Localities Known by Local Fishes in North Bengal

Gautam Kumar Das

Searching for the local tradition and history by a surveyor, there can be no accounting for tastes, but sometimes the taste matters, when it is delicious Raikhar fish. The curry of Raikhar fish is simply nice to taste with rice. Happy are they who know the taste of Raikhar fishes of Atrai River of Dakshin Dinajpur. The curry tastes of Raikhar fishes, prepared by a hotel at Balurghat municipal town, which is delicious. Raikhar, available only in the waters of Atrai (Atreyee) River, is a renowned and branded local fish of Dakshin Dinajpur district. Local fish diversity of Uttar Dinajpur particularly at Raiganj, the district headquarters, is richer than its counterpart in comparison to Raikhar, the only representative of local fishes of Dakshin Dinajpur. In the district of Uttar Dinajpur, the fish-sellers in the marketplace adjacent to the Raiganj rail station carry and display a variety of local fishes for sale of their catches in the morning. Gopi Bajaj, an eminent local, accompanied me to the fish market and assist me identifying the local fishes namely Piyali, Bou, Chapla, Ghaaira etc. Local fishermen captured these local fishes from the river waters of Kulik and Nagar of Uttar Dinajpur district. The British officials too recorded the name of Raiganj as one of the large fishing villages of unpartitioned Dinajpur district where the fishermen collected these fishes like Piyali, Bou, Chapla, Ghaaira from Kulik and Nagar river waters. In the ‘Statistical Account of Bengal’, Dinajpur, W. W. Hunter mentioned that the “Two large villages, namely, Raiganj on the Kulik, and Dhankail on the Chhiramati, are the principal fishing villages, and contain a considerable population, who subsist almost exclusively by fishing. The rivers and canals abound in fish, but the Collector, in his Report to me in 1870, states that it is impossible to form any estimate of the value of the fisheries, or of the proportion of the inhabitants that live by fishing only, as almost all the agricultural population catch fish, either for food or for sale, when opportunities offer.”

Boroli, a local fish of Cooch Behar district, is so popular that the district administration used to arrange an annual Boroli festival, where a delicious dish of Boroli is the central part of attraction to every visitor of the festival, though it is costly and is only available by booking prior to the commencement of the festival. The Boroli fish festival occurs every year at Cooch Behar town with a festive mood which is generally inaugurated by the North Bengal Development Minister of the Government of West Bengal. Boroli fish are abundantly occurred in the mainstream of Torsa River and all its branches like Buri Torsa, Shil Torsa or Mara Torsa. Apart from Boroli, Korti fish is another variety that represents the local fishes of the Cooch Behar district. Boroli, or Korti fishes are available in the district, though the numbers of fishermen or fishing communities were not enough in this district even in the era of the British period. W. W. Hunter stated that the “Manjhi, 88 in number, and Nalua, 13 in number, are returned in the Census Report as the only two fishing and boating castes in the state.” Here state means Cooch Behar, where the Koch king was the head of the administration during the British India era.

Tales of the local fishes in the Darjeeling district are quite different from the remaining districts of North Bengal as the major portion of the hill queen Darjeeling stands on the hilly region with steep slopes, and that is why the district is lacking both local fishes and fishermen. And surprisingly, during the British period nobody showed interest in surveys for fish and fishing operations in the hilly region of this district, though fishes were captured in the river waters of Teesta of the terai region. In the perspective of fish, fishing, fisheries or fishing communities, the district is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring, engaging other fish to fry. W. W. Hunter mentioned fishing in his book ‘Statistical Account of Bengal’ – ‘There are no extensive fishing towns or villages in Darjeeling. The fisheries all belong to Government, and the right of fishing is annually sold by auction to the highest bidder…the Census Report of 1872 returns the number of Hindu boating and fishing castes in the District at 81, of whom 68 lives in the terai and 13 in the Hill Sub-division. Although so few people make their sole living by fishing, the Deputy-Commissioner reports that the people generally throughout the District fish for themselves during their spare hours.’

Local fishes of Malda district are very much delicious and this is experienced during an occasion. On a day, after wandering a large area of Madanabati and Jagjibanpur, places for historical interests around Pakua and Bamangola from morning to noon under the guidance of Pravash Bain, moved straightway to the dining table at his residence and experienced the taste of delicious curry of Golsa, a Tangra type fish, prepared by Tuli, wife of Pravash. I will never forget the taste of such a delicious dish of Golsa curry. The habitat of Golsa is the river waters of Mahananda, Punarbhaba and Tangan flowing around the Malda district. The district Malda is a well-known place for local fish diversity due to the capture of huge quantity of fishes from the rivers Ganges, Mahananda, Punarbhaba and Tangan where the local fishes of different species are abundantly occurred in the river waters, and therefore, it is the only district in North Bengal where several fishing communities are available who live in this region by fishing. W. W. Hunter mentioned in his Statistical Account of Bengal that the ‘the District of Malda has always been celebrated for its fisheries. Dr. Buchanan Hamilton remarked that the fishermen of the Ganges and of the lower reaches of the Mahananda were more expert in their art than any he had seen elsewhere…He gives the following list of twelve classes of people who live by fishing – 1) Bind 2) Malo 3) Jalua 4) Tior 5) Guri 6) Keut 7) Surui 8) Karal 9) Rari 10) Namasudra 11) Mala 12) Gangat.’ Malda district is not only self-sufficient in fish production, particularly by its capture of fishing from the river waters of the Ganga, Mahananda, Punarbhaba and Tangan, but the fishes caught in this district have been transported to the other districts. Hunter stated in 1876 – ‘The fish in all the Malda Rivers are of the finest description and are exported in large quantities to Murshidabad.’

Fishes in the district of Jalpaiguri are not only tasty, but its sweetness of variety is reflected even in the nomenclature. Topographically, Jalpaiguri district is befitted for the habitat of such diversity of local fishes. Series of famous rivers flowing parallel from north to south directions in the district of Jalpaiguri are the habitat of local fishes like Bhangna, Khatti, Bhatti, Garali, Barali, Elang, Tatkini, Rayek, Batasi, Dwarika, Kurail, Bhol, Panya, Mauya, Bangach, Sangach etc as recorded by Hunter in 1876, though there are no fish market or depo to transport surplus fishes from this district to the other places. W. W. Hunter mentioned fishes and fishing of this district, ‘There are no regular fishing towns in Jalpaiguri District, nor is there any class of people who solely make their living by fishing, as the fisheries are not sufficiently valuable to be depended upon as a means of affording a regular livelihood. In 1870, the Deputy-Commissioner reported that there were about four or five hundred families of fishermen in the District, but that they were unable to live by the produce of their fishing alone. Nearly all fishing families cultivate land also, the produce of which affords them the main means of support.’

Fishes of local origin become delicious and tasty when they are prepared by an expert hand. Remembering the person involved in the preparation of such a delicious dish of local fishes at her residence who describes herself gazing at a fishy stare as a simple-minded personality; she respects those who know to do the same. She is very friendly, emotional, and mixed practical, and ultimately a socially societal.

feb 27, 2021

Gautam Kumar Das

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