THE YELLOW TAIL
- Yellow Tail, I said.
- She said, babbah….
- I asked, what does ‘babbah …’ mean.
There was no reply.
- Hello, I wrote.
- Hel-oooooo, I wrote again.
No reply, still.
Uphhhh….., dumb woman – I typed, but waited without hitting the ‘send’ button.
- On the top left hand side of the blackberry handset….. there you go; she is typing something, it indicated.
It was a decision point – should I erase those two words – ‘dumb woman’ or wait to see what she would reply. Maybe, she would write something good and I may have to say ‘thank you’ instead. I waited till she finished her writing.
- The screen of the mobile phone went gaga with the question from her end – ‘what ????’
Huh …. I am frustrated. Can there be any question as stupid as this?
- ‘Dumb woman’ – I shot back almost instantly.
Good I didn’t erase. Dumb, dumb, dumb. What a question – ‘what’ ?. And that too, followed by four notes of interrogation! Human beings started asking this question from the time S/HE only knows, and continuously proved oneself to be stupid, not knowing such simple truths and facts of this universe to which s/he belongs. And, in the instant case, such a simple fact as Yellow Tail being one kind of a fish! The woman (in singular, in particular) is dumb, I reassured myself.
- ‘Whaaat….’, she writes again followed by notes of interrogation covering whole width of the mobile phone.
I started counting how many interrogation marks were there in that line. One, two, three …..six, seven, eight. Counted one of the marks twice. Spoiled. Start once again, one two three, four, five, six …… and stop. A bout of anger passed through my brain. Why must I have to count those many marks! Had it been my small Nokia of those initial days, that would have shown much bigger font in a cozy screen and that would mean that I would have to count much less, better still she would have to stop at the most, after five or six notes of interrogation. I tried to count again and failed to complete the numbers.
Aah, life is so peaceful. Deep inside the cave of your being, no ripple of ether. Relax. Yellow Tail is just another fish. One may not get to net it from self-professed elixir-like water of pond, river or the Bay of Bengal, but it must be a good fish.
- Hello, she writes after few minutes.
- Yes, I reply.
- What’s wrong with you, she asks.
- Silence was my answer.
- ‘What fish is this ?’
- ‘Yellow Tail, I told you’.
- ‘What kind of fish is this?’
- ‘Fish kind of fish’.
- ‘Uphhhh….’, the mobile screen flashes her exclamation, but without any note of exclamation, but few dots.
I wonder – a lady from fish-full Kolkata, working in a non-cook industry, presently travelling for pleasure in a warmer part of Europe, trying to assist me through black berry messenger with recipe to cook Yellow Tail fish that was caught in warm water of Indian Ocean in the northern coast of Durban. I must be joking.
- I quickly reply, ‘do you mean what kind of fish is this?’
I knew for sure that the answer would be in the affirmative. Therefore,
- I continued writing, ‘like Tuna or King Fish’.
I thought I must let her know I have not forgotten those darling fishes from Kolkata, and added
- ‘even Rui and Katla’.
- Another ‘Uphhh….’ on the screen.
Split second, and I realise the problem. The old man wanted to buy a small bottle of shampoo to cleanse his hair. The shopkeeper could not provide him with a bottle until the customer finalized questions regarding herbal/non-herbal, medicated/non-medicated, with/without conditioner, for dry/oily/normal hair. This is post-twentieth century; we must question a question and question an answer even if the answer of a question seems to be the answer.
- ‘King Fish and Katla cannot be cooked the same way ….’.
I knew this. I knew for sure that something like this would come next. Dumb (wo)man!
- I don’t care, was my reply.
- I want few pieces fried and few in curry, I declared.
- There was silence on the other side.
I thought she must be wondering what kind of a combination would be good for this man. – I said, hello.
- Yes, she replied.
Will it be like a half-potful of sepia-colour water with pieces of fish submerged and peculiar-colour cumin seeds floating like baby mosquitoes on a rotten pond, or a full-bodied gravy with world-full of onion, garlic and ginger posing like a sumo wrestler inside the ring? Very bad – I thought about the dilemma. Then I thought of Lord Buddha. In those tender and formative years in school, all students get enchanted by that chapter in history book – Buddha.
- U there?, I asked.
- Yes, she replied.
- I wrote, remembering Buddha’s advice, ‘follow the Middle Path’.
I wait but do not see the message getting delivered.
I wonder why can’t she see the problem. I really don’t care if it is a thick gravy or a Bengali soup or even a steak type of a preparation. All I wanted was some guidance of how to cook this fish such that I can eat. Extremism is difficult to be lived without. Why and how will it not be possible for a king fish to be cooked in Bengali flowing soup style.
