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The Financial Express

A CLOSE LOOK

In search of a lost world

| Updated: October 25, 2017 05:26:42


In search of a lost world

The picture of a small boy running in wild joy just at the moment he, for the first time in his life, has been able to play a tune on the palm leaf flute is still fresh in the mind of a sexagenarian. Still highly active, notwithstanding the greying hairs, he now contrasts the childhood he spent with that of his grandchild. It's a different world altogether. No child today is likely to go mad for a palm leaf flute. Today a tab, a smart phone or a remote controlled toy car is likely to be at the top of the demand chart. But not all can afford such technological wonders. On one side of the digital divide lies the large population yet to handle and afford the smarter gadgets.
Then why should the simple joy in simple things and the sense of wonder experienced in Nature's limitless sights and sounds disappear from the common people's ethos? Dew-laden paddy sheaf or grass blade no longer amazes the inquisitive minds of small children. They do not rush any more immediately after rising from bed to look into a mag-pie-robin's, a dove's, a parrot's or a mynah's nest where the eggs nestle together or chicks clamour for food. They also do not feel the irresistible urge to go looking for a kind of wild berry, called am-jam karkuna, smaller than black berry that turns yellow and reddish before becoming robust black with a tinge of magenta and succulent. Nor do they look for ripe mangoes falling under the tree or climb trees to pick up ripe gab (mabolo).
In villages of the 50's and 60's there were distractions galore for a small or teenage child. With the arrival of the monsoon, crop fields first became inundated, then the water started rising to flood the vicinity of dwelling houses. Homesteads became an island each separated from others. The only means to visit neighbours was country boats. For the first few days, it was time for angling. Different types of hooks, rods and lines were used for different types of fishing. One particular version was to have the hooks hung on a strong line from the tip of very thin pliable bamboo slices finely chiselled. Usually meat from shell was used for bait. With the fresh water inundating the plains, all local varieties of fish started running amok, not knowing what to do. In their excitement they gulped whatever food there was available. Earthworms fell easy prey to the invading hordes. But the scaly or non-scaly hordes fell prey to a far superior prowler --man that is. Sing, tengra, puti, mini, taki and many more could not resist the temptation of angling bait so laid with the thin rod stuck deep in the mud.
As the level of water rose, this method of catching fish was given up. Now nets and chai a kind of trap made of thin bamboo sticks and fine ropes become tools for catching fish. Two kinds of nets were used for the purpose. One called bhuti is of a cubic shape. The base of the net can be compared to an eye. In the case of bhuti the lids are two pliable bamboo rods fastened at both ends with the net running end to end. Right at the middle of the upper rod there is a round loop made of sliced cane. Now a thin pole goes through the loop and is tied to the bottom rod in the middle so that when with a strong string the upper rod is pulled up and the lower one pressed at the ground under water, the entire contraption takes the shape of an open eye minus the cornea. A man from a platform slightly raised from the water level lies motionlessly in wait looking down and holding the string and pole tight. The water is so clear that the ground underneath is visible and when a swarm of small fish or just one big rui or katla walks in, the man lets go the string and gives a sudden pull so that the two rods close like the eyelids. Fish get captured in the net.
Oh, no this is not reverie but it happened once in large swathes of Barisal and Faridpur. Maybe, there are still a few pockets where such nets are used for amateur fishing. The other type of net is still used where water no longer is as deep as it used to be but is enough to inundate plains. This is a straight long net with 18 to 24 inches in breadth. Its upper side is kept floating by the stalks of a wild plant dried and cut in pieces. These are fixed at regular intervals. Now this net is laid in a long stretch in the evening or even in the morning and checked after a few hours. Small fish get enmeshed in the net.
There are many such small joys that are disappearing for ever. Kite flying was another pastime but with many it was no less a passion. Then there were village fairs and several other happy occasions that have gone never to return. Life has changed beyond recognition.

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