Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Other fish in the sea

"There are other fish in the sea" my friends tell me, the day after you and I finally break up.

Yes, they actually say that. In so many words.

My friends are big on cliches these days. They seem to think that shopworn homilies are the best way to mend a broken heart.

The really scary part is that it works.

Lying awake in bed tonight, wondering where things went wrong between us, I start to think about fish. And the sea.

I think about the time we went down to Alibagh for the weekend. How you dragged me out to see the fort. How we walked back with the tide coming in around us, the water over our knees and rising. How frightened I was that we would drown. How much you laughed. Afterwards, your trousers clinging wet to your calves.

This is not helping.

Maybe if I tried counting fish jumping out of the sea it would put me to sleep. No, seriously. It's worth a shot.

Trying to conjure up the image, I realise I've never actually seen fish in the sea. Not once. Every time I go to the seashore there are the usual sights - children and lovers, seashells, a few colourful stones, the sand. And I've seen other, less ordinary things - a wooden idol floating in the electric blue waters off Vishakhapatnam, the driftwood of giant logs along the Pacific coast, seaturtles clawing their way out of the ocean in Orissa, ships stranded permanently in the shallows, the spout and tail of a whale. But no fish. Never fish.

I know that there are fish in the sea, of course, and that people do go out to catch them. Barechested fishermen ploughing their frail canoes into the teeth of the waves, sleepy catamarans, Hemingway and his old man. But these are more myths than people, distant, almost romantic figures, far removed from my life. I think I can safely say that nobody I know has ever gone out to the open sea to catch fish.

Fish, for us, comes from the market. If you live in India, you go to the smelly little bazaar where sharp-tongued old women haggle and barter their assembled wares. If you live in the US you make your lonely way down to the supermarket where rows upon rows of fish are laid out in neon-lighted sterile shelves, carefully maintained at the precise temperature that will make them look their most attractive. I personally never buy a whole fish anyway (I can't deal with the bones). I buy cans: cylinders of tightly packed flesh that you scoop out with a knife - tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring - all the usual suspects.

I suppose even these fish must come from somewhere. Someone must be catching them, delivering them to our doors dead and packaged. But perhaps it isn't lonely fisherfolk battling the elements, perhaps it isn't the delicate art of bait and lure. Perhaps it's greasy trawlers harvesting the waves with their nets. Fishing as mass-production and the death of dolphins.

I guess it matters whether you see the point of fishing as the satisfaction of hunger or the indulgence of a deeper craving for adventure. I'm just not sure we can always tell the difference.
(All this talk about fish is making me hungry. I think I'll fix myself a sandwich.)

The other problem with all these fish that come out of the sea, it seems to me (poking around in my refrigerator for mayonnaise), is that they're all alike. Well, at least the vast majority of them are. Think about it. How many of us can actually tell one tuna from another? And to how many of us does the difference matter? Is that what they mean when they say there are other fish in the sea? Not that you'll get other chances, but that every person can be replaced with another just like him or her? That the minute you catch hold of another fish to take the place of your old one, you'll never know the difference? And if that's all there is, this endless repetition, this grey sameness, then why let go of the first fish at all? What can you hope to gain? What do you hope to escape from?

But no, wait, there are other fish out there. It's not all tuna and salmon. There are the more colourful fish, the ones you see in documentaries about coral reefs, or in public aquariums. Living streaks of underwater paint, banded and speckled and gleaming. The kind of fish you have to go scuba diving on a clear day to see.

Except you don't catch fish like that, do you? They're decorative fish. You gaze at them in wonder as they pass you by and you want to protect their beauty, want to keep them from harm. You don't eat them.

Okay, so some people catch them and keep them in fishbowls inside their house, but they're either cruel or just plain fooling themselves.

Besides, some of those fish are poisonous.

So even if there are other fish in the sea, does it really matter to me, sitting here at my kitchen table, eating a tuna sandwich and feeling my bare feet grow cold on the marble floor, me with no boat or net to call my own, me with no means of reaching all these ocean dwelling fish except through the grudging agency of others and then without the chance to see them as they naturally are?

I wonder if I should take a vacation somewhere, maybe go down to a beach resort, maybe go diving, look for some fish.

What's the point? I can't even swim.


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17 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

A tuna sandwich, eh? Lucky guy :)

dazedandconfused said...

It started off really well, the first half felt like a Shoefiend story till Night Falstaff jumped in with his Tuna and Salmon...

Mint Chutney said...

Very nice Falstaff.

essetchwhyaem said...

Was the fish a good-enough metaphor throughout the story?
Did it play its role really well or was it just Ok?

It did pretty good,I should say.An oscar nomination..at the least.

Nice.

PSR Chaitanya said...

"Okay, so some people catch them and keep them in fishbowls inside their house, but they're either cruel or just plain fooling themselves."

Very True. :P

Lovely post.

Anonymous said...

i loved this one. Loved the way it floated effortlessly (like a fish!) from deep emotions to frivolous wondering to subtle Humour to back again..almost like you were thinking aloud..very brownian motion. loved it .

Anonymous said...

Loved your post... a beautiful piece! Fish is just to be slaughtered & eaten up or else to be just admired in a glass aquarium/nat geo... so why all the attachment … just let go!

Anonymous said...

I'm going dizzy with all the inferential metaphors.

"a wooden idol floating in the electric blue waters off Vishakhapatnam, the driftwood of giant logs along the Pacific coast, seaturtles clawing their way out of the ocean in Orissa" -- the consultant experience paying off eh?

The stand-out for me would be -

"I guess it matters whether you see the point of fishing as the satisfaction of hunger or the indulgence of a deeper craving for adventure."

&

"How many of us can actually tell one tuna from another? And to how many of us does the difference matter?"

Brilliant piece.

-RS

obiewan said...

A brilliant piece - the comparison to life itself and the subtle points made here are really lovely.

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

How many of us can actually tell one of your deeply philosophical posts from another?
Why do we agonise when we can't?

Perhaps we should (a) get some coffee (b) try to forget the other context where women and tuna are mentione together (c) work on some more footnotes.

-Mahjabeen said...

I liked the stream of thought throughout this post- stylistically, you also kept it close and compact to the methaphor at hand!

meditativerose said...

well, we do know there are plentimaw fish ...

chandni said...

very well written..was a pleasure to read :)

choochoo said...

Hi. Just wanted to say that I like your blog:)

Anonymous said...

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Prometheus_Unbound said...

Amaziing. Really amazing.

Was looking for a blog on scuba in India when I landed up on your page. Even if I had worked on a story like this for a month I would never be able to write something so simple yet profound.

And racing the tide at Alibag, exhilarating ain't it.

Jon said...

I really liked this. I'll just leave it at that, it was great. Though one thing I was expecting at the ending was a tie back into the reality of the metaphor. You told it superbly and almost made me forget this was all about an ended relationship. Tying it back in at the end would have been nice. But again, a great story.