Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Catfish Story

If many accomplished cooks hailed from a family of foodies, then I am not sure if I belong to that league. No one in my family knew how to cook- not my parents nor my siblings. An exception though, for a distant grandfather who had established himself as a private chef. He used to be invited from one district to another to cook at special occasions, and, as a child of eleven or twelve, that was the time I started following him around.

Instead I came from a family of farming people. I grew up in a small piece of land purchased by my parents and the neighboring lands there- hectares of them- were tilled by a lowly farmer and later on when my grandparents moved in with us, my grandfather. That was a great memory of my childhood- to wake up with basketfuls of corn, sweet potatoes, beans, fruits, peanuts, sugarcane, fresh eggs, molasses- at our doorstep.

- and catfish.

Now this is my catfish story.

It used to be my childhood habit that every night before I went to sleep, I always had a piece of mosquito net on which I rub my feet. I don’t know what the psychological implication for this is, but having that mosquito net gave me a sense of security and comfort. And if it happened to slip from the bed in the middle of the night, I would grope in darkness to find it – for I couldn’t simply sleep without it. Could not.

It was one of those mornings -I was twelve years old and I was sleeping in the attic -where I started feeling grumpy because I couldn’t find my mosquito net- for gods sake! It was 5 am- and where is my mosquito net?! You know those chilly mornings after a long night of raining, you want to stay on the bed a little longer. But that very same morning I had to get up against my will because my mosquito net was missing. What’s the sense of staying in bed?

Then as I went down for breakfast, I was hearing murmurs of voices from outside. I came to look.

Basins and basins of catfish were being cleaned at our water pump. My brothers and my grandfather were working on them.

And there- my precious…..!@#$%!! – mosquito net- all muddy for it was used in catching the catfish from the farm puddles. My eldest brother was the mastermind for this mosquito net crime.

You see, I was almost on the verge of crying, thinking that I could never- for the life of me- sleep well at night. I was looking at my mosquito net all dirty and fish- smelling and, while I rejoiceD on the fact that the catfish were indeed fat and plump, I was still worriedly thinking of ways to resurrect my poor mosquito net.

The catfish went into the frying pan and was finished immediately at lunch time.

My mosquito net was washed with nuclear detergents and many changes of cold and hot water as I spent the whole afternoon washing, rinsing, and washing again. For while catfish truly has a charming taste of its own, there was no apparent substitute for my mosquito net- for even in the face of new pleasures, still, old habits die hard.

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