Crab-hunting Evokes Fishing Nostalgia

November 27, 2013

The crab, more than any of God’s creatures, has formulated the perfect philosophy of life. Whenever he is confronted by a great moral crisis in life, he first makes up his mind what is right, and then goes sideways as fast as he can. – Herodotus, Greek historian (BC 484-409).

Aristophanes, Greek poet and satirist (Circa BC 444-380) also has a take on the crab: “You cannot make a crab walk straight”. Currently, crab has different associations. It represents my star (July 17) in the astrological columns. It represents  cancer. It also represents Indian politicians, as reflected in this anecdote. There was a world exhibition on crabs. All the countries put their crabs in closed glass jars with provision air vent  for breathing. But, the Indians put the crabs in an open wicker basket. When the organizers expressed fears about the crabs crawling to the edge and escaping, it was explained that the crabs have learnt from Indian politicians to pull each other down should they show signs of climbing. But, I found from my recent crab-hunting trip that crab doesn’t have any “perfect philosophy” or the ability to first make up its mind on “what is right”, and then go “sideways as fast as he can”. All that the crab needs to be trapped is chicken head and a small net. But, first the background.

My brother-in-law, Dr Aloysius (Loui) Monteiro, after retiring from a globe-trotting UN job, has settled down in Bangalore. It is a custom that whenever an out-of-town Mangalorean visits this city, he has to visit his and his spouse’s close relatives for a courtesy call. As he was getting older, and in poor health, he devised a way out of this tiresome chore. He would call about 25 families to the star hotel where he stayed and host a sumptuous lunch with spirits to wash it down. He would organize a similar get-together when his five children, now married and settled down in Australia and USA, visited him and came down to Mangalore to visit his elder brother (now the late) Stany and his wife Frlorie.

One such meet was held at Ocean Pearl by his doctor daughter, Vanitha, and her doctor husband, Tom, and their two chubby kids, David and Nalini , from Australia on the last Saturday of last September. With a few drinks under the belt, the spirited conversation veered to crab catching. Captain Osler Rebello, now on shore leave and due to sail again the following Wednesday, was organizing a crab hunt about 40 KM north of Mangalore. If I was game for it, he would pick me up the next day, a Sunday, and I should be ready at 6.30 AM. I kept the gate open for his car and waited for an hour before I telephoned his home and realized that he has fooled/ditched me.

In the meantime, his brother-in-law and my nephew, Pardeep Fernandes, also a marine Captain, came on shore leave and Osler managed to postpone his joining date. When they got together the episode of my having been ditched came up,  they decided to organize a fresh crab hunt on the following Sunday when Pradeep would pick me up and drive us to the hunting spot. He turned up as promised with his father, Lawrence, and daughter, Angela, in tow. Googling for weather information and tide conditions, it was decided that the ideal duration was 11 AM to 4 PM. Accordingly, we set off at 9 AM from Osler’s residence in Bajpe, with his son Danny.  After patronizing a toddy shop on the way and collecting 10 litres for later use and also collecting a stock of chicken heads from a chicken butcher, we reached the spot at 11 AM. Three expert crab catchers,  yet another Pradeep, Sandeep and Aju, friends of Osler, set off with us in two cars, also loaded with cooking vessels, portable cooking range, things to cook, mats for camping and, of course, stock for spiritual sustenance.

I will not name the place lest hoards descend on it and disturb the privacy and serenity of those living in the nearby hamlets. We briskly set about wire-tying the chicken heads to the inside bottom of the small nets and kept them at various marked spots tied above the water level with marker rope, with the net itself below the water level. The crabs crawl up to the chicken in anticipation of a great meal which turns out to be their last supper and our tastily cooked  dish on location. Nearing noon, the vessels for cooking were mounted and the pre-marinated chicken and squid were fries to go with our spiritual intake. Even as this operation was going on, our expert catchers went on rounds to the nets and bought fresh lots of crabs in their gunny bags to the on-shore depository. We processed some crabs for cooking and had them for lunch along with rice cooked on location.

Once I took in the situation and waded through the backwaters in the mangrove, saving my underwear from wetting, I retired to a nearby house and scanned the four English newspapers and their Sunday supplements sitting on an armchair. The lone old lady of the house kept me distracted with the story of her miserable life, with me delivering appropriate interventions and getting a certificate from her: “You seem to be a man of learning, experience and wisdom”. She provided me with a clean, comfortable pillow for my post-lunch nap on her verandah. Meanwhile, I kept monitoring the progress of crab-catching and also visited the camp site, 200 metres away, in quest of spiritual re-inforcement as also to try, unlike the crab, to see if I can walk straight! 

