THE SEA IS ALL I SEE
Ten years back at the age of 22, I moved to Basirhat. Basirhat is a fishing village in West Bengal, located by the Ichamati River. I had found work at a well-known fish bepari (trader) and the money was good.
It was there that I met him. He was in his seventies and visited my seth often to sell his freshly caught fishes. Always well clad in perfectly creased white shirts, yellow aviators, gold bracelet and a hat, he carried his ordinary long lean frame with poise and dignity. After lustfully smelling each fish, he would pass on to me, like savoring the fruits of his labor till the end. A slow walker, he excused anyone in haste.
All the fishermen in the local market hated him, as he caught twice the number of fishes than they did. And he too gave a cold shoulder to almost all of them, giving away the vibe of being arrogant and snooty.
While the two bodies, seldom spoke to each other; the gossip mills refrained to shut-up. There were strong rumors of fishermen returning empty handed even if they went to the same spot that he caught his fishes from. On trying to chase him, they thought he vanished into thin air. Also, the way he knew of the sea, many of them thought that he possessed a map. Once, a lady told me that when he did not have his aviators on, his eyes appeared to be the most cold and dry.
In no time, I started enjoying these stories. Don’t get me wrong. I left my family at an early age in the struggle to make money. So, when you are young and see an arrogant oldie doing well, it gets you. Isn’t that unfair?”
Who knew, I had get my answers, even before I was ready to seek them.
My second month had just begun, when he reached the shop way before any of the other fishermen. With a nasty grin on his face, he said, ” Damn! I confused those bastards again today. Chasing my boat? Arseholes, were in for trouble the moment they decided to do that.” He told me, grinning widely, his aviators still on.
“You have got to tell by the direction of the wind and the speed of the water, my friend” he openly declared his secret to me. “What do these dickheads know? They are only into the trade to earn money and not for the real art of it.” he jovially remarked. I dint like the way he spoke of the other fishermen and wanted to give him a piece of my mind but I stopped myself.
As he began to leave, I thought this was my only opportunity “ Can, I come with you tomorrow?” I asked him looking straight in the eye.
The aviators came off and I met those famous cold dry eyes for the first time.
“Sorry, son. I am not sure if it will be an enjoyable experience for you.”
“I would still like to come with you”
He turned his back and began to leave. “Tomorrow, 6 AM”
I reached home early that day.
Next morning, I carefully chose my attire, as I wanted to look no less than him. My built had reformed in the last month due to all the labor and the coastal area had given my face a fine glow. Though I still wasn’t as tall and lean as him, but I was young and had age to my advantage. Carefully brushing my hair, I packed some shrimps from last night and headed out.
The thought of being out in the sea with him seemed to enthrall me. I hadn’t felt this rush in a long time.
He was waiting for me by his boat. My whites were not as bright as his, I observed. He wore red aviators and was smoking a pipe. “What an arrogant ass!” I thought to myself.
As I got closer, he waved at me. With a serene smile pasted on his face, he said “Come-on aboard son! What a fine day to go fishing.”
His boat looked ordinary from the inside, conflicting my imagination. No edgy harnesses, no complicated instruments, just a florescent fishing net and the mandatory tackle box.
He signaled me to take the seat opposite to his and I sat intriguingly to know his secrets as he shored us into the sea.
His rows had a ball bell that made a rhythmic sound. He tapped his foot along with it on the hard surface of the boat. With each passing moment, this music combined with the beauty of the sea began to instill a sense of calmness inside me. His way of pulling the shores was so surreal, almost devotional. The way he rowed was methodical and not hasty. He seemed to be in no hurry to get the fishes before the others did. It was almost like he was enjoying the experience of it. It changed my mood for the better and I started feeling lighter.
“How did you become a fisherman?” I asked, as he got a whiff of the wine before pouring it for us.
“I learnt this trade from my grandfather, mate. Though I was always the underdog of the family, three brothers, never loved by my father, for he saw his weaknesses in me. But, that hate, it made me strong. Son, today, I am the best fisherman of this town. Sometimes, I wish he was alive to see how I am kicking everyone’s ass here.” he said. The grin on his face broadening.
“Don’t you get tired of fishing? Such long hours at this age?” I asked, secretly wishing him to reply in affirmative.
“Never, I would give up my life to be here. The sea is all I see. These waters have nurtured me like a mother. Being here all by myself is what drives me. And look around son and hear it for yourself. What can be more melodious than this?” he said putting his aviators back on as we crossed a narrow passage, almost the size of his boat. To my surprise, the boat dint collide with the sides even once “Plus, I love driving the other fishermen crazy. I enjoy the thrill that they give me” he winked.
His pride was too much for me to take, but I kept quite.
Soon, we reached the middle of the sea. But he did not stop. He rowed further inside almost in a hypnotic way. Suddenly, he stopped his boat and dropped his fluorescent fishing net inside. Asking me to wait and make no noise, he poured us another drink. He also carefully unpacked a lunch for two. I wanted to say no at first but that fish curry looked nasty and I was a Bengali; who was starving to death.
“Why did you agree on taking me with you?” I asked almost robotically as we sat for lunch.
“Because, you are the only one who has ever asked me to. Everyone around here fantasizes about my craft but no one has ever shown interest in learning it. The egos of these arses dint allow it, I guess.”
This broke my patience.
“Let me tell you one thing old man, it’s your arrogance that keeps the villagers away from you. The reason no one wants to learn from you is your pride.” Those words came out of my mouth without touching my lips. As I finished, I realized I was shivering with anger.
“Everyone in the town knows a little secret birdie’ which you haven’t acknowledged till now.” He replied in his effervescent calm tone taking off his aviators. “ These eyes haven’t seen light in the last 25 years”
“You can’t see?” I almost spurted out those words and the food in my mouth.
“The villagers stay away from me because they are cowards. They cannot settle to the fact that I can see without eyes, what they cannot with it. And, that is why they talk behind my back. And, I am not ashamed of my arrogance son, why should I be? Years of sweat, endurance and perseverance have gone into the making of what I am today.
I felt like a fool for being so ignorant all this while and immediately wanted to apologize.
“I am sorry, I….”
The fishing net signaled to be full just then. Perfect timing, as I had nothing further to say.
As we gathered our catch and headed towards the shore, I maintained my silence and he broke into a melodious song
“Oh Re Taal Mile Nadi Ke Jal Mein Nadi Mile Saagar Mein
Saagar Mile Kaunse Jal Mein Koi Jaane Na”
(Water from a pond goes into the river, which flows into the ocean.
But, where does the ocean water go for mingling, no one has any clue)
On reaching the shore, he cautiously took out his catches from the net as I watched. He picked up each fish diligently, his fingers caressing over their skin, relishing their smell. That lustful grin was back on his face.
As he collected his money and walked away, his words resonated in my ears “I am not ashamed of my arrogance son, why should I be? Years of sweat, endurance and perseverance have gone into the making of what I am today”
“The best fisherman of this town” I whispered to myself.