Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Part II. The fish come home.

On his thirty seventh birthday, a few of his colleagues had planned a surprise for him. Along with the cake and the samosas, he discovered that there was a birthday present even wrapped up in the obligatory shiny paper. Despite his initial reluctance, he was touched. It had been a long time since anyone had done that sort of thing for him. It was a small fish tank. Complete with pebbles and sand and artificial hiding places for the fish. There were two goldfish already swimming in the tank. As time passed, Wasim grew more and more fond of this little fish tank and its inhabitants whom he installed in a corner of the living room. Soon he brought more fish, exchanged the small tank for a roomier one, and made further improvements on it. He placed more realistic looking pebbles and added some foliage to remind the fish of their open riverine homes. Next he made an ingenious little device with a motor that created an occasional movement and tension in the water. He thought it would relieve the fish of their tedium and give them something to do while they swam though he could never be sure if this really worked. He added an aerator to generate air bubbles and keep the water in the tank fresh. He had always been cautious but now he made doubly sure to keep his windows shut tight. The neighbours striped orange cat was known to try a sneak-in if she thought there was something to filch. By now, he had some twenty five fish in the large tank which occupied almost a fourth of his tiny living room. The sofa and tea-table were shunted to one side to make room for the fish. There was an assortment of them – from the tiniest miniature goldfish and guppies, to the tiger barbs and Kissing gouramis and the single large Oscar fish that occasionally threatened the others if it was not fed on time. Once he introduced a piranha unknowingly and it started a murderous attack on the others.Wasim was most upset when he realised that it had devoured two or three of his favorite goldfish in the instant before he could pull it out. From then on, he read up on all the material available and was careful to introduce only species that did not usually prey on one another. He fed them all in the morning before his own breakfast. When he returned from work, even before washing up, he checked to see that the fish were ok, that all of them were there, swimming, hiding, breathing, with their little mouths open. When he had his dinner, he sat in front of the tank with the TV switched on, and their continuous slow race around the tank, made him feel sleepy and relax that all was well with the world. He was a god-fearing man though he did not enquire too deeply into matters spiritual. He did not drink or smoke. His only indulgence was his fish and the contrivances he made to keep them happy. Without them his life had had a sameness to it. Now the fish blended into the routine of his days, and yet the sameness was not as boring. He even stopped making his annual visits to his native village in Kutch as there was no one he trusted to take care of the fish while he was away. He told his grandmother who kept asking for him that he could not be spared at the office or that the fear of burglars prevented him from leaving the flat unguarded.

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