KARACHI: Unlike most of his ancestors who spent their entire lives at sea, Abdul Latif, 32, prefers land. It is quite a joke, he thinks, that out of his four sons not even one wants to be a fisherman. But it’s not as if he has never been on a boat before. For four years he was part of the early morning sea expeditions from the Ibrahim Hyderi harbour. Eventually, he ended up buying two boats which earn him Rs300,000 a year now. In his free time, of which he had plenty during the past two months, he volunteers to fix boats on the dock.
As the fishing season resumes after two months, Latif is once again part of a group of fishermen leaving the harbour for the sea where the men usually stay for at least four days to catch fish. There’s no competition but a yearning to earn a living, though there are times when the generosity and brotherhood among the fishermen is put to test by nature.
However, on Wednesday morning, it is all about celebrating the end of the ban. There is an air of festivity as colourful boats, full of young and old men, make way towards the sea after a long wait of two months when fishing was banned. Some organisations representing the fishermen have been protesting to lift the ban permanently. But in the light of the recent incident where 40 people lost their lives at Karachi’s Seaview, no one wants to take any chances. Now they seem to have quietly accepted the yearly two-month ban as well as the financial woes they had to endure during this period.
Every other fisherman has a similar story but a joke followed by uproarious laughter is what one gets if one asks them to speak about it.
Know more: Fishing season begins after two-month break
The boat Latif jumped in enthusiastically is full of people he grew up with. As the men, seven in all, reach far enough to lose sight of the harbour, one of the younger men on the boat, Qasim Kachhi, mostly known as Jheenga, shuts down the machine and another, being referred to as Mama, throws the fishing net over the sea. And then they wait. As the boat slowly moves from side to side quietly settling down, Latif speaks about Umer Khuhro, a veteran angler. Despite having heard about Khuhro’s legendary antics several times, everyone on the boat turns towards Latif as if hearing it for the first time. Though still alive and working, Khuhro has become some sort of a mythical hero for the young in the town that is mostly populated by Kachhi- and Sindhi-speakers. Legend has it Khuhro has far too many times got hold of a Suua Machhli, which is sold for Rs500,000 in the local market, says Latif as others listen with rapt attention.
According to a marine life expert, the scientific name of Suua Machhli is Argyrosomus japonicus.
As the morning prayers start echoing from far away, the topic changes from Khuhro to ‘a hole in the middle of the sea’ that the men call ‘Pin’. Latif narrates how once a year a large group of Suua Machhli takes a round of the coast — from Balochistan, to Ibrahim Hyderi, to India and back to the waters of Pakistan. Latif says it is supposed to be a matter of luck for a fisherman to catch even one from the shoal of hundreds that go on a round. Every fisherman wishes to be in the middle of the sea, surrounded by shoals of Suua Machhli , says Latif. After excitedly discussing details of the once-a-year occurrence, the topic shifts again.
This time, the younger one of the men, Jheenga, discusses how ‘Bholo and Gujju’ — two of the prohibited fishing nets — are set by ‘Saheli Waderay’ to catch even the tiniest of fishes. From Ibrahim Hyderi to Mubarak Village till Badin, the trap is set by the sea mafia to create a territory. Young or old, the fishermen know when they have ventured too far in the sea.
Unfortunately, for the fishermen, most of the fish get caught in Bholo and Gujju, leaving scrap and polythene for their nets.
Mama Qasim, who had been sitting quietly all this while, politely discusses how even those who end up getting something from the sea share it among their companions. But even then nature tests them, he says shaking his head sideways. Once a group of men from the Khaskheli tribe reached a spot where a pair of Suua Machhli were seen circling underwater. Incidentally, another group also spotted the fish at the same time. It resulted in a spat and minutes later a man from the Khaskheli tribe killed another fisherman, says Mama Qasim. An awkward moment follows where the men try to say something else. Just then the net twitches, noticed only by the fishermen, and from that time on the excitement of catching fish, even smaller ones, takes over the loss of anything else.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014