This story was originally reported and written in Bangla. PARI Education works with students, research scholars and educators across India who write, illustrate and report for us in a language of their choice.
My father, Sankar Mondol and my grandfather Santosh Mondol are fish breeders. They breed different kinds of fish in three ponds near our home.
I live in Bhelekhali, a hamlet near Kheadaha in Sonarpur block. My grandfather, Santosh Mondal, who I call dadu, sold rice for a living in his childhood. When he was in his thirties, he and my dida [grandmother], Debola Mondol who is 66 years old now, moved from their home in the hamlet of Diwada, a short walk from Bhelekhali. He bought land here and built the home we live in – a small seven by 10 feet mud house. We belong to the Poundra community (listed as Scheduled Caste in the state).
Dadu bought three man-made fishing ponds around our home in Bhelekhali and started a fish breeding business. My father joined him and now manages it along with my mother, Baishakhi Mondol.
East of Kolkata, in the area adjacent to the Sunderbans, lie wetlands – 12,500 hectares of land covered by water and sewage ponds where fish are bred for sale. This area has been identified as the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) and has nearly 254 sewage-fed fisheries in the districts of South and North 24 Parganas. Fish breeders, fishermen and farmers live and work here in this wastewater fed aquaculture system that is also the habitat for waterfowl and a large number of flora and fauna.
A limited amount of water from the waste water canals is discharged into the fish ponds from time to time, and the sewage water is considered a nutrient for breeding fish. Fishermen treat the pond water with lime before breeding begins.
My baba [father], Sankar Mondal, breeds and catches fish that he sells at the Bantala market close by. When he wants to catch a large quantity of fish at one time, he uses big nets and hires jeles – daily wage workers – from around my village.
Baba’s day begins at 4 a.m. when he goes for a walk on the Kheadaha road in front of our house. He returns and has tea made by my mother, after which he goes to check on the fish in the ponds.
Ma is 32 years old and she takes care of the cooking and other household work and also takes care of my Dadu and Dida who are now 72 and 66 years old respectively. In the day, she will find the time to make the food for fish – soaking the wheat grains and fermenting them, cleaning the fishing equipment and the banks of the pond.
Around noon, I go to watch my father feeding the fish. He puts the fish he has caught for the market into a big aluminium pot which is tied and secured on to his bicycle carrier, and then cycles the three kilometre journey to sell them in the market on the Bantala-Sonarpur highway. Some days he brings home some fish and my mother cooks up delicious curries like tilapiar jhol (a light curry with tilapia fish), shol macher kalia (a spicy curry made with murrel fish), pabda maaher jhal (fish made in a mustard gravy).
My family maintains a small vegetable patch – roughly 15 x 20 feet, right beside our house. Ma knows a lot about plants and we have banana, mango, litchi, jackfruit, lemon, neem, coconut palm, papaya, different leafy vegetables, gourds and tulsi growing there. We also have tomato and chilli plants. Recently Baba used split bamboo to make a support for our cucumber vines.
We also have flowering plants like Hibiscus and Sandhyamani (Mirabilis jalapa). A number of birds can be seen around my home – cranes and the Indian cormorant are closeby; the cranes come in search of the fish in our ponds. Crows, koel, sparrows, parrots and others are also seen here.
Around 11 a.m. Baba returns to the breeding pond to feed the fish puffed rice or soaked wheat. He also has a dip in the same pond and then comes home to nap, before he heads aout again to ensure that no birds like kingfisher and cranes come hunting for our fish.
To keep them from stealing the fish, Baba has designed a tool – an old tin is tied upside down on a wooden panel attached to a long rope that stretches across the pond. When the rope is pulled, the tin makes a loud banging sound that drives the birds away.
He sometimes takes a midnight stroll to the rearing pond. “Thieves come to steal fish and they usually come at night. If my fish is stolen, it’s a big loss so I have to be careful,” he said.
This year, when it rained very heavily, some fish escaped into the canal from our pond, and others rotted before we could sell them. It has been a difficult year.
The Disappearing Dialogues Collective (dD) works with and within communities, using art and culture as a medium to bridge gaps, start conversations and build new narratives. The idea is to add value and assist in the preservation of existing heritage, culture and environment.
This article is a compilation for Jol-A-Bhumir Golpo o Katha | Stories Of The Wetland, a project implemented by India Foundation for the Arts under their Archives and Museums Programme, in collaboration with People’s Archive of Rural India. This has been made possible with part support from Goethe-Institut/Max Muller Bhavan New Delhi.
Rupsa Mondal is a Class 7 student of Kheadaha High School in West Bengal. She was interested in documenting the life of her father with photographs. Rupsa used a mobile smartphone to shoot the pictures in this piece. She says, "I was able to enjoy and appreciate my own surroundings as well as value my fathers work. I also got an opportunity to learn new skills."