December 11, 2012
News Item on November 26, 2012:
"London, A 31-year-old Pakistani fish seller Mohamed Said Nazi at a London fish market seems like an unlikely pop star. But the moment he starts to sing his “One Pound Fish Song", he is suddenly surrounded by a sea of fans. (Watch video - http://youtu.be/ETSl8gWsFZ0). The you tube video has more than 3.6 million views. On his first day at the fish stall, his boss told him to shout to customers to get their attention. He said he did not like shouting, and so made up a song."
This news item got me thinking...
I love fish. Not in a glass bowl, but on my plate, dead, cut and colorful. Not medium and rare, but full and abundant! After all I am a Mangalorean. It’s been staple food, from the age of two – I am told, (I don’t remember, I’m not one of those prodigies). It’s good for health, good for the heart, and definitely good for my butt – The Wallet normally stuffed in back pocket automatically gets leaner by the day.
Fish, like human beings come in all shapes, sizes, tastes and textures. At the local nearby markets, plenty is available, but it’s limited in variety, and only available at a marked up price to cover sweat equity! Good for a daily buy, for those with limited transport options. The best place for a monthly buy remains the old classic – the place where it all starts – the wharf at bunder.
So off I went. Interesting place, located further down the coast from the new port at Panambur, a buzz of activity, and a sea of humanity, male and female, the male generally in charge of the selling and the ladies – mostly fishmongers in various markets in Mangalore in charge of buying. And then there is the aam aadmi, vying with them, unfairly they say, to grab a slice of that limited fish pie.
Normally, my wife accompanies me on my visits. This occasion was an exception. It was holiday time, albeit revision holiday time, for my son - time to start his apprenticeship, for the shape of things to come.
So here we were actually in the midst of it all, one bright early morning, motoring our way along the winding road to Bunder. It was late November and the fish consumption season was well into its second month after the three month ban on fishing during the monsoon... for safety and to help them get time to breed. (In the UK, during an exceptionally cold winter a couple of years ago, that’s exactly what happened – but among human beings). There wasn’t a hint of a cloud and the sun was just beginning to burn the neck... when we reached our destination. On the way in, at a natural bottleneck in the road, where normally you could expect to find the traffic inspector, we were billed a rupee to permit us entering the forbidden kingdom during peak hour!
There were puddles of water all around and the aroma was arresting. We really had to be careful about what we stepped into. So we gingerly stepped around the puddles, following a common rule - Look down, for you might step into a puddle and then look up – lest you rub shoulders or anything else... with the low but mighty – reminded me of the Mumbai locals.
After one circuit of the dockyard, we soon realized that we were out of our depth.... There was this solidly built guy towering above two rather tall seer fish and surrounded by an army of people … all ears to his lilting voice in the local dialect, as he started auctioning them off - kick off was at 900. With pad and pen in hand, he looked around. Bids, at an incremental rate of Rs: 50 per bid, poured in, merely by the nod of the head, or the blink of the eye. Eye to Eye contact took the price to Rs: 1350 and after 3 calls and a pen pointed at my neighbor, the king (fish) was gone. I walked away – my wallet was pinching me from behind.
Yes, I did walk away, but couldn’t really go back home empty handed. So I went around the dockyard, gingerly skipping the puddles, the crowds, and the fish on the floor, stopping at most auctions on the way. On my travels, I came across a mixed lot of fish including mackerels, pomfrets and a small silvery fish that looked interesting but unknown..... Made a bid and upped it with my gently nodding head and a blink of the eye, until I realized that I was being taken up the bid tree, by a parallel set of communication that was going on between my neighbor (a ldy fishmonger) and the auctioneer. It was well that I picked up the signals early on in the game - I could continue sit uncomfortably on my butt....
Having walked away from a potential deal and needing a face saver, I looked around for my son who was himself busy looking around for his favorite – squid. He found them heaped a little distance away. He called me over, frustrated with the limited outcome of our exertions in the auction market. I was not far behind at throwing in the towel, already disappointed, disheartened and disillusioned. Getting a good break at the wharf, can give you a high, that exercise or even a swig of black label cannot. And vice versa can easily lead you into depression. A high was not to be. At least today. Anyway, given, that I was caught between a rock and a hard place, I decided to take the easy way out - pick up a little from outside the auction, obviously at a little higher price than what I may have got at the auction – and as I reflect on the day, I will perforce have to recall the CAG's theory, principle and calculation of presumptive loss.....
Anyway, to cut a long story short, that’s when I landed up with the blue tinged king. It was lying on the ground and was being marketed and promoted by it’s rather thin owner, wearing the straw hat of the Caribbean, who advised me that it was a great eat – if you cook it right. It was not something I had seen before. It had a blue tinge around its gills, tail and fins. It was rather thick around the middle, and had a big mouth. Like many of us, it couldn’t keep it shut, even when out of breath! There was a Laurel to the Hardy - a long silvery fish that seemed without a backbone. Despite our dialogue, I couldn’t get the names right, due to the noise, confusion and my eagerness to depart the scene. He offered it for less than a couple of hundred, and like all us, with their hearts in their wallets, I lapped up the offer. It did sound a bit fishy, but at the time, it sounded like a lifeline for a guy at the end of his rope. I picked them up and took them home hopeful that it was not another 2F Scam. Reached home and unloaded the bag.
As they popped out of the bag, the blue one, firm to the touch, and looking to me, fresh as a daisy can be early morn, started to give off a pungent smell, one that must have been masked by the atmosphere at the wharf, but now emerging as a potential star in its own right. One cut into its flesh and the smell that emanated, took over the kitchen.
She screamed. Scary Movie 4 had begun. I felt and looked sheepish. My son had disappeared from the scene fearing blame and retribution. Now totally disillusioned, I packed it into the same bag in which I had brought it, and quickly proceeded to dispose it off. I resolved never to make the same mistake again.
I realized then, that I was penny wise, but pound foolish. It has not been always like that. In fact more often than not, it’s been the other way around. But it’s a good story, a great experience and something to tell the grandchildren... when they arrive.