It’s been about a year since Dad died. A year since the man I believed to be indestructible passed away. Yet there have been a number of times in the past few months when I have cringed, half expecting his loud signature roar, “WHAT THE BLOODY HELL!” to ring from just around the corner! In fact it seems like just yesterday we went on our last great fishing trip…
I inherited my love for the outdoors from my father. He loved the jungle. And, with a ban on hunting, fishing was his great passion. As was, and still is, mine. So when I heard of this fisherman’s haven in Vijaydurg (situated along the western coast of India between Mumbai and Goa), both Dad and I were keen to try our luck. The years rolled on and it seemed that this would be another unfulfilled dream. Till one day, totally out of the blue, Dad called to say all was arranged and if I could give him 3 days he would organize an angling trip to Vijaydurg. In early April I flew to Goa, spent a day there with him and the next morning we drove the 300 odd kilometers to Vijaydurg.
The drive to ‘Durg was made in Dad’s old Maruti 800. To the average person this was a ramshackle jalopy, no air-conditioning, no/broken rear and side mirrors, broken, non-functioning seat belts, leaking coolant, mal-functioning window and door handles. To Dad however, it was a masterpiece of Japanese technology. With a gauge of steel comparable to any of the latest Mercedes vehicles, and an engine that Rolls Royce would have been proud of. As we prepared to get into the car, I, respecting his 87 years, moved to the driver’s seat. At which I was promptly informed that he would do the driving; (‘I am still your father and you have to bloody well listen to me. Besides this is my car!!”) To give the devils their due, both Dad and the car more than surpassed my expectations!
I will always be grateful to Daniel Moses, proprietor of the Fishing Lodge at Vijaydurg, not only for making the trip possible but also for his hospitality. His man Friday, Vishwas, is an amazing person: a butler, cook, boat pilot and an expert on fishing all rolled in one!
We had planned two fishing sessions. One in the evening on the day we arrived and the other the next morning. The evening trip was average in terms of the catch. The only noteworthy incident was this was the first time in my 50 years that I whacked my father! It happened like this.
We were trolling for fish. The boat moves slowly. The rods are placed in a holder with the lines let out in the water trailing about 50 yards behind us. To the end of the line is attached a lure, which resembles a wounded fish and which (in theory at least!) attracts larger predator fish. When a fish does strike, it grabs the lure and streaks away dragging the line, resulting in the reel shrieking in protest. On hearing this high pitched sound, the rod is grabbed and yanked back to engage the hook. Now Dad is partially deaf and when he got the first strike it was heard by all but him! In my excitement I turned and gave him a hard thump on his arm, following which he galvanized into action. End result: a mid-sized Trevally and an equally impressive bruise on his right arm!
That evening Dad was in his element, (I suspect the two pegs of whiskey from Daniel’s stock helped). Till the wee hours of the morning he regaled me with stories from the past (which I have heard several times over). Hunting with the German Burgomaster, hobnobbing with the Aga Khan, slipping away from his security in London to shop at Mark’s and Spencer’s… And for once I did not stop him or remind him that I knew most of the stories almost verbatim. A premonition that this was our last evening together? Maybe.
The next morning’s fishing much to Dad’s annoyance was almost all mine. A couple of red snappers, followed by a few groupers. Nothing spectacular, but a steady flow of strikes. All mine. By 12 noon we decided to quit. We had to make the long drive back to Goa so that I could make my flight from there to Mumbai.
It was then, as we slowly made our way back, that Dad’s luck changed. And how! He got a huge strike. The fish grabbed his lure and streaked away for over 150 yards. The reel screaming loudly in protest which even Dad could not help but hear. For his 87 years, Dad was amazingly equal to the fight and held on keeping his rod high and the line taut. Suddenly, the line went slack. Our initial reaction was disappointment. We thought the fish had broken free of the line. It was Vishwas who was first to realize what was happening. The fish had turned and was now streaking towards the boat! Reeling in madly in an effort to take in the slack, we managed to hold the fish