Buddhism must be read. The Middle Path must be practised.
I was dreaming, in my sleep. The unique ‘m’ of McDonald’s was assuring me that I would not need to cook myself and savour on their variety of items morning, afternoon and night. The mobile phone rang to my irritation as McDonald’s invitation was zooming out. I realized it was not morning, but just seven in the evening, the same evening. Dream comes so fast, I notice, and goes even faster. It was her number – a missed call. There were two ‘Hello’s through BBM, but I dozed off. She tells me to marinate the fish with turmeric, oil, salt and leave for some time. I didn’t do, I didn’t want to do. I wanted McDonald’s, but that was not to be. Irritating.
- Hello, she says.
- Silence was my reply.
- Don’t drink to your unconscious, she writes.
- Silence again, was my answer.
- Marinate the fish, my mobile screen screamed.
- Ok, I said gingerly, still thinking of my dream.
It took ten long minutes for me to wash pieces of the fish and do what she asked me to. It was bad. Creepy, fishy, nauseating. Colourful fishes swarming around live coral inside less deep water of Indian Ocean is a feast to snorkelers’ eyes. A fish well cooked is a feast to your taste buds. But, the chunk of pinkish meat bordered in violet outer skin rings in your fore-finger a reminder bell that your own body will be chopped off the same way and Hell Comrades will roast your meat in low fire.
- ‘Have you put salt?’, she asked.
I thought for a couple of seconds and realized I had not. Few creases around my cheeks held my wry smile. She knows.
- ‘Is this fifty-second time you are guiding me to cook a living?’
- An emoticon of a smiley was her reply.
Next few messages were her insistence that I must put salt now, but I had already come back to my bed with the book and would not go to the kitchen until it was time to cook.
- ‘Don’t be lazy’, she recommends.
Salt as a taste may be critical, but is not necessarily good always – I thought. We agreed to start messaging again after 30 minutes. I was sleepy and put alarm in the mobile phone before another round of nap. Chunks of poor fish were left uncovered on a melanin plate, marinated in turmeric and olive oil.
Exactly after 30 minutes came the noise. I hate the alarm. I hate Ravi Shankar’s sitar when a patch from his Vairabhi raga – most unsuited for an evening, has been encapsulated into my mobile phone in an attempt to reduce intensity of my hatred to the alarm every working morning. I twitch my eyes and wait.
I wait. Few seconds.
- ‘Hello’, I write.
- No reply.
- ‘U there?’, I write.
- No reply.
- ‘Helloooooooooooooo’, I write again, exasperated that the fish needs to be cooked.
- ‘Wait please, for few minutes’, she writes back.
Wait. I wait. Few seconds.
- ‘Hello’, I write and wait.
I wait. Few seconds.
- Hell-oooooooo, I write again – frustrated and irritated and disgruntled.
- ‘Can’t you wait for few more minutes, pleaseeee? Last few scenes of Colour Purple’ – was the reply.
I remembered the movie and that particular scene where the blade was so near the throat; a small move from the woman in right direction will slit open the man’s last breath and close the chapter of oppression.
I can’t let it go like that. The man was big. He could have done almost anything he wanted. No point depending on that woman.
The Yellow Tail must be cooked, right now.
I switched off my mobile phone, put the largest frying pan on the electric oven with the knob turned to the highest point, poured olive oil a quarter of the bottle and caringly slipped chunks of the fish. I watched the fish with tender love and full care. After some time, I thought that the fish was done. I put two chunks of fish on white dinner plate. Oil was oozing out of fish meat and staining the plate. I grabbed some tissue paper and covered the fish. It was already late for rice and there was no bread. It didn’t matter as you would enjoy the most, fruits of your own labour – more so, if it is a combo of brawn and brain. After a quick shower, I rushed back to the kitchen to enjoy my own art. White tissue papers with black oil stain behaved a bit cranky and did not want to leave the flesh of marinated fish. I had to use kitchen towel with some tap water to brush. Papers were removed, but it was surprising to discover that even the fish looked blackish. It tasted nice otherwise excepting that it was little bitter which must have been the special taste of Yellow Tail, I wondered. Meat of the fish was little tough which again, I thought, must have been unique feature of this special fish. Taste of salt was some distance away as I still could not remember if I had brought the salt pot down from inside the shelf. It really didn’t matter much as salt tasted good when you felt that way in your sense organ, not necessarily only when one sprinkled on pieces of Yellow Tail. However, after chewing the first piece of fried fish, I really had to think hard if I would need to go back to the shopkeeper and ask why wouldn’t Yellow Tail behave as a special fish and not turn black, tough and bitter even if cooked in a time continuum, though undefined for want of a guide.
By Sumit Banerjee