I never saw the shark coming. Wading waist-deep on a seemingly endless tidal flat, fishnet in one hand and camera in the other, I was stalking bonefish while pondering how strange it was for me to be fishing in Bandra.
A big splash broke the reverie, and I turned to see my fishing guide, Kishore, sprinting away from me for dear life. Then I saw the shark moving in the other way through grey shallows. It wasn’t a 12-footer great white out to bite my head off, but a harmless two-footer Perlon shark that got trapped when the tide came in.
“Yeah, they come in when the tide comes up and get trapped when we set up the nets,’’ Kishore said, when I caught up with him. “You don’t want to be near that fella, he could take a small chunk of flesh out,” Kishore continued, cringing as if he spoke from experience.
So here we are, tide-fishing—which, I believe, is a weekly affair on the rocky beach that forms the outer rim of Bandra’s Carter Road.
The idea is simple enough for seasoned swimmers: Set up a perimeter of rocks to form small lagoons of water when the tide is low. Swim in there when the tide is high and set up the nets. Kishore’s facial expression changes to a smile as he pulls back his net, this time laden with a catch of silver-coloured fish, with pearl-like eyes. “See,” he tells me as he shows me his catch gleefully, “when the tide is low again, this is the result—fish, fish and more fish.”
Kishore is one of Bandra’s invisible residents. The 13-year-old is an immigrant from Gujarat who came to Mumbai a few years ago in search of a better future. His family of six and he live in a shack by the Arabian Sea near Khar Danda, but you’re likely to spot him outside the snazzy cafés and restaurants on Carter Road, cajoling passersby into buying him a chocolate. But, today, he is a fisherboy.
It is fun and therapeutic to observe people doing what seems to them fairly routine, but to you fairly exotic. The cool sea breeze brushing against your brow, the cold sea waters running up to your knees, slippery green moss, sharp barnacle-filled rocks—it definitely doesn’t feel like anywhere near an agglomerated mass of civilization that is Mumbai.
Fishing here has a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ring to it. As the tide retreats, all you have are pools filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fish—all fighting to live. Men catch them left, right and centre. The kolis (fisherfolk, the original inhabitants of what now is Mumbai city) let the smaller fish back into the sea, and throw the dead fish to the birds.
Ultimately, it was a fruitful evening, despite my close brush with the shark. The fisherfolk left with crates full of fish, and I with a flashcard full of photographs in my digital camera. I’m waiting for another Sunday, when the nets go up again.
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