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Don’t get me wrong. I love fish and not just the ones in the aquarium. I love fish on my plate too. Fried fish was my favourite till the killjoys, the doctor-dietician duo, took it off my regular fare and made it a once in a fortnight affair. Fish in curry form, they magnanimously decreed, can be had any number of times in a week. So there’s that to save the day.

And yet…fish as a conversation starter (or filler), fills me with dread. Whenever the topic of fish pops up in conversations (and it always does in Kerala, mind you!), you will see me go tense all of a sudden and start looking furtively towards the nearest exit in the hope of making a discreet and unnoticed getaway.

Why, you wonder. What’s there to be scared about fish? The fish that come to rest on your plate for one are all dead and aren’t going to bite. But believe me, what I am scared of aren’t the fish perse, dead or alive, but talk of fish and where it leads. TO A DEATH TRAP. Or at least that’s how it feels to me.

They start off innocently enough, these queries. “What fish did you get today?” An alternative to it is, “Did you get any fish today?” But the worst of the lot as far as instilling the chill of fear in me is, “Where do you buy fish from?” The first two will eventually lead to the third and doom, but when the third is asked directly, you know the person means business and that you have no escape.

You see, the fish query is really a ploy. What the person really wants is to tell you about this wonderful place from where THEY buy fish. You get the freshest and best fish there, they insist, going on about the virtues of buying fish from their suggested place, not stopping to even breathe, all the while holding your eye in an almost Old Mariner-sque manner, till weak with fatigue you bleat something about trying the outlet they suggest.

Imagine this happening over and over again to you. Friends, neighbours, guests, the sweepers, house-helps, watchmen, random people you meet, you name it, they all have their favourite places where you get THE BEST FISH. And they, all as one, have decided I look the kind of baa-lamb who needs help with buying fish. PACHA meen, they repeat after cornering me, stressing that first word, which by the way means ‘fresh’.

Is it any wonder then that you find me looking longingly towards the nearest exit with a haunted look when talk turns to fish? 😉

Shail Mohan 2023