[Story I wrote for DNA] More pics on Zooomr
Driving through Powai is an exercise in patience at the best of times — the twirling dust, black, due to the pollution, vehicles vying for every inch of open space on the road, and people filtering through this mess covering their faces with handkerchiefs.
Just a few metres away, in the waters of Powai lake, the going, perhaps, is even slower; but in an entirely different and in a very, very good way. Ignore the vehicular sounds, lower your gaze from the skyline that’s marked by fancy buildings, and you’d almost forget this is Mumbai.
For anglers at the Powai lake this is very easy — you could also say it is necessary. Thin, bright and straw-like, the peacock feathers keep bobbing in the water mysteriously. Follow the rod it is attached to and you will find yourself peering into eyes that are intent, and alert. For when the peacock feather dips into the water, it indicates that a fish is touching the line. The angler rips the line hoping he will hook the fish.
“This is what you wait for — hours together, and sometimes for days. The feeling you get when you hook a fish is incomparable,” says MA Ghani joint secretary of the Maharashtra State Angling Association, and an avid angler for more than 30 years.
But that’s only the start. The fish puts up a mighty struggle before it is “landed”. “The strength of the fish in water is unbelievable,” says Ghani. A big fish can empty the whole line out. The trick is to tire the fish. Let it swim for a bit, and then roll the line back. Judgment comes with experience. Get it closer to you, slowly, and then net it.
The action lasts just a few minutes, but the thrill lasts several hours.
But anglers spend most of their time sitting calmly in machans. Patience, after all, is a key ingredient in angling. A hawk swoops to catch a fish, a water spider skirts on the water, a fish splashes somewhere — “You tell me… where in Mumbai can you see such things? Can you imagine a place like this in any other major city? Just sitting over here is enough to relax,” says AH Husaini, secretary, MSAA, who prefers to spend 36 hours of his weekend by the lake.
Sitting in the machan, you feel as light as the breeze, as pure as the air you‘re breathing. Watching the water’s gentle rhythmic movement, you’d almost think that it’s not the water, but the machan that’s moving: The oneness with nature is complete. And Husaini’s point is driven home: Is this really Mumbai?
There’s a shout some distance away. Someone has hooked a fish. As we row towards the other machan, I can see Zeeshan Ahmed standing at the edge of this boat. His line is vibrating due to an unknown force in the waters below. The fish is putting up a good fight. “It is a 3kg fish,” says the experienced Ghani even though the fish hasn’t yet surfaced. Ahmed finally pulls the fish closer and nets it. As Ghani helps him unhook the line, Ahmed can’t stop smiling: “I’m on top of the world.”
Ahmed who has been angling for four years is relatively a beginner. But the more experienced members at the lake haven’t yet caught anything for the day. Angling doesn’t work by such rules.
“Sometimes it is beginners luck,” says Husaini. And with a smile he adds, “It’s great to see the excitement when they catch a fish. But actually it is the beginners who get trapped. Anglers know that it is not the fish that is hooked, but the person at the other end of the rod who is hooked.”