Following Fish – A personal view

This is not about the book by Samanth (which I have yet to read even though it has been lying on my unread book shelf for quite some time). I have some of my own experiences in Indian fish land, which incidentally, is not restricted to the coastal regions. The most recent experience was in Chilka. This was not a tourist visit in any way. Rather, a project in financial inclusion which our client decided to do with the fishermen of the area. This particular village near Balugaon town was one representative community of these people who have been surviving for generations on the natural wealth of the lake’s ecosystem.

Village near Balugaon on the banks of the Chilka. From Traveling in India

The economic, ecological and social information that was collected and presented by the project team along with personal observations in the field suggests a potential humanitarian and ecological crisis in the not so near future.  The immediate impact is the lower revenue realisation of the fishermen. While their cost of operations continues to increase, their catch and the corresponding revenues does not increase proportionately. This has led to vicious cycle of debt – from organised and unorganised sources. Proliferation of micro-finance institutions has also increased the cycle of debt with the average household shelling out 125,000 every year in debt repayment (including interest).

The Chilka prawn (and there are five main types), as any aficionado will tell you, is probably most tasty of all prawn types found in India.  Commercial prawn culture is banned as it involves certain practices which upset the overall ecosystem. However, illegal prawn culture continues. The prawns that you get on your dinner table usually comes from these illegal operations.

The best way to have these prawns is to grill them. Normal Indian cuisine usually tends to overcook them but the taste of the prawn is such that one needs to just hold it back slightly – along with some mild spices, it is a wonderful meal.

The Chilka Lake as viewed from Balugaon Jetty. From Traveling in India

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There is a dividing line among fish eaters – the sea fish (saline) eaters and the river fish (fresh water) eaters. Bongs usually make up the majority of the latter group. Very few people I have met who seem to eat both with equal relish. In Hogenakkal, there is a fish corner where the local lunch stalls serve you fried fish. Garishly red in colour, the oil a funny brownish-yellow, these supposedly delicious fried pieces are of fish from the Cauvery river i.e. fresh water. But I have my doubts. Of course, the colour itself made me shy away from them and so I don’t really know how they taste. But as a fish gourmet friend told me, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to fish.

Fish stalls in Hogenakkal, on the banks of the Cauvery. From Traveling in India

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Finally, in Goa i.e Baga, there is place I saw which kind of exuded so much French pride that one felt unworthy of entering it.

There’s nothing like a good fishy story.

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