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By Neeman Sobhan

They call him Mofiz. Bare-chested, barefoot and wearing only a 'lungi', Mofiz narrowed his eyes on a fish in the knee-deep water he was in. He was waiting for the right time. Patience is a virtue without which a hunter cannot do.

Fishing is common in pastoral Bangladesh. For a country where people are so fanatical about fish, it comes as no surprise. Even you may have thrown the thread with bait once in a while. But beyond angling, and beyond occasional recreational fishing, there are hunters who hunt to live.

A hunter needs his weapons. And as far as fishing is concerned, there are a lot of weapons a hunter can choose from, depending on what he is looking to hunt and the area he wants to cover.

Mofiz often manoeuvres around the shallow water-bodies looking for a catch with his 'teda' -- a spear-like bamboo pole with sharp iron fork(s) on one end. When the water is knee-deep and translucent, this agile hunter quickly follows it with the “spear” held high on one hand. And then with one sudden, brutal force, sharp iron strikes the fish, piercing it immediately. The game is over even before the prey knew it had begun.

Nasir, also with an eye to catch some fish, prefers the 'thela jaal' -- a fishing equipment where three bamboo poles are fastened to form a triangle, with a fishing net attached to the periphery, thus covering the triangular area.

“Once you see the prey, you have to understand its speed and movements. You should get close to the catch, but not too close. Immersing the fishing tool into the water with your hand, you swiftly run towards the fish and catch it in the net. It has to be a sudden, very quick move,” said Nasir.

Another gear used by Mofiz, Nasir and many like them is called 'veshal'. Two bamboos, extending away from each other, have their ends attached to a huge fishing net. The net is submerged in larger water bodies and brought up by pivot systems made possible by more bamboos; the fisherman needs to stand on a bamboo and force it down, thus bringing the other ends -- the two where the fishing net is tied -- to emerge.

Though quite common, this requires quite an investment. “There are 13 bamboos I needed to complete this. Fishing nets are also quite expensive. It took me around Tk.15000 in total,” says Nasir, a local fisherman from Bikrampur.

A smaller version of the 'veshal', operated by hand mostly at ponds, is called 'dhormo jaal', which applies similar mechanisms. The fisherman sinks the net and waits for a while before taking the net out of the water.

The net is surely a key element. Apart from the use of fishing nets in other fishing equipment, fishing nets by themselves are ubiquitous. The scene of a fisherman throwing the fishing net in the distinctive style is indeed breathtaking. What we might have missed is the fact that this is not an easy job -- throwing it to maximise the area covered requires practice. After all, many fishing nets have iron attached -- so that the net sinks down far, even touching the floor of the pond -- thus making it surprisingly heavy.

Another gear used in canals is 'chai/unta', usually cylindrical in shape and made of bamboo or cane, where the two ends allow fish to enter, but bars them from exiting -- a classic trap, often sunk in the evening and retrieved the next morning.

A thought to ponder upon is the fact that, apart from location and knowledge, a fisherman actually has very little control about the outcome.

“When you submerge the 'dhormo jaal', there are times when the whole fishing net will be empty,” says Motalib, another fisherman from Bikrampur, “It depends on that particular time when you are pulling the net up -- many fish will come and go by, without any harm. Allah wishes them to live.”

So, are fishermen fatalists? To a large extent, many are.

There are moments when the 'veshal' is levered up, with fish tumbling down from the top; and there are moments when that same net only shimmers in water and sunlight, devoid of any catch.

But of course, there are things a fisherman can, to a certain extent, control. Shudip Das, member of a school committee of a village explains, “The community sometimes plays a role. Mosques, schools, etc. own ponds and specific areas of canals. The school then offers their territory to individuals or groups. The highest bidder wins. An area for a season may cost Tk. 20,000. Depending on the attractiveness, the price increases. There are places where the rent is more than Tk.2 lacs.”

On the other hand, there are many fishermen who had no choice but to become one. With poverty and lack of skills forming the backdrop, the most natural thing as a child seemed to be a fisherman. Fates are predetermined maybe?

Still, one becomes envious thinking about the surroundings of a fisherman. There is a strange mysticism and surrealism in the environment. The air is refreshing, with an invigorating smell coming from the water. The only sounds are of the Azaan floating from a mosque some distance away, of the continuous “cricking” of crickets and the occasional splashing of water by the fish. The surrounding is breathtaking -- a gigantic sky above your head that has been caged in the surface of the water. And in the night, there is pitch darkness, and darkness only. There is a bizarre bliss in remoteness, one of contemplation.

