There were times when my father and I would have more time on our hands and decide to cross the rail tracks to sit beside the ‘nuim’ (river) and fish. Most south Goans know of this river – River Sal, which flows all the way to Betul and joins the sea there.
The walk to the river would take us a good forty minutes, through sandy tracks, which would divide the boundaries between the quaint mud houses of other ‘mundkars’ (Caretakers of property). The whole village knew my father by the name of ‘Pedro Francisco’ but when you heard it being pronounced by the villagers, it would come out as ‘pidfransis’! The simplicity of these villagers have left on me a lasting warmth of their love and care and maybe, it is this feeling that makes me speak of my father’s village with much love in my posts. Although I grew up in a city (Margao), almost every holiday was spent in Utorda. “Pidfransis … amguer jevun vosai re!” (Peter Francis, come eat with us and go!”) or, shouts of “Tuge oddlo cheddo kit’ re?” (Is this your older boy o what?”) were commonly heard, when we passed the houses.
Further on our sojourn, we would walk through fields on the ‘xetha bandh’ (The raised, mud dividers forming the squares for planting). I remember, particularly during the watermelon season, we never carried drinking water since the growers knew my father and generous as they were, would shout out, “Pifransis … ek puddo vor re!” (Peter Francis, take a small watermelon along with you!”).
My father and i would spend hours sitting by the river, staring at the thermocol float. He would sit with his longer stick and i with a special one prepared for my size! He had taught me how to tie the hook, thread the bait and pull the fish out at the opportune moment when the float would disappear underwater! For those who are anglers will know what ecstasy one feels when the pull on the cord is loaded with the weight of the fish! It is a joy that transcends all other! Once the fish was pulled out, my father would inspect it and teach me how to lightly step on it and pull out the hook from its lip, and to grab it. Sometime, an ugly ‘fugo’ (puffer fish) would be caught or worse still, a ‘levannem’ (watersnake)! These were times when I would leave it to my father to release them back in the water! Being a saltwater river, ‘sangott’ (Catfish) would also be caught at the river. My father taught me how to recognize this fish and taught me to be extra careful with the stinging spike. If one got pierced by the spike, I am told that the wound would always get infected and take very long to heal. If the spike broke inside the skin, apparently it would rot the flesh as it moved up the leg! I don’t know how true this is but there was a guy who we knew, who was nicknamed ‘sangttacantel’ ( ‘Catfish spike’!) who suffered from a bad infection in his leg after being struck by a catfish!
There were times when we returned home with loads of fish but then there were others when we would catch absolutely nothing! It was during these times, when my father would make me swear to secrecy, when the fish we would take home was actually bought from a vendor!
(Note: Looks like I will need a ‘part-3’ to bring you more stories of Utorda!)