Hop and Plop

It is raining again. The down pour for all those have been waiting for it. People of all age groups greet monsoon with a happiness as it is a sign of new beginnings.

Growing up, it has always been a treat for us. And ofcourse, the frogs. The sound they make when it begins to drizzle is pretty entertaining. It’s also their mating season. The frog eggs floated in white foams on top of the water. On the North and south of our old house were water bodies. The northern pond was permanent. While our southern pond was formed during the flood. The southern pond dried up gradually as the monsoon season ended.

Meanwhile, a canal formed between the two ponds, and the area became a hinterland. There was an enormous tree near the north pond, with its branches sloping toward the surf. During the downpour, the water rose and reached the trunks. We climbed on the branches, and, jumped into the ice-cold water, swam, and played around. That was a fun party. We used to catch fish with rustic fishing hooks using tiny earthworms dug out as fish bait. Small fishes like “paral, pranjil, ootha” were lured into our snare. Trawling was at that point one of the most incredible pastimes.

The heavy downpour overnight used to bring water to our doorsteps. The whole yard was underwater. But the glut never entered the porch of our little home. Amma always said, “The Rain God never deceives us”. Large blocks were arranged to make a temporary pathway to tread over the sludge. On a day like this, the rain stopped briefly and gave way to the sun. Sunlight mirrored crystalline water, and my attention was drawn to the movement of something very peculiar.

At first, I got petrified of the possible presence of large snakes in the vicinity. It gave way to excitement as I spotted two large “varal” fish (Snakehead Murrel) and numerous baby fishes. They were on their journey from the North pond to the South. The next day, at the same time I spotted the same varal fish and the other school of fish again. Unable to contain my excitement, I called out for my younger sister, Mani. Her joy found no end as she studied them with utmost curiosity. We couldn’t let go of the opportunity to catch the fish. By the end of the monsoon, the creek connecting the ponds would quickly disappear as the water retreats, and the southern pond would become shallow. If the fish voyage ends in the south pond, we might have a chance of catching the fish. It’s going to be dumb luck.

Secrecy of the plan was necessary as we were not prepared to share the catch with the neighbouring kids. As rain withdrew, the canal dried up. Mom has been relieved now that the clothes will dry, the pets will not have to be cooped up, the livestock can go graze, and largely that she doesn’t have to worry about children catching vile tropical diseases as they squirmed in puddles. The water level of the south pond ebbed. The ripples in the muddy water hinted at the fishes trapped in the pond that by now reduced to more of a funky smelling puddle.

We decided to carry out our mission. After lunch, Mom invariably visits the neighbourhood for gossip while the children around get busy playing indoors or taking naps. We found the right time for our adventure. A bath towel was to serve as a fishing net. We ventured knee-deep into the dark, murky water. After several attempts, the fish became entangled in our fabric net. All grown by now, the fish tried to get around the net. We closed the cloth on all sides and wrapped it into a bundle.

Absorbed in our adventure, we barely noticed how we transformed at the end of the ordeal. The real danger awaited us at the bank. Our mother took the form of a bloody villain, screaming while holding a cane, ready to pounce as soon as we left the pond. Scared out of our wits, we bundled the towel with the fish and muck and threw it at her. Jumping out of the water, we took to heels before she could recover from the shock.

We reached a safe distance from her and turned around to see something I will never forget. There my mother was standing dumbfounded. The black miry slimy fish vaulted and convulsed about her legs, attempting to wriggle free from the wrap, which was now mostly open. Her hand dangled in the air holding a stick as she stood like a statue soaked in mud and slurry, red pan-chew saliva dripping from her open mouth. Quite a spectacle that I could never, ever and forever forget.

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