The news of a huge catch of ‘Sol’ fish in the pond popularly known as ‘Singi Pukhuri’ had gone the round of the village. Many of the villagers had reportedly caught quite a sizable number of it simply by angling.
Benu immediately took to his heels to run errands for his friend, Cheni, who however knew about it much earlier.
Both were at their wit‘s end as none of them possessed a fishing-line for himself, nor they could lay their hands on those belonging to their elder brothers. They were taboos for them. Of course Benu had been a skilled hand in making a twine. He also managed to cut three or four fishing-rods from a bamboo grove about three months back. They were only to be dressed and given heat to make them upright. Benu thus thought out a solution.
But where to procure thread and that too of Muga-silk? It must be a robust ‘Sol’ fish indeed. Unless the fishing—line was made of hemp or Muga silk it would snap in a single pull. No sooner Cheni drew the outline of the fish with his hand than Benu began visualizing the volume of the fish in his mind ….. ‘with a lavish reddish hue on its ventral part, the ‘sol ‘ fish, slimming gradually towards the tail dotted with black- spots and topped by an elongated head—skull, was rushing in, by thrashing water with its fins and dorsal like a shooting arrow. It would just pause for a while near the bait and examine it. In an instant the bait would go down its wide mouth to find the stomach. The ‘soI’ fish did not lie in wait, it used to gulp the bait forthwith. The plummet would plumb down to a considerable depth sending bubbles towards the float and then ‘….ah …. ha ,..ha’. Benu could not think further and got almost electrified at the thought of the coveted catch.
Benu would definitely arrange for Muga-silk which was available with his mother. Cheni would somehow manage to scrounge a portion of it off Benu. But what a sod this job was proving to be. To make a twine out of Muga-silk was no mean task. A slight miss in the twist might spoil it altogether. lf by chance over twisted, it might get immoderately strained and shear off.
Both of them were stumped; they did not know what to do.
“There was however one solution of it; to go to ‘Haribol ‘ grandpa and grovel on hands and knees before him to wish a favour”. Cheni thus vented his mind. “Damn it, that bitter—tempered cad! Who will approach him? He is not easy of access. He will but hurl invectives and spout the language of the gutter.” Benu snapped and shrunk his nose in disdain.
“But we must have to tolerate that. Otherwise how can we succeed? ln fact, the most expedient plan of action is to go to him, prepare tea for his relish and offer him a smoke in a hookah for a happy puff. That’s all,” Cheni added.
Pursuant to the plan both of them arrived at his house with two pirns in their hands. Generally addressed as “HariboI-kaka” by the teenagers. he was better known as ‘Haribol Burha’ in the elderly circle. He used to live at the outer stretch of the village. Habitually an early riser, he opened his day’s chores by a falsetto cry ‘Haribol’ so sonorously that his voice thundered past the whole village. It was an alarm-signal for all that this uncouth sod, ‘Haribol Burha’, had risen from bed and the day broke.
He looked very hirsute sporting long tress carefully combed upward to end in a coiffure with a flower tied to it. He had kept beard growing which kissed his pectoral muscles. His forehead blazed with red and white marks of paste. He attended to his daily stint at prayer morning and evening. His common confab in between was punctuated by an amatory utterance after every two normal words,.
Irascible by nature, he had been often bantered by the young village boys from a reasonable distance and then out of rage, he began shelling two obscene words after every usual word. Nonetheless, when in his vicinity, they were all docile and calm. He used to keep his vigilant eyes on the village belles, married and virgins alike, their deportment-their bearing, their drapery and what not. Even on the public road itself, if he found any lapse on their part, they‘d really catch it much to their chagrin until they were made to weep home back. Yet nobody felt offended or wounded in the least by his ribaldry. To be precise, everybody stood him of his ilk, for, they could not go without his helping hand at all. Normally he did every bit of work for school children such as their handiwork implements like bamboo-pipes, scales, bamboo baskets and sieves needed for work-experience in the school. Making of woman’s dire necessities of the domestic looms such as ‘Pholsiri’, Nachani’, ‘Pholcherekil ‘Takuri’, ‘Soli’,’Tolothajori ‘ etc. which were all very fine handicrafts, was his prime concern. At the time of a Bhaona performance he gained height as an artist possessed of all the expertise from making of head- gears to making of Clubs, bows, arrows, quivers etc. for the epic heroes like Bhim, Arjun and others. Whenever any religious prayer took place in a house, he was booked for the entire gamut of works from soaking and cleaning of gram and pulses to making of vessels out of banana trunks. Besides he had some additional service to offer. He read formulas upon water and oil to exorcise evil spirits and upon lime for the cure of a painful glandular swelling. Sometimes he had to exercise his charms on fishing implements like angling hooks, basket-trap, pen, pencil and sundry things of school children almost every day. The villagers therefore provided him with all his necessaries-paddy, rice and other articles of his requirements. He was spared of the trouble of grazing his cow himself. Villagers graciously did it by turns on his behalf without a grouse.