I have brought three memories from my crab-hunt outing. It is a vast backwater lagoon with muddy water. The sea can be seen at a distance. The swamp has muddy, salty water and is subject to tides. The mangrove has clusters of low-height trees with sturdy trunks on which smaller crabs crawl above the water level. It reminded me of reading about  the vast Sundarbans in West Bengal where even tigers compete with fisherfolk for the catch. Walking barefoot in the water needs careful attention as stumps of dead trees or sharp edges of dead mussel shells can injure the sole of one’s feet.

Our intrusion there may have been resented by peacocks perching on the crowns of cocoanut trees and frequently delivering their love calls. Perhaps they didn’t want to make love in our presence. The honeybees also protested our lighting a fire and sending up smoke by stinging Pradeep repeatedly and making us protect our torsos by drawing our shirt over our heads. We also saw all sorts of rejects/garbage like bottles and footwear washed ashore and presenting an ugly sight. As for me, I saw chicks and their mother  being shut under a downturned large wicker basket to protect them from kites and foxes which abound in that area. This carried me back to my childhood in my ancestral house at Bearikody, Kurial Village.

The crab-hunt evoked nostalgic memories of my fishing forays at Bearikody. My father prohibited my fishing with a hook and string tied to a rod. My first memory of my tryst with fish started with crabs. We would keep fish residues, such as from shelled prawns, at the water edge of a large (half an acre when full) tank. When I went there, a bunch of crabs were eating the bait. I caught one each in my two hands and got a little greedy. I stuffed one from the right hand into my underwear (Casti) and went for the third one. The one in the underwear bit a delicate part of my anatomy. Sesu, our female farm hand was walking to work in the field, with her saree seductively tucked up half way above the knee, on the tank bund. I called out to her to release me from my agony. She thought I was fooling her and threatened to report to my stern and strict father. Helpless, I went into the water and undid my casti and the crab left me alone.

I was very good at hooking fish and when I went to fish, in the absence of my father from home, I would catch dozens of tasty Morantes  in Tulu (Denkle In Konkani) and I had small groups of admiring children and ladies following me as I went along the streams, ponds  and paddy field corners. But, my most memorable catch was a Marimugudu,(Cobra fish which inflated its hood just like a cobra) – 18 inches long. I had only heard about it; but never seen one. When I landed it in a dry paddy field beside the stream, I could not unhook it. It slipped from my hand grip even as I tried to take it with the hook on. Then I unfolded my double tied long Casti, spreading its loose end on my palm and bending down on my knees got a grip on the fish and took it home passing by the farm labourers transplanting paddy shoots. Since it was dangling from my mid-point the farm-hands laughed uncontrollably at the funny situation.

I will conclude with the bleak fish scenario today. There was a time when I lowered the bait on the hook, several Morantes would jump up to catch the bait – normally earthworms. Then their habitats in the streams disappeared with landslides and soil erosion – which blocked the crevices which hosted the fish. This was followed by widespread use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides that killed all fish and even frogs. So, when my son, Mohan, was around ten, 25 years ago, I used to take him and Pradeep for fishing in Phalguni backwaters at Old Bunder and catch some fish. When my grandson, Zach, after another 20 years, was taken to the old fishing spots, invariably we came back empty-handed. This is an irreversible ecological and environmental disaster we and our coming generation have to live with.


Author and journalist, John B. Monteiro, is editor of his website (Interactive Cerebral Challenger) His book, Corruption-India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal ($21.5), published in USA by Strategic Books earlier this year, is available online from and locally at Gerosa, Hampankatta and Biblios, Bunts Hostel Road.


By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel, Mangalore

    Fri, Dec 06 2013

    Maddy's submissions don't drive me mad. He has serious issues and deserves a response.
    I plead guilty for being long-winded and thank him for wading through the length.It is basically because of my research background that drives me to be comprehensive.When I realise it, I am like the one who has fathered an oversized baby too heave to carry.It is difficult to decide what to chisel out - specially when you think that you are delivering priceless pearls to humanity, leading it from darkness to enlightenment. Even so, I will try to be restrained. Dr. Loui's party in the star hotel, and specially his Scotch, provided me the peg to start with. I neither plug in for Loui and his children nor for Capt Oslar whose pegs under his belt belted out his rash offer to take me for the crab hunt and he might have thought that my ready acceptance was because of pegs under my belt. But, all is well that ends well.

