Young residents make a beeline for storm-water drains for the catch of the year

If you were driving past Ulsoor lake near the gurudwara on Friday morning, you might have heard boys shouting, “Lock panraa, lock panraa!” That’s Tamil-English for ‘lock it man’.

There are at least 50 boys and men perched on the retaining wall of the lake. Everybody’s eyes are fixed on the water. Every few seconds they break their silence and shout.

Most of them are crowding around 19-year-old Appu. His eyes are focussed on a slender white stem of a peacock’s feather that is bobbing on the surface. An almost invisible line connects the white stem to a bamboo stick.

The stem quivers. Appu’s grip on the bamboo tightens. The crowd coaxes him, “Lock panraa, Appu. Lock panraa!” But Appu waits. The trembling stem dips a little. The crowd is now screeching incoherently. But Appu waits.

He is now standing. Suddenly, the stem gets dragged under; the crowd goes mad; Appu yanks. A silvery-black projectile shoots out of the water. It’s an American rohu (carp), as plump as they get.

The others huddle around for a closer look. It’s a beautiful specimen: its spine is a shiny black and its belly silvery-white. The tips of the fins and the outline of the scales are a luscious pink.

“That’s my first rohu today. Thank god it wasn’t another jalebi (tilapia),” Appu says. “And the next time don’t tell me when to pull,” he tells off his fans.

Good fortune

When the crowd scatters, Appu grants The Hindu a quick interview. “It’s all thanks to the rain. The lake is overflowing into the [storm-water] drain. There’s more fish than we can catch.” Most of the huts in the slum where these boys live are flooded because of the rain. “But at least we have fish,” Appu says.

The fishing in storm-water drains of Ulsoor lake is so good after the rain that it’s almost like going to the fish market. In the half hour that this reporter spent on the spot, Rueben (22) fished out 18 tilapia. Appu, who had been there for three hours, had at least three kilos. Ganesh is so spoilt for choice that he throws fish back into the water. “Too small,” he says as he throws a plump palm-size fish into the water.

No patience

The younger kids have no patience for the hook, line and sinker. Maggi (12) and some others his age run home and return with mosquito nets. They get into the waist-deep water and start trolling. With each haul they draw out a dozen. They laugh mockingly at those sitting on the wall with fishing rods.

“You are Bengali? You must be eating lot of fish,” Rueben asks this reporter. “Here,” he says holding out a large plastic cover full of tilapia, “Rs. 250.” When I refuse, he says, “Ok…for you I will give it for Rs. 150.” Unable to make the sale, he says with a wink, “Eating fish makes you intelligent.” Appu quips, “If eating fish makes people more intelligent, why are fish so stupid? If they had brains would they be taking my bait?”

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