flair to catch ‘Sol’ fish by angling. On one such occasion, I had visited an old farmhouse to collect ‘koka-top’. And that was the end of my angling career. Never afterwards I touched the angling-rod even for once.”
“Grandpa, What actually happened to you thereafter’?”Both of them asked him with boundless emotion and anxiety knowing that he was a bit of a curiosity. Grandpa instead placidly let his eyes to a distant horizon through a chink of the reeded wall.
‘What happened to you actually? Tell us, what did you see there?’ Benu asked with a feeble voice. With a voice sodden with nostalgic remorse he said, “I saw there, collections of large—headed black ants around an object. I advanced towards it slowly. The object, I could guess must have been buried in a pit presumably in the small hours of the previous night. The jackal that had burrowed into it perhaps on seeing me, scampered away in fright. As far as I knew, there was no new-born baby of a legitimate wed-lock in that village. It must have been the sinful deed of a reprobate”. Grandpa thus mused on his past memories. At first it was beyond their ken to follow the meaning of what Grandpa told them, But after a short while when the meaning gradually unfolded itself. they became restive shaken by an uneasiness as if some elderly person had blurted out a secret not fair to be told.
“The two eye-balls were out of the sockets. They were motionless. And that was the end of my eventful angling career. A few days hence, I abandoned the village itself for good.”Grandpa heaved a sigh and continued. “O my dear boys, it’s time; push off right now, for, you may be late”.
They were, in fact, in a hurry and thought of an escape from him. They scurried away without further delay. Initially, they had a plan to collect “koka-top’ on the way but gave up the idea as they were no longer interested in it. They proceeded to Benu’s house to collect wasps from his cow-shed. While doing so they were bitten by wasps causing some swollen spots on their bodies.
When they arrived at the pond they saw two men, quite familiar and belonging to the nearby village, were already at angling. As soon as these two men sighted Benu and Cheni, they were put out of countenance. Although it was a public fish-pond, open for all, anglers normally took a new comer for a rival. Hence the two anglers were in no mood to talk, familiarity notwithstanding.
At last one of them (either Benn or Cheni) perforce broke the silence and said, “hello brother, how’s it behaving? Any catch?”
The two were ill at ease and only grimaced their faces out of proportion in sheer disgust as if they were about to catch two ‘Sol’ fish but for their voice.
Benu and Cheni did not ask them anything more but only peered into their creels to take stock of the catch. This over tact extremely annoyed both the anglers as they believed that some evil might have crept into the creels the moment they have done so. However, they played it cool as soon as theybeheld the bunch of wasp-baits in their (Cheni and Benu) hands. One of them asked, “Oy’ you are carrying wasp-baits with you, isn’t it ? Surely there is every hope of a successful catch today.
“People coming from various places used to apply different kinds of baits which but made the fish more and more shaky and crazy. Over the years, we had huge catch of ‘Kaoi’ and ‘Magur’ fishes in this very ‘Singi pond simply by using earthworm baits.” The other mate spluttered out these words in anger. The first one without giving him any verbal support, requested Benu and Cheni to part with a few wasp-baits. The latter gladly obliged them with at least twelve numbers of wasp-baits because they were intent upon clearing two freshs pots for themselves. And for this, these two co-anglers must have to be pleased. Otherwise they would not acquiesce in their proposal, for it may cause a stir in the water detrimental to their baits. Therefore Benu and Cheni gave the two anglers additional quantity of wasp-baits of their own accord without being sought for. Their desire was to obtain a few of the ‘koka-top’ (eggs of large black-ants) which the two anglers had in their possession. And they succeeded.
From this time onwards the gloomy atmosphere slowly brightened up and they began to talk freely and frankly without any qualm what so-ever.
“It seems it’s not possible to bait a fish today. They are swimming on the surface water”. One of them said.
“Besides, it is Saturday today. Popular belief is that fish never swallow baits on this day in the ‘Singi’ Pond. And this has been clearly proved today”. The other angler added.”On top of all, cloud is appearing in a corner of the sky and fish never snaps at bait under a cloudy ambient, nor on the days of full or dead moon. Once on a day of full-moon frittered away a whole day without a catch, not even a ‘Sengeli ’` fish, to say the least”. The former angler continued while coming up over ground from the water after putting his fishing-line in another cleared-spot.
He released his ankle-joint from the grip of a large water-leech by slobbering it to slither and then threw it away to the middle of the pond, which fell with a plonk on the ‘Dal’ grass. He washed his hands, lit a ‘bidi ’ and offered one to his mate.
Benu and Cheni took out their hankies containing areca-nut and betel leaf. While the two anglers were busy smoking, Benu and Cheni waded into the pond and cleared two other spots. To be exact, they cleared a space of about one and a half square feet, muddled the water with their hands and sprayed the ‘koka-top’ and gave taps with the fingers twice or thrice under the water so as to attract fish. After having set two fishing-lines they came over ground, disentangled their legs from the sticking water-leeches and then sat under the shade of a peepul tree on the bank, a branch of which protruded over the water of the pond.
A sound like ‘ghop’, ‘ghop’ was heard coming from a cane-bush in the middle of the pond. It must be a ‘Sol ‘fish preying on grasshoppers and other insects that were seated on the ‘Dal ’grass. Benu and Cheni were almost electrified by the very thought of it. Thrill and romance filled their hearts. They got so much excited that they felt as if the ‘Sol’ fish leapt up in their bosom itself. Both of them began to recall Grandpa’s magic potential and hoped it (the ‘Sol’ fish) would doubtless gulp down the bait in an instant.
Mahim Bora (6 July 1924 – 5 August 2016) was an Indian writer and educationist from Assam.He was elected as a president of the Assam Sahitya Sabha held in 1989 at Doomdooma. He was awarded with most notably with the Padma Shri in 2011, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2001 and the Assam Valley Literary Award in 1998. Assam Sahitya Sabha conferred its highest honorary title Sahityacharyya on him in 2007.