Few months back, at a Madh Island hotel, walking around the periphery of the back lawns opening to the vast sea, I could not help but witness fishes flying over the barbed boundary wall on to the green pathways, some withering on muddy path without water, others already dead, discarded by the volatile sea waves.
The old guard posted at the back gate of the hotel had made peace with the stench as part of his job profile.
“The sea gets calmer at night”. He whispered slowly when asked.
Later in the night, I walked through the Koli villages. Palatial houses with expansive wooden and iron swing in the courtyard and 46″ LED TV’s peaking out of their neatly painted living rooms with open doors tell a tale of who ruled the high seas over this side of Bombay all these years.
This poem brewed slowly, in trenches, month by month, after that last Bombay visit to Madh Island.
Bombay Duck not a duck, is a lizard fish, not a lizard, is not in the sea, is still salted. Left Inverted, hanging dry, popped eyes, mute spectator, watching lovers hand in hand, walk into the abandoned Madh fort at dawn, at dusk. Silhouettes merging with twilight, away from prying eyes, of the shiny city lights. Is the city Bombay still Bombay? no, Bombay is Mumbai now. This Mumbai, ignoramus to the ubiquitous non-existence of almost dead. Bombay duck is spreading fishy odour, staring at the hapless shore seeking respite with buttonholed, bluest eyes. Fish. Bombay duck. Bombil Macchi. Dead. Forgotten. Hanged. Exterminated. Ethos.Essence.Fins. Scales. mishmash, unto the vast sky, sunken in quicksand,
raw air, raging fire,
and residual of a city,forgotten.
The workers from Andhra, after a long day of sifting through the fishes, sorting and drying them over the wooden ladders by the seashore sit together, mindful of the umpteen layers of fins and fish scales under their feet, wrapping up the day with some light banter and tales from back home.
The area is surrounded by crows. I wondered why there were crows all over the area but none around the fishes. Do crows detest fishes?
This post has been pending for long. Ever since I came back from Bombay a few months back. Then I saw a tweet of Chef Zach of Bombay Canteen ( a place I absolutely loved when visited it ) mention #SkipThebasa on twitter. Am not very sure why #Skipthebasa hashtag is trending on twitter since then and people are promoting Bombil but this did bring back this bittersweet memory of a solo trip to Madh Fort area with my camera in tow and discovering the fascinating world of Koli fishermen and drying fishes.
As someone who has never eaten fish in life but has held them raw in hands, de-scaled them and made fillets of them dispassionately during the catering college days and hotel training days, I feel a certain kind of affinity to the Bombil after the Bombay visit.
#SkipTheBasa or not, Bombil, Bombay Duck, not a duck but a fish will always be special!