Another aspect is when fishing is done as a team, which occurs mostly during peak seasons. This is therefore a time of joy and excitement, filled with laughter and chitchat between and after work, just like everyone does in office. And since those seasons yield fish in abundance, at times crowds gather to see the spectacular event of collecting fish from the net in huge numbers every time -- as put by one fisherman, “enough to cover the cost of the fishing net in a couple of catches.”

At other times, a hunter sometimes needs to kill time. What does he do? “Nothing, I have this boat attached with my 'veshal'. I sit there and watch and think -- nothing,” Sujon, an old fisherman, says.

This boat is his makeshift home. A little scan shows a pillow, mosquito coil, candle and several sticks of local bidi. “I spend more time here than in my real home,” he informs.

A hunter, after all, needs devotion. It begins with apprenticeship under an experienced fisherman. It is he who then teaches all the tricks and tactics. It takes experience to develop the razor sharp instincts of a hunter.

“I came to know that when it rains, angling or other kinds of fishing near the shore of the pond or canal pays well,” Munir, a part-time fisherman, says. “Insects and other foods are carried down to the pond with the rain. Fish come to eat that. Bigger fish follow to eat the smaller fish, hence making this spot and weather attractive for me.”

Zahid, who operates a veshal, says, “If a trawler passes by, I must pull the net up after about five seconds -- to avoid the disturbance and wave created, fish might just come in the direction of my net.”

Little do the fish know that a hunter is waiting. And once it is caught, there is no escape. A hunter is not merciful. There is little guilt involved; there are perhaps no hard feelings. Even that fish is a hunter of smaller fish. The hunter, then, simply becomes the hunted.

Both hunters share one thing in common: they hunt for a livelihood. You don't hunt, you don't eat.

By M H Haider
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Location: Khitirpara, Bikrampur


Fashion backward

Trends come and trends go. Some look great while they are here and depart only to return with a bang, while others look good only for the duration they last. Once they are gone, people look back and wonder what sort of demon had taken over the fashion scene for it to have gone so wrong.

Then there are some fashion habits that people happen to pick up and just do not seem to let go of and it seems to linger for eternity. Here are a few of those in our country that we could frankly do without.

One such fashion habit that seems to widely impinge the female community in our country is the overuse of foundation. Now, foundations were created to cover up any unevenness of one's complexion and give one an even-toned look. Unfortunately we tend to take things a little overboard and given our slightly darker complexion and great obsession with “fair” skin we end up using a teensy bit (read a bottle-full) more foundation than is necessary in the endeavour to get extremely fair, or rather “Twilight”, skin.

Instead of using a foundation that is of the same shade as one's own skin the general trend here is to use a shade that is at least two tones lighter and that too very generously. Being able to tell whether one is actually really fair or is just caked under seven layers of foundation would be a very delightful change to see at the weddings and parties.

Then there are the men sporting “bling” on their necks and fingers that shine and shimmer in the afternoon sun blinding every passer-by's eye. In some cultures tall, dark and bald men sport golden jewellery and look cool, so why cannot we? We have a lot of men here who fulfil at least the latter two categories if not all, who love to put on all the gold chains and rings in their wardrobe before heading out, but what lacks is a specific ingredient to carry off this style; attitude. Guys, as long as you cannot learn to replicate the attitude imitating the trend is not a very good idea!

Fashion houses here have transformed and forwarded local fashion to a great extent, constantly reviving local and traditional styles and at times fusing them with international styles. One such product of the fashion houses here was the fatua which still exists; however, one version evolved and became shorter than their original counterparts to form what could be called a Bangladeshi version of T-shirts.

All would have been okay if they were plain, somewhat similar to the Italian peasant tops; however, what killed it was the overuse of embroidery and designs making them look quite the contrary of fashionable. Sticking to the slightly longer and less adorned fatua would be ideal.

While talking about changes in fashion that we would like to see, the influence of the media of our neighbouring country absolutely cannot be ignored. In our tiny part of the globe, where fashion is greatly influenced by our neighbours India and Pakistan, some trends seep through, glamorised by the media, but which we would have done better without in the first place.

The overtly shiny saris and kameez adorned with flashy sequins entered along with the growing popularity of the Saans Bahu daily soaps almost six years ago but to our great misfortune they do not seem to be leaving and nor do the Saans Bahu soaps.

Not only limited to women's clothing anymore, these trends have manifested themselves in the panjabis worn by men in the form of plunging necklines and equal amount of embroidery. They do not look very appealing on-screen even when the men wearing them have waxed chests, so, imagine how they look on men here who, let us say, have never even considered taking the razor or the wax near the area that the plunging neckline exposes! And to top that off there are the transparent versions of these panjabis and at times shirts too. Let us face it people, our population does not exactly consist of a lot of Salman Khans, so time to put normal clothes back on!

By Karishma Ameen


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