    A third original point i want to make is that Loui's strategy of inviting his clan to the hotel has much to commend and worthy of emulation. You come on a flying visit and you are expected to visit clan members in town. If you have the doe, it is eminently practical to invite the clan to the hotel. Not only the host meets his clan members individually but also clan members can interact with each other in a pleasant ambience.
    Besides a shortage of time to go around town, you save a fortune by not using the over-priced taxis in Mangalore.

  • Maddy, There/Here

    Thu, Dec 05 2013

    Long winded write up peppered with good anecdotal information and nostalgia reviving pictures (although captions under each would be great).
    Still wondering what Loui Monteiro with his distinguished past and his well dispersed DNA had to do with the story unless Cpt. Osler Rebello was some way (not explained in the article) linked with him!!

  • Bennet Vas, Mangalore

    Wed, Dec 04 2013

    Good Write up .... Self any my very good friend would head straight to Baithuli on my 2 wheeler after Sunday mass at SFXC !!! From there a Jerry can for my uncle - who would have cooked Dhukraa and Beep for lunch - no doubt after all that Chaknaa in Baithuli there was little space, besides the Thaltee makes you sleepy !!! I was under the impression Toddy was banned in Karnataka .. have to visit this place in Kulur soonest

  • Edward Barboza, Kanajar / Auckland

    Tue, Dec 03 2013

    "Interesting title and as per the title people were looking fully jolly". Thank you for your precious time spent to write the article and excellent pictures.

  • Alexander Prashanth Menezes, Karkala/Dubai

    Tue, Dec 03 2013

    Dear Mr.Monteiro,

    An excellent Article and it glued me to the web until I finished reading it. I must say you have such an ability to write even the smallest of small detail in such an interesting way for the reader to remain interested in reading until the end. Yes, I am sure these days of modern era, these kind of fishing trips and Crab hunting adventures are very rare to witness. I remembered my childhood holidays at my mother's house in Shirva, we too used to venture out in the night for crab hunting along with our grandfather and uncles with Gaslight and long swords. What an experience it was, and I am sure even if you have a billion dollars in your bank account, one cannot feel that much satisfied as if you go on such fishing adventures.

    The toddy drinking session, and your Cobra mugudu episode is mind boggling and that too when you used your Lungi to get a grip of this Mugudu and taking it home dangling at your groin area and farmers laughing at you is just hilarious. Keep writing and we love your writing with so much amusement and laughter. Moreover your writings rekindle the nostalgic memories of yester year's that have passed by and we have become slaves to the modern world/things.

  • Francis Pinto, Urwa

    Tue, Dec 03 2013

    I wonder as to why the Govt. banned toddy ? In the old days we used to visit a toddy shop at Baiturley esp. on sundays. The snacks there was excellent.

  • Avinash Lewis, Kallinpur

    Mon, Dec 02 2013

    I remember my days.. I was and i am expert at catching Mud Crabs.. i used Frog legs and chicken left overs for bait.. miss those days.. Well Now i work for UNited Nation in Vienna As a Engineer

  • Damien, Hejamady

    Mon, Dec 02 2013

    This toddy shop is located in my villag heajamady,between padubidri and Mulki and the river is Shambhavi.

  • maxi, kinnigoly/mumbai

    Sun, Dec 01 2013

    local actions nicely portrayed with modern life & business philosophy .
    Perfect philosophy of crabs is worth to taught in business management`.

  • Rudolf, Mumbai

    Fri, Nov 29 2013

    Corrigendum to my earlier post, the population should have been in crores, not billions, typo error regretted!!

  • Rudolf, Mumbai

    Fri, Nov 29 2013

    Thanks Sir for this article!!I too reminisce those days may be 25 years ago when we really enjoyed our childhood admist nature in our Bappus house near BC Road!! As there were not even kerosene lamps we used to go with burning coconut tree leaves as torch and used to get a collection of crabs/mussels etc. and the water then was crystal clear as one could clearly see the base through the pristine water!! Also fishing along the ponds and small rivulets along Nethravati would get a variety of fishes and even tortoises without much wait!!

