Image by lorises via Flickr
Everyone knows of how sentimentally attached the stereotypical Bengali is to his daily diet of fish and rice (maach-bhaat). The consumption of fish also entails dragging his otherwise lazy self daily (Because he 'bill' eat fresh fish only please) to the local fish market, a real horror story for anyone who has a thing for sanitized environments. I am not one of those persons with a thing for sanitized environments but it still takes a lot of strong reasoning for me to even consider going to the muddy floored, fish entrails strewn, noisy, crowded hell hole that is our local fish market. Thankfully for me, my Dad is such a bazaar-oholic that I don't even need to raise a finger before the painful duty of buying the 10000 different variety of food items that my mother usually requires is enthusiastically volunteered for by him.
Today my golden days of irresponsibility in the fish shopping department came to a grinding halt. The electrician was working on some new wiring at home and Dad had to supervise him. With some guests invited for lunch, the onus of performing of the most Bengali of Bengali duties fell on me. I was chosen by compelling circumstances on this rainy, wet Saturday to pay a visit to the Beniapukur fish bazaar.
"What fish should I buy?" I asked my old man, the in-house expert on all things bazaar. "Buy any fish which you like, but just not pomfret as the guests are not fond of it, OK?" Drat! I thought to myself. It's the only fish which I could identified from its shape and now that was off the list of candidates.
With doubt rapidly flooding my mind, I entered the tin roofed area where the fish market is housed. As expected, all the fish looked ominously similar to my inexperienced eyes. Silver scales, big dead fish eyes, longish bodies seemed to be the common theme running through their species. There were a couple of stalls which were selling black whiskered fish (I guessed they were catfish just on basis of their whiskers) which were still alive trying desperately to swim in thumb depth water. I decided that I would not be the agent of the Grim Reaper for their wriggly existence and stuck to choosing between those fish which were already dead.
Confusion and the utter lack of any sort of fish related knowledge was writ large on my face. This I found out when without any sort of prompting, the sellers began to identify aloud the fish for me pointing at each of them and going "Mackerel! Rooee! Hilsa!". Frankly speaking it was really tough to tell the difference or maybe the importance of the occasion was getting to my nerves. I nodded feebly in acknowledgement before deciding go with the evergreen favourite in the Bengali foodies world, the Hilsa (Eeelish in Bengali). Without chancing a look at any more fish, I quickly ordered 700 gm of Hilsa to be hacked up for me.
In those final few moments before it was sliced up on the seller's mean blade, I tried to store a mental image of how the Hilsa looked. I thought I had the shape memorized successfully only to wander my gaze to a different pile of fish and discover that those darned things looked very much like Hilsa fish too. So I ended giving up the hope of learning anything of significance on this trip to the fish market. Not that I hadn't tried... there were just too many fine differences for me to tear my hair over. This after all was my first day of attendance in the Bengali lifestyle school.