A Fishy Story

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

(based on a real incident)

The mutton briyani was exceptionally tasty. The company was good. A first-class welcome, excellent ambience, fine food and cultured company made the soul so receptive to creative thought in all its forms. As the good men did justice to the heavenly feast, a cool, tall glass of cloyingly sweet sherbet with pearls of moisture running down the outside kept everyone in a suitably intellectual frame of mind. Soon, as the little bras trays of anise, cardamom, crystal sugar and paan came out, conversations drifted towards individual interpretations of the arts, philosophy and religion. A few expensive cigars eventually came out to perfume the air with their heady aroma and oil the little gray cells. After all, well-fed, refined gentlemen should shoulder the great burdens of cerebral civilization where the working man would be more occupied with minor issues like who brought home the fish.

“Do you have fish?” I thought he had been napping. He had certainly given me the impression of having dozed off just after the paan and slightly before the Havanas. In fact, I was not even sure if the question had been directed to me. However, when I glanced around and saw no one paying any more attention to the old gentleman that I, I assumed that it had been thrown in my general direction by this great doyen of the literary world.

“Yes, sir! I do!” I answered obligingly, assuming that the honorable gentleman’s good intention had been a polite inquiry as to whether I actually ate any fish. I even threw in one of my best polite smiles to help him slide back into slumber. After all, I was just small fry compared to him.

“Where? At home or here?” It was gratifying to have this great man inquire as to whether I would take the risk of actually ingesting any of the local creatures, risk of ciguatera or allergies notwithstanding. Obviously he knew that the fish I ate in the Maldives came straight from the sea on to my table!

“I can eat them here just as I eat them at home, sir! I know that the fishermen here are just as careful and conscientious as their brothers back home.” Even though I do not officially belong to the diplomatic cadre, I am well-known among my more charitable diplomat friends as being somewhere in there. There was no harm in trying, was there?

“I am not asking if you as a person eat them. I am asking whether you have fish!” Apart from the slight emphasis on the second person reference in the first sentence, I had no way of knowing what he had intended my poor brain to decode. His intellectually superior frown did not help either. As for me, the effects of the pink sherbet were fast deserting me. Perhaps he meant whether we ate fish in the Maldives?

“Of course we eat fish in the Maldives. Unless, of course, you don’t catch any on a given day or if you are allergic to fish.” I explained with much gusto, my sincerity having been boosted by the excellent briyani that had been served, albeit sans fish, just an hour ago. I smiled my most accommodating smile.

“I knew that already! And I am not talking about my allergies here. Young man, I am simply asking if you have fish!” The frown had certainly deepened. The man was seriously concerned if my hosts had invited the right person. A sudden lunge at a paan tray did not help; a chew would certainly keep the sleeps away unless he was in the habit of dribbling red spittle on his crumpled white kurta.

I had the sudden urge to send someone out for the vilest cigar the local beedi wallah had despite the fact that I had quit a teenage tobacco habit years ago. This man was certainly getting on my nerves now. I could see him verbally fixing me yet one more verbal gimlet and I aimed to settle the issue once and for all, “Ah yes! We do have aquariums and fish tanks and the like at home. My uncle keeps an oriental sweetlips in in his bedroom.”

“I am not asking about your uncle’s Pilipino lady friend! Don’t be rude to me. Do you know who I am? I am a very big fish here, you should know.” Now he was telling me! And he had thought that an oriental sweetlips guruva fish was a Pinaya! And him a very big fish indeed. I felt like feeding him to the nearest friendly neighborhood great white!

By then, of course, I had lost all claims to diplomathood and decided to settle the matter once and for all. So, I pulled myself up to my full height as much as the couch I sat on allowed me, and asked him, “What do you mean, sir, by asking if I, or we, or whoever, had fish? What exactly do you mean?”

I had failed to notice that my man had suddenly slumped in his armchair and was gently snoring away, a dribble of red spittle slowly running down his gray beard and on to his beautifully white and holy but crumpled kurta. But my question appeared to rouse him a little bit for he said, “Mean? Yes, that’s what I meant. Mean…!”

And he went back to sleep.

Later on, much later on, while we were back on the highway and driving well past the legal speed limit away from the leftover briyani, someone had the kindness to tell me the matter had not been settled yet, for the word ‘meen’ in Tamil also meant fish!

And I have yet to go back!

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  • Naseem  On October 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    a fishy character indeed… next time you go to see this guy take our mutual fishy friend with you…

    • ldive  On October 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      I certainly must do it!

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