The old man came to this village in the prime of his youth about forty-years ago. From a forty-year old man to a one-month old baby, there was none in the village in whose time of birth their mothers had not obtained an enchanted thread or swallowed a little quantity of water blent with a bit of soil of the mud-floor. In times of earthquake one had to bite a mouthful of earth from the floor and take it to him to receive his mystic formulas. A little quantity of the becharmed water, if taken, made the delivery of a child easy. He himself was a celibate and did not marry at all. Villagers once exerted pressure on him and a bride was also on the cards. But he was adamant. When hard-pressed he threatened to leave the village for good. He said it was his desire to lead an ascetic life, obviously he was above board without any enmity whatsoever with anybody. Not even one, hostile to him, had an axe to grind. He was never on intimate terms with anybody to dawdle his hours away nor he visited anybody`s house uninvited. Always frank and ingenuous, he spoke out point-blank without the least concern for the age of the person he was speaking to. Villagers had already passed him for a crack. Truly enough, the entire history of his past life from the halcyon days of youth to his attaining the age of sixty-five, had remained mystery for all. Even if he had any eventful episode of his life – it stayed put where it was. Neither did the villagers ever tried to unravel it nor could they fish it out like as baiting a ‘Sol’ fish time and again but without success. His day’s schedule began at day-break. He used to get up in the morning and cleaned up his room and the fore-yard of his cottage with a-bosom, followed by sweeping of the floor. Next he finished milking and for a short time he kept his cow in tethers by the road-side till the arrival of the village herd on time when it was let loose to join it for graze. The so-called cow-shed was also kept so clean that one could simply sit down and enjoy a dish of rice without hesitation. Thereafter he took his bath, offered prayer to a sacred scripture placed on a small platform hung from the reeded-wall. Then he moved to the fire-place to prepare tea for himself. Tea was virtually his most favoured drink and never rested content with other’s blend. The small brass-pot had been serving the purpose of a tea-kettle over the last forty years. He boiled one glass of water, put a little quantity of molasses and removed the scum after a short while followed by dropping of few tea leaves and a bit of salt and acassia-leaf for taste. Finally he would mix two tea spoonfuls of thickened milk boiled in a separate iron-vessel and pour out the tea-liquor through a bamboo—strainer. And his tea was ready.
Scarcely had he invoked the name of God-‘Ram Krishna` and was about to take the first draught, when Benu and Cheni arrived at the door-step. “Hello, Haribol Grandpa?” Both of them addressed him with all humility and calm. He heard the gentle voice and looked at them with a frown.
“What cheek! You sons of the damned! You make a habit of appearing at meal times, but none in my need, not even a damn insect” The old guy fretted. Cheni promptly placed the bundle of faggot consisting of dried twigs near his fire-place. Benu had with him a ball of treacle-blent tobacco, which he put in the ageing bamboo cylinder. Grandpa kept sipping his tea while his eyes were prying into their movements. ln the meantime, he took a deep puff on the hookah and released the smoke through his nostrils.
“You rotten bastards, couldn‘t you fetch a little more tobacco? And only that much of faggot? Anyway, there is a little quantity of tea left over in the pot; have it, both of you, eh!” Grandpa said while stretching out his hand to reach the pot for them. Interestingly enough, even in his common chats, his brand of slang lexis over toned with rustic accent, not normally found in a dictionary, punctuate them in a usual way.
Cheni and Benu had an optical exchange of understanding. Without further delay, they enjoyed what remained of tea in the pot with pleasure. One of them arranged smoke for the old man and the other washed the utensils. It seemed his ecstasies over his tea would not end. But a lot had yet to be done-two fishing-lines had to be twisted to a good make, two bamboo fishing-rods to be dressed and to go out in search of baits. Besides, they had to reach the pond about a mile away. Within this short space of time they had to finish two drab jobs- their bath and dinner. They began to grouse at his mood of gay abandon and railed at him silently. They were just in wait for an opportunity to tender their proposal. As soon as he had taken few heavy puffs at the hookah, Benu and Cheni gently approached him and placed before him two prims of Muga-silk and a spool. Grandpa got suddenly spiky as if a flame shot up from the tobacco container on the hookah.
“You sons of unworthies and self-seekers! you don’t visit me even for a while without business; now as you approach, I have it premonition that you have come not without any purpose-Look here, I neither go for angling nor do I touch I fish with my hands,—Don’t you know it?” He thundered.
