India Insight Out

By Susan Hague


When I finished my obligations for the Fulbright, one of the first things I wanted to do was go fishing in India. Cedric’s friend Owen was a fishing guide in Bangalore, so I took a Spice Jet flight over and packed light, no checked luggage, just a carry-on.

Owen was there to meet my plane, and to make sure I caught the right bus. Bangalore’s traffic jams and congestion are legendary, even by Indian standards (if you are on foot, you are often unable to cross the street), so I was glad we took public transit to his family’s flat in town.

Bangalore traffic looks like an ant hill that has been stirred, especially during rush hour, which lasted until almost dark. I rode on the back of Owen’s motorcycle to my hotel through this jam, and was glad I had packed lightly, and that Owen was driving.

We were leaving early next morning at dark-thirty to get out of town ahead of rush hour. Owen had borrowed a friend’s car, and we were headed out of town by 5 a.m. to a camp on a private lake owned by WASI, Wildlife Association Society of India. It was on this leg of the trip that we discovered that the car’s headlights were temperamental.

India’s truck drivers like to play chicken, passing cars on the two-lane roads, and when Owen slowed down to give them time to pass and not hit us head-on, our headlights went dark and we could see nothing, not the road, not the cars, and not the people walking on the side of the road.

I don’t remember what I thought or did the first time the headlights went out, maybe that it was a crazy fluke. But by the second time they went out, I found my voice. “Owen, what’s wrong with the #@** car, and can we fix it?!”

“I don’t know, my friend doesn’t drive the car at night, or he wouldn’t have loaned me a broken car,” Owen said.

On Indian highways, there are often no food, gas or lodging opportunities. At all. We were in one of these dead zones, in the dark, with sunrise another 45 minutes away. After a few more harrowing lights out moments, first light finally appeared. We made it to the village where Owen knew we could get a nice hot breakfast. Communist flags were everywhere, since in this region the Communist party was dominant.

The car ran fine except for the headlight issue, and we turned into the rutted dirt road to the lake and camp owned by WASI. It was 10 a.m., plenty of time for fishing. Owen had all the gear, including the bait, which he started to mix in a bowl with oil and water like a cake.

“Mahseer fish are vegetarian,” he said, putting in a few kernels of corn. He packed this stuff around a coil that looked like the bottom of a CB antenna, and brought the stuff down to the dock. There was a small plastic tub with two seats and a chair in the middle. All I could think of was rub-a-dub, three men in a tub, but that was our boat. After Owen and I got in, the guide started paddling with what looked like a crawfish boil paddle.

“There’s a crocodile in the lake,” Owen said, and hissed at the croc. Its head went underwater, which did not give me comfort. Our guide dropped our baited lines in the middle of the lake and paddled us to a platform on the other side of the lake, where we sat and waited for a strike. Owen coached me, “Let the fish take it some, then set the hook and start reeling.” Womp! Fish on, and it was all catch and deliberate release (I like catch and eat—I release enough fish without meaning to).

Owen caught a rojo, which is red and looks like our redfish, and a snakehead fish, which sounds bad but is actually quite tasty (Owen caught one the next day that swallowed the hook and couldn’t be released to die, so we had him for supper).

It was a grand fishing adventure, and the best part was that we didn’t have to drive home in the dark.

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