Part VI: Facing the Fishing Enthusiasts
Gula is a young fish who lives in the Verinag spring, also known as the Neel-nag (Blue Spring) in Kashmir. He lives there with his mother, Sheer, and his other fish friends, Nika and Kaakh.
The Neel-nag spring is significant since the river Jehlum flows from here into the valley. Neel-nag is surrounded by gardens laid out during the Mughal era and used for leisure in the following centuries.
Gula loves people who love him in return. He is very popular and a great entertainer.
The stories (a set of 10) revolve around various problems that arise and the ensuing conundrums, which Gula solves with wit and patience, often helped by his sagely mother and friends.
Some important encounters of his are with Aarath, a snake who is envious of Gula’s popularity, a little girl, an elephant, a bird and some other creatures.
Each story has an implicit moral lesson, teaching children the importance of knowledge, love, patience, humor, compassion, family, friendship, diversity, resolve and sharing.
It was one of those days for a young boy when his Mauj took him to his grandmother’s house, and he ate a fine lunch that is nothing short of being wazwan. Such was his grandmother’s cooking. Then Mauj wanted him to take rest, but instead, he stole the rusty old fishing rod that long time back belonged to his dead grandfather and decided to go fish. He takes along his friend, a younger boy from the house next door and slips out of the house without telling his Mauj.
And then, instead go to the river, the boy tells the younger one that they will fish at Neel-nag just where Gula lives with his friends and family. The boy does not know that the fishes who live in the spring are protected and are not meant to be eaten. The younger boy did tell him, but the older one reasoned that it is easier to catch fishes that are already caught.
Do you think that is a clever thing to do?
When Gula woke up from his afternoon nap, he saw the two boys sitting on the embankment, waiting impatiently. He could tell they were not there to have fun with them. The rusty hook glimmered dangerously when they elbowed each other on taking turns to hold the rod. The older boy decided his turn would be longer since it belonged to his grandfather. Do you think that is fair?
Gula knew they were in trouble. So what happens now?
As he began thinking, Nitch with the itch sidled up to him. Her eyes grew the size of saucers when she saw the rusty hook in the water.
The boys were bent on making them a meal. She shouted danger, and all other fishes escaped into deep crevices.
The hook continued to dangle, and the little piece of bread at the end seems quite tempting, but Nitch knew the results of tasting the snack.
In the corner, Gula’s mother, Sheer, kept gazing at the hook, furrowing her brow.
O, God! O, God, she knew it, she knew it! She recognised the fishing rod.
She whispered something into Gula’s ear.
His grin began to spread from one ear to another. His wide eyes followed the rusty hook that left a reddish haze in the water.
He whispered to Nitch. Instead of a worried frown, Nitch beamed a smile, suddenly happy.
She jumped with joy and shouted, “Me, me, I will do it.”
“Are you sure?” asked Gula and Nitch nodded.
“Ok then,” he said, and he went to gather the rest of the fishes.
The bait got soggier. The boys began to talk impatiently.
“What’s wrong with the fish, why aren’t they coming out,” pouted the older boy.
“I think they are taking an afternoon siesta, we will have to wait till they wake up and become hungry,” reasoned the younger one.
The boys renewed the bait.
“They should have been out and about by now” the older boy cribbed, “I do not think this bait is working, we should get some worms?”
The younger one nodded and off they went to dig for some worms.
This time gap gave Gula and his friends a chance to come out of hiding and gather around Sheer.
“If none of you makes a rash decision and follows my plan, these boys will leave empty-handed, and we will teach them a lesson but do otherwise, and someone will be terribly hurt,” Sheer said.
“But we are protected fish; they cannot fish in our water,” said the angriest one.
“It is so decreed, we are spared from being caught for food, we are not anyone’s dinner, we are sacred”, said the proudest fish.
“That is all fine and dandy to hear, but saying that will not solve our problem,” said, Sheer.
