With Srerampore on this bank, and Barrackpore on the other -- the Ganga flows on. Used to be a time when neither Srerampore, nor Barrackpore, was around -- but the Ganga was. And so it was even at the time of the Ramayana-and-Mahabharata. But there were no landing stages on the banks then, like the one I am standing upon right now with my Dadu, and waiting for the Eilish boats to come in. The roads on the bank, too, had come up much later. There weren’t any houses-and-buildings or shops-and-bazaars, then, either. Nobody could have dreamt then of these buses, lorries, Sumo cars, Maruti cars, rickshaws, cycles and teeming crowds. Nowadays, people have even taken to waiting hours ahead, hoping to get fresh Eilish from the boatmen. There’s always a mad scramble the moment the boats glide up against the landing stages, each loaded with Eilish caught from the river’s depths. Everyone wants the best catch.

It is drizzling. Dadu pushes the umbrella into my hand and clambers down the steps as soon as he sights the boats. He is leaning near one, almost doubled over, intent on spotting the fish he is about to choose.

My eyes fall upon the people on the other bank, in Barrackpore. Even adults look tiny from so far. When I heard the Gulliver’s Travels from Dadu and was much younger, I used to believe that Barrackpore was actually the Land of Lilliputs.

I’ve heard from Dadu of how, during his childhood days, the bank on the Srerampore side would turn into a fairy-tale land in the shade of rows upon rows of banyan trees, and be flush with flowering periwinkle and jasmine hedges. Fairies would be sighted often, landing on blooming shrubs softly, in a moonlight that could make the river smile.

I could see that Dadu was busy discussing the Eilish with Nakul, the Fisherman. Dadu taught his son Maths and did not take a fee, which made Nakul show him quite a bit of respect -- even letting him select the best fish for himself, often the ones with the widest bellies.

Dadu had left me standing at the head of the steps, but I’ve walked down, unthinking, to the very bottom, and my eyes fall upon a fish, which is looking into my eyes very strangely from a heap on the boat.

I look right back and then have the goose bumps quite suddenly. What fish is that? Certainly not Eilish. I have never seen a fish like this one. Its mouth is a light blue, the back -- a shade of orange -- with purple right under it and a white belly like a penguin’s, and just as silky. The fins are the strangest. Like clumps of dark green moss. And it’s much smaller than an average Eilish, too.

My eyes fall upon the fish’s and immediately, my heart beats out a frantic drum roll. I can clearly feel the fish is speaking to me in the language of eyes, saying, “Take me home with you.”

Talking with eyes alone, without making a single sound, is nothing new. Most of us have done it at some time, or the other. I have come across not just people but pet dogs, lonesome cows on clouded-over meadows and even sunny-afternoon-squirrels that talk the language of the eyes. But this is my first experience with a fish. And it does feel strange because Dadu had once told me  -- fish-eyes are like buttons, insensate, bereft of all expression.

Dadu must have noticed something in my eyes and he broke into a smile even as he was about to scold me for having come down so far, “Have you selected an Eilish for yourself, too? Tell me -- which one is it?”

Dadu was holding two large Eilish in his two hands. He was getting soaked in the drizzle, along with the Eilish.

I pointed at the strange fish.                                          

“But that’s a coloured fish. It must have come in from the sea. Would you like to keep it as a pet?” asked Dadu, and pointed it out to Nakul.

The fish started thrashing about the moment Nakul picked it up.

Dadu stretched a ten-rupee note towards him, “Drop it in water, in one of your earthen pots. And you’d better be careful with the pot, Dadu.”

The last words were meant for me. He slipped into the umbrella’s shade and babbled on, happy at the thought of having just bought me a gift, “I’ll bring you a glass box meant for fish this very day. We’ll have to build a nest for the fish with stones-and-pebbles, bricks and seashells inside. You should start thinking of its diet.”

 

 

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