FISHING TRIPS TO KANJALI
River fish was my staple diet as a kid. That too caught fresh from Kanjali by none other than my Dad. My favourite was fried fish and sweet milk for dinner. All the aunties and uncles used to do hawww! They believed that my skin would turn white at places. It was considered to be more of a curse I suppose. In Punjabi they used to say that I would turn into “Dab-Kharabba” (spotted or patched in black and white). Well, I am still short, dark and handsome for some.
If Dad was in a happy mood, meant he is going fishing. On happy days he could pardon you for murder “Sare khoon maaf”. His fishermen’s circle used to range from professional anglers, desi fishermen, village folk, kabari’s (ragpickers) etc. Depending on the inputs from these people, he used to prepare his bait for the catch. “Gandoya” (earthworms) & Atta (flour) were the two commonest baits. Special ones used to be Jhinga (prawns), live fish, guts of table birds, frogs etc. He also was a collector of recipes of fish baits. Recipe ingredients were mashed into clay balls and thrown weeks in advance for fish to congregate at his favourite spot. Roasting and toasting various condiments used to send aromas for miles. Imagine what must be happening to the fish.
He never used a fibre glass or synthetic rods. He preferred the pure bamboo ones which used to be lightly roasted and oiled with “Alsi ka tel” (Flax seed oil) for days together to get that “latchak” (flexibility) to perfection. These bamboo rods were fetched from as far as Barielly in UP. I still have his collection of hooks, lines and sinkers. The variety is unbelievable. From a six inch hook to a 3 mm almost invisible hook. The knots which he has tied on lines, I fail to unknot them till today.
Kanjali River was an off shoot of Beas River; actually it is a flood water drain to divert excess water which passes through Kapurthala and Kartarpur. It was fondly called a “Bein” (rivulet). Only licensed fishermen could catch fish in it. In 1962 Dad had an all India angling licence. We learnt this after he passed away when I saw his licence for the first time.
There was a check dam which Maharaja Jagjit Singh of Kapurthala had made on the bein. The Royal boats, sculls and canoes later became our school property and boat club. Initially, our school used to have river swimming, rowing and diving competitions there.
I was not that patient kind to wait for a fish to get hooked. I used to run from uncle to uncle who used to have one on the line and dad used to scold me that I will disturb the fish. Sitting quietly for hours together as a boy was not my cup of tea. Some “khurafat” had to be done. While we used to be standing on the narrow Kanjali bridge, Dad would be concentrating about fifteen meters below where the fish used to be. I used to be standing alongside counting trucks passing by, which used to almost kiss your bums. I used to drop one chappal into the water. Dad used to fret and fume and finally hook out my floating hawai chappal as I won’t stop crying.
If on Saturdays he used to get “keema” (mince) from the market it was a hint that tomorrow is picnic. Mom would make “keema-pooris”. After dinner, all fishing equipment used to be displayed in the drawing room. Small rods with little hooks to keep me, mom and brother amused catching fingerlings used to be made. We all used to hang on to dear lives on our orange coloured Lamby. Brother cramped in front, Mom and dad on the seats, I on the stepney. The rods used to be laid on the foot rest on the right with a blue plastic bucket tied to the seat handle dangling alongside. That is how the Ellis’ used to travel.
The bucket used to carry a frying pan, a bottle of sarson oil, a masaladani (Condiment box), and a durrie besides lunch. Our duty on reaching the spot used to be to run and get a few bricks to fabricate a make shift choolah, then to collect firewood for freshly caught fish which were fried as snacks with beer for dad. There was a “baraf ki taal” (ice shop) enroute from where we used to collect ice for chilling beer and water. Beer bottles also used to be strung and lowered in the river to chill if ice was not available. Mom, within minutes used to dish out the crispiest fish. Mooli, gajar and shalgam for salad used to be pulled out fresh from the fields. After lunch it used to be “Lassi” (butter milk) sessions courtesy Kundan Singh, the boat club in charge.
Dad was very superstitious and used cuss words often. A particular person he used hate, if he met him on his way to Kanjali he used to abandon his plan of fishing that day. Then while casting his line in case it used to get stuck in the tree above or the hook used to get stuck in some piece of his clothing or overshoot or undershoot the precise point he had in mind then Saali, ullu ki patthi could be heard from miles.
Often we used to take a canoe or a paddle boat for a spin. We used row to the other bank where the weaver birds used to nest. It used to be teeming with birds of all kinds. We used to hide in the over hangs, chase swimming snakes, drop messages in bottles etc. One never wanted to return home in the evening. We used to come back tanned and dead tired. The other treat we used to look forward to that day used to be “dhabe ki daal and tandoori rotis”, as mom was given a night off. At the end of the day there used to be a prayer to thank God for all the bounties he had provided.
I loved to go on bi-cycle with dad to Kanjali. How many times I did susu sitting on the cycle carrier behind him, I don’t remember. As soon as I told him that pressure is high he used to give a code word “sprinkle”. This meant that one could turn around and do the job making zig-zag patterns on the road. Why I used to accompany dad was actually to listen to so many stories and tales and the way he used to narrate them. He used to do the same at night too but the feeling to listen to them over and over again is inexplicable. Sometimes he used to carry his air gun and if partridges posed on the road they used to be assured a place in the bag. If he did not get fish, then doves cooing on the telephone wires were dinner. If that too didn’t work out then egg curry was assured. Good old days they were.
Can we turn back in time? I wonder!!!!!!!!
© Noel Ellis