“Then what will? Please please tell us, you see, I do not know the problem facing us, even as I see the menacing hook, I am stupid,” said the most skeptical fish, making fun of Sheer.
Sheer, with patience reserved for such exasperating time answered: “For one we have to come out of unscathed from the danger of becoming the boys’ dinner, and we have to make sure they do not make this mistake again,” Gula and Nitch nodded and all other heads bobbed in agreement.
“That sounds great, please say how we can do it and fast,” said Nika the tiny one.
“Hurry, please I can hear them coming closer,” said the scaredy-cat.
They could hear approaching voices.
Sheer whispered something and pointed to Nitch, who seemed ready.
Everyone gasped and looked at Nitch in amazement.
Nitch was a hero for to even think of doing what she was about to do.
“You are squishing the worms, let them breathe,” came the angry voice of the bigger boy.
“I am not, you asked me to hold them in my hand,” the younger one said tired of the old one’s bullying, “and what does it matter, they are about to be eaten anyways,” he added.
“That’s not the point, I cannot put a mangled worm in the hook, let’s get to work fast, it is getting dark”, the older boy said hastily.
After putting the new bait, they were surprisingly prepared to sit very patiently but instead, they faced a surprising sight.
An entire school of fish lead by Nitch was swimming towards the bait.
The boys faces shone, and their eyes bugged out. They thought they would end up catching the entire school.
The younger boy let out a whoop, and the older boy glowered at him. “Shhh…you will scare them off,” he said giving him a shove.
The first part of the plan Nitch was leading was to catch the bait in her mouth. Sounds dangerous, right? But Sheer knew the hook was old and useless and Nitch trusted her.
Nitch smelled the rust and felt the tackle shivering.
The boys above were quivering with joy.
As if she had done this a hundred times, Nitch expertly turned the fat worm around the rusty hook by her mouth so that it would not pierce her skin. She caught it securely in the side of her mouth and began yanking hard.
The second part of the plan was for the other fishes to tug behind her and keep pulling.
At first, the boys thought they got lucky and by some miracle had caught all the fish, but they soon discovered otherwise.
They simply could not pull the fish out. Little did they realise that the fishes were pulling at them.
The fishes kept tugging till the boys lost balance and fell into the water. The older boy almost sank to the bottom. He did not know swimming very well.
The younger one swam up shouting for help. A few men rushed to the spot and dragged the boy out to safety.
The older boy was shaken and incoherent. The men spotted the fishing rod floating on the water, and their faces turned red.
“Were you fishing here?” they asked getting angry at the discovery.
“Don’t you know they are protected, this is a sacred spring, these fishes are not food; go run away. Never make that mistake again,” the men admonished the boys.
The boys exchanged scared glances. They stood up dripping wet and began to run towards their homes; heads hung down.
The older boys dreaded what he would say at home. His grandfather’s tackle had broken. In his hurry he has left the pieces behind.
In the spring the fishes were rejoicing.
“That was a great plan Sheer, you knew the hook was old, and Nitch is always so brave, pulling at the hook like that even if it is rusty takes guts,” said the tiny Nika, while Gula proudly hugged Nitch.
Nitch was indeed a hero!
“I knew the rusty hook was harmless. It is important we know the past and use that knowledge wisely. We all did a great job. Our goal was to run the boys out of the spring and teach them a lesson for next time. Working together always helps, and Nitch what can I say, her bravery is an example,” said Sheer with a faraway look in her eyes.
“We did great, we survived, then why do you look like you are sad,” asked the skeptic, looking at Sheer.
“I feel bad that the rod broke, it was a souvenir from the boy’s grandfather, his grandmother will be heart-broken,” revealed Sheer. “He was a kind old man, always brought us food, never harmed us,” she added.
“Aha! That makes me ecstatic, serves the boy and his family right” said the skeptic always happy at other people’s misfortune. Gula gave him a friendly fin-slap and he pretended to be hurt and with that, they all retired in safety for the night.