Publisher: Penguin India
Price: 250 INR
The theme of ‘Following Fish‘ is fish. Samanth Subramanian’s travels along the Indian Coast are logged in nine essays- all of them witty yet simple.
The book isn’t commanding like some travelogues can be; passages aren’t all assuming or tedious. They are persuasive but don’t go so far as to pester you or tell you that you cannot (absolutely cannot) miss this(!) or that. They are friendly rather, and personal, with room for you to chip in if and when you want to. That is to say nothing is definitive, everything is moving, ever changing and his adventure is not at the expense of yours.
He talks of the art of fish treatment in Hyderabad, of Toddy Shops in Kerala- singularly spirited, he calls them-, of building boats in Gujarat, the slippery and fast fishes of Goa and the Hilsa of Bengal. He talks of swallowing them live, of cooking them, of catching them, of saving them. From fish, he moves on to the people living with fish, the societies that thrive on them and traditions build around them. The stories in the book are warm and the narrative style gives you the pleasure of reading fiction while enjoying the authenticity of his observations and the truth of his characters.
The theme of ‘Following Fish’ allows the author to examine and examine quixotically the stories within its range without having to carry the vast weight of Indian Cultural History that most travelogues are obliged to drag shabbily. The book is light and the author’s revelations are piped to the same tune; he presents the happier side of a microcosm through easy conversations with regulars.
An excerpt from the essay ‘On the odyssey through toddy shops’ involving a particularly cheeky fisherman demonstrates:
“That year travelling down the coast of tamil nadu in the aftermath of the tsunami, I had seen something of its pitiless impact on fishing villages and harbors. ‘Was there much destruction here?’ I asked, already prepared to commiserate and condole with him and his inevitably woeful story. ‘Did many fishermen die?’
“’Oh no’ Mariadasan replied, ‘It was the day after Christmas. Nobody here was at sea. We were sleeping of the previous day’s toddy’”
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