“But you did tell us stories about your angling bouts particularly those of catching carp and tortoise in the ‘Dighali beel’ in the hey-day of your youth.” Benu and Cheni said almost simultaneously as if they recited them from memory.”Curst be you, the offsprings of apes! you are worth catching one or two ‘Sengeli’ fish now-a-days; but at your age I had to my credit bumper catches of carps, and someone accompanying me for the purpose had to carry the fish-load-pick-a-back home.” Grandpa said with a nostalgic zest. Flame was still shooting up from the tobacco container almost like fire gushing out from a furnace. Cheni meanwhile deposited with him two prims and the spool along with the hilted knife which Cheni had taken out from a peg fixed on the wall. Grandpa, letting out another stream of invectives, pushed the knife towards Benu and said, “Go and cut me three small sticks.
”The three sticks were pitched on the yard about ten feet straight from the doorway so that Grandpa could see yonder the spot from his seat. Three Muga strands, after fastening them to each of the sticks, were tied round the spool with a knot and fixed on Cheni to hold it lest it did not loosen. When the twisting was over, he tied the three ends of the strands to the hook of the spool. Now the actual art of twine-making began, at his behest Benu drove his index and middle fingers through the gaps of the three strands so skilfully that the three strands did not collide or touch each other. The fingers having been positioned in this manner about one and a half feet away, Benu pressed the three strands with the tips of the nails of his index and thumb fingers so firmly together off nine inches towards the spool that the twist of the strands could not slip through the squeeze and advance, followed by Grandpa turning the spool at the same time. The twist ol` the strand moving in a spiral course first gave a pull at the firm squeeze of the fingers. The moment Grandpa gave the signal by drawing the spool towards his body; Cheni simulated an upward jerk of the squeeze of the left-hand fingers and then released it. ln an instant, the twists reached the spot of the right-hand fingers producing a tightly-drawn hard sound. At this spot Cheni again squeezed with his left hand and positioned his right hand about nine inches away. This was the process in the whole work-up of the line. If perchance, the finger-squeeze slipped or was not released on time or did not make the sound, the whole process might fizzle out altogether. Neither fishing-line would materialise nor ‘Sol’ fish would be caught, nor their fore-fathers would be spared his volleys of violent diatribe. Therefore a timid or a poor-spirited person could not venture to approach him for procuring a fishing line of his make. Such was the traumatic experience of a twine-make of his know-how.
“Well, a fishing-line of my twist must resonate at the tip of the hook when a big salmon swallows it. Men from half-a-mile afar mistake it for a musical note either of a lute or a guitar. The hemp-fibred twisted-line would continue producing a sonant vibration”, Grandpa said while turning the spool. Once he got his spool clogged with hairs while tuming it on` his shaggy thigh. Thenceforth he began to turn it on his palm.
“Grandpa! Shouldn‘t we pull the line sharp when a salmon snaps at the bait?” Asked Cheni who of course knew all about it hut he just wanted to cajole it out of him. Grandpa said nothing but only glumly snubbed him by a low guttural growl and continued to turn the spool as stolidly as before. They knew than he would now speak out all about it not by addressing them but by addressing an unseen third person. And then his narrative began. “The large—sized hook should
be thrown into the middle of the ‘Mohkuti beel’ and with the help of a medium sized hook you can go on angling by the sideways. One can manage few fishes like ‘Sol’, ‘Kharia‘ and ‘Pabha’ sufficient for a meal. After a while, you will notice a jerk on the fishing-line of the large hook. And there you are now! You are to lift the angling rod and release the fishing line slowly and slowly. The fish will slowly pull it away. Now and then you are to pull the fishing line towards the bank, but must you loosen it once there comes a sharp pull from the other end. This proceeding should go on for some time. The fishing line made of hemp fibre will get tightly drawn almost to a breaking point. People living in the farm houses in and around the locality could guess by listening to the stiffened sonance of the fishing line that a fish of some size has been hooked by angling. They will come out willingly to volunteer their services for a successful catch. Sometimes, the entire body of men might be dragged towards the deep water. But after all, a fish is a fish, how long can it survive? Once the large hook fastened its throat, it must float dead in no time. However, in the case of a tortoise, it is a different story altogether as it involves lot of risk. lf somehow it goes down to the bottom and gripped the ground with its claws, it is next to impossible to pull it over ground. This apart, the fishing line must remain tightly stretched; otherwise the tortoise will tear at it by sharp bites once the fishing line gets loosened.”
Benu was gazing at the face of the old man while heeding his impassioned rhetoric. Grandpa suddenly flared up and blurted, “You, puppies of dullards! Where is ’Sonborial‘. eh?”
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.