    In just two decades everything has changed, the population has increased with houses mushrooming up one close to the other (people are selling land and encashing due to high property prices) and absolutely no facility for garbage disposal and sewerage disposal!!! As my cousins still living there that today if one goes through these streams you would find tons of garbage filled plastic cover, sanitary pads, and even broken bottles, sans the crabs and fish!! Lucky are those places which still have not been commercialized and one can enjoy these exhilarating and memorable episodes!! Just imagine what will be the condition 25 years from now as India's population is bound to swell to 150 billion from 120 now!! Jai Hind!!

  • alice, kirem/new delhi

    Fri, Nov 29 2013

    Little ones are full to enjoying. Lovely scene it is. We too had enjoyed these days, when my Dad, Uncle (Bappu), brothers along with the neighbors, used to go for cab hunting, during the beginning of rainy days, when water starts flowing from the narrow lanes,ponds etc. Miss you Mangalore......

  • john Vas Prabhu, Falnir, Mangalore

    Thu, Nov 28 2013

    Dear uncle John,
    Very fascinating and good narrative. I also recall my childhood days at Thodambila, during summer holidays, used to catch fish from the local ponds nearby. Thodambilla, my Granpa's house, Late Marcel Monteiro, a Great personality and good human being. And Of course "Denkle" was a delicacy at that time. Nice to see Lalla (Lawrence)and you too charming and jovial as always. Good luck for the next expedition and spirited masala filled article. I really enjoyed it.

  • John Pinto, Kodical, Mangalore

    Thu, Nov 28 2013

    Oh yes, I was there last Sunday with friends from Germany. Its a good scenic place. The toddy is sweet and fresh.The owners are Gabreil D'souza ( may be called Gibba )and his brother Sylvester ( Shilu )D'souza.The place is awesome.

  • Daniel Lobo, Ashoknagar, Mangalore

    Thu, Nov 28 2013

    There is a good toddy shop in Bangra Kulur run by Gibba & Silu Dsouza. Snacks like pork ( on Sundays ),fried fish,medium size rock crab curry, dry prawn chutney, Conji, tender jack pickle etc is available. One has to take the inside road adjacent to Frontline Motors and drive about 2kms along the Gurpur river. The Toddy shop is about 50 meters from the road.The toddy shop is small and has a seating capacity of about 12-15 people but the owner arranges chairs / table along the backwaters.Try out this place on Sunday noon.

  • Vally Dsouza, Mangalore

    Thu, Nov 28 2013

    Mouth watering toddy !!! Please share with the readers the toddy shop location. If not ,you are depriving the toddy shop owner of some lucrative business. One cannot be mean and selfish.

    It is difficult to get toddy in Mangalore.

  • Jillu Fontes, Jeppu Compound

    Thu, Nov 28 2013

    The nameplate in the toddy shop says PADUBIDRI. Could be Kulur too.

  • sundari ashoknagar, Mangalore

    Wed, Nov 27 2013

    Jenji pathuna thood kusi aand John porbule. Sude kaital undu anda javaner ijji. Akulu javanelu Ashoknagar barpera kend enk panle. Eer aklena ottugu bale. Aave? Kali ready deepe. Eepa barpar?

  • Guessmiester, Mangalore

    Wed, Nov 27 2013

    Let me guess. Is this place Adamkudru, near Ullal bridge?

  • John DSouza, Mangalore

    Wed, Nov 27 2013

    Experienced, do not forget it and not experienced cannot understand it.
    History cannot be erased & time cannot be re-winded
    Oceans of information, do not solve current problems
    If clicked for a tablet, a number of pharmacies appear
    Essays are lengthy medications, which need patience
    Crabs/fish disappeared due to environmental disaster

    The nature of crabs growing rapidly within the humans
    It neither allows others to go out nor goes out by itself
    We pay high for fuel to buy pollution, cost and poverty
    Wheels are the victims to carry the burden as infants
    Option is to use the huge weight, as a pushing force
    Ignored gravity power is a powerful force, natural, free, abundant and 24x7

  • Prashanth Poojary, Karkala

    Wed, Nov 27 2013

    John Sir,
    Please accept my sincere thanks for sharing your awesome crab hunting is really a good treat to read,Same took be around 30 years back,that time I too used to fish small fishes in our Swarna river,our father not even used to allow us to go to near river side,but we brothers during his absence used to materialise our hidden wish of fishing.

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