Something fishy

Our correspondent finds herself having fun in a fish market’s din

Written by Aaditi Jathar | Published: February 8, 2009 12:01 pm

Our correspondent finds herself having fun in a fish market’s din
My initial idea of becoming a fish-seller was that I would have to just sit in front of a pile of fish and pocket the money. But my illusions were crushed when I reached Kailas Pardeshi’s stall in Shree Chhatrapati Shivaji Market,the oldest and largest market in the city.

I reached the fish market around 9.45 in the morning,when Kailas Pardeshi was ready to open his stall. The smell of fish mingled with the incense stick he had just lit. He made some place for me and I hopped over to his side. Around me were all the kinds of fish that I loved to eat,fresh surmai and pink prawns. Kailas was doing the introductions. “That’s a halwa,it costs Rs 240 per kg and that one there is boi fish from Ratnagiri for Rs 30 for 250 gm,” he said. “The rates have shot up in the past six to seven months,” he added.

I was revising the names and rates of the fish when a customer arrived at our stall,enquiring the rates of halwa and prawns. When Kailas parrotted the numbers,she protested. It was too costly. “Hum log bhi kya kare behenji. Aajkal har jagah mehengai hai,” I said,trying my best helpless face. It didn’t work and she simply walked off.

We spent the next 20 minutes shouting at visitors to buy our fish just like the other stall owners did. I was part of the fish-market,literally. A woman walked up to the stall and asked for halwa. Before I could say anything,Kailas said it was for Rs 240 a kg and asked me to show her how fresh it was. I lifted one from the pile and flashed the fish’s blood-red gills,which indicated its ‘freshness’. She glanced at me and tried bargaining. Kailas settled for Rs 220 and asked me to weigh the piece.

She instructed me to clean the scales properly and cut the fish into thin pieces. Just as I was hoping that I would not have to do the cleaning bit,Kailas came to my rescue. I watched as he removed the scales and chopped the fish. The woman then took out a container and asked me to put the fish in it as she sprinkled salt on it. “By the time I reach home,it will be ready to cook,” she said,handing over the money. I was happy to have made my first customer and happier when Kailas,the boss,gave me a smile of appreciation.

What followed was about half-a-dozen buyers who said they were ‘regular’ customers and sought a bargain. And Kailas did reduce the price for all of them. Maybe this was his trick of the trade,to keep the regulars coming.

After 45 minutes of me posing as a fish-seller,I had gotten used to the smell and the noise around me. My hands though were an awful sight. They were covered in fish scales and I was desperate to wash them with soap. Kailas saw through my troubled expression and gave me a rough cloth to wipe my hands. “You can keep this for yourself and do clean your hands at regular intervals. I don’t want my customers to think that my assistants are shabby and unhygienic,” he said,winking at me.

An hour later and as we had settled for a cup of tea when a customer in his early fifties came by to buy prawns. I gestured at Kailas to continue having his chai,while I attended to the customer. To my surprise,the customer refused to acknowledge my presence and kept talking to Kailas instead of me. I swallowed my pride with a gulp of piping hot tea as boss took care of the hoity-toity customer.

By the end of the day,we had managed to sell fish worth Rs 1,000 and Kailas invited me to visit his stall again on a Sunday “when the business is at its peak.” I smiled at him and left. It was a good day at the fish market,but all I needed now was a bar of soap. u

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