The Midas’ Touch – Bengal

The sun rises, from amidst the tall standing palm trees. There is a mish-mash of trees here, once as the fertile Ganges flowed, it left behind deposits of rich alluvial soil. The land as if touched by Midas – only everything turns green here. There is no patch where there is no vegetation, for where there are no plants, there are countless weeds and grass peeping in, trying to make their place. And in the competition, if the land is soon exhausted, the game is not yet over! They make their place on the trunk of the already standing trees.

As the sun rises up higher, it sparkles from the numerous ponds around. There is an abundance of ponds here, and I have seen no village that does not have a pond. The water is very murky and varies in shades of green to brown. However, these ponds are the lifeline of the people around. It bathes people, washes their clothes and utensils, and even feeds them. In these ponds live a variety of fishes, small and big. No Bengali’s plate is complete without the fish – curried, fried, baked, chutnied, et al. Bengalis can often be heard saying they live to eat, and the fish have managed themselves a revered spot.

I set off with my uncle and younger cousins to watch fishing – while the freezer is still stuffed with a week’s supply of fish. Sunil Da, the elderly helper is swimming around the pond, a cotton gamcha around his waist, net in hand. He throws the net where he sees the water bubbling. As he un-knots the net, he keeps some of his catch and throws back some. Curious, I inquire of his selection procedure. “Some will grow bigger and tastier. The smaller ones that are kept will grow no more, while few others are not allowed to. They will grow up devouring the other fish and prawns”. There is complete knowledge about the fish.

As Sunil Da swims across, throwing his net here and there, a striking blue kingfisher also finds his fare. It swoops down from the branch of a mango tree, overhanging on the pond, and snatches his meal. Then it goes back again to eat and waits for its next catch. It grabs two prawns as we look on.

We return for lunch to the piquant smell of fish being fried in mustard oil. Lunch is an elaborate, 5 course affair with preparations starting well in the morning. And after the heavy lunch, it is time for the afternoon siesta.

As the evening descends, the sun sets quickly, the horizon hidden behind the trees. Light fades from golden yellow to pinkish red to darkness and the sounds of blowing of conch shells emanates
from all the houses welcoming the evening. The prayers are completed and the lamps lit.

While the land sleeps in darkness after its long day, countless fireflies wake up, looking like stars descended from heaven. In the village, boys meet for a session of cards or carom, under a sole hanging bulb, playing well through the night. The sweet melancholic sound of Rabindra Sangeet fills the air as children and elders sit with their harmonica, practicing. And again, it is time for dinner. Meanwhile, a lizard has its fill with the bounty of insects under the light and it chuckles.

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