Some books just pop out of nowhere and you end up being glad that the entire universe conspired to infest your life with a great piece of art. “Following Fish – Travels Around The Indian Coast” happens to be one such book for me. To be true, I developed a big crush on Samanth Subramanian, while reading the book. So much so that at a point where he expresses his besottedness towards a lady cook from Mangalore, I had to close my kindle and manage a few deep breaths to swallow the pangs of jealousy emanating from within.
This is a writer who paints vivid images of his travel through the coastal India, inducing wanderlust through mouth watering, awe inspiring, nostalgia stricken chapters on the various fishing communities across the country. His writings on the Bengali fetish for the Hilsa fish, swallowing a live fish as a part of a Hyderabadi household’s nostrum for Asthma, the toddy shaaaps (shop, to be pronounced like sharp, with a drawl but without the burr) of Kerala, the lost beaches of Goa, the Koli community of Mumbai, the fish boat crafters of Veraval and Mangrol, Gujarat etc. are all deeply researched, eloquent masterpieces, that talk of the bygone era of these fishing communities, always the first tribes to encounter and survive the influence of foreign traders and intruders.
A collection of 9 essays, this 150+ page book of narrative journalism casts such a spell on you that it leaves you bereaved as it ends, wanting for more, wanting you to plead and beg the author to take you along a bit more through his expeditions.
Read the book during those office breaks, or while travelling for a sales call, or in between lectures, just to be transported to an elemental world of fishing, which according to the author is an activity composed of water and air and light and space, all arranged in precarious balance around a central idea of a man in a boat, waiting for a bite!
“Writers are fond of detecting rhythms of movement in even the most crowded, frenetic places—a reflection of the very writerly desire to impose order upon the disorder around them. At Sassoon Docks that morning, however, it was full-blown chaos. The only rhythm I could spot was a sort of reverse Brownian motion, particles of humanity rushing to avoid each other, people ducking and weaving out of each other’s way, sidestepping and feinting and jostling and second guessing. It was a waltz of discomfiture, a dance with a narrative that sought valiantly to preserve even a minimal bubble of personal space – a dance, really, choreographed across all of Mumbai, nearly all the time.”
– Chapter 8 :On Seeking to Eat as a City Once Ate
“Travel does nothing better than swinging a wrecking-ball into even your most meagre expectations. A place is always hotter or wetter or colder or drier than you suspect it will be; people will always turn out to have stories different from the ones you set out to hear; a society will, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, always turn itself inside out like a sock, to reveal its frayed threads, its seams, its pattern of stitch work. The real process of discovery works not by revealing things you knew nothing about, but by revealing how wrong you were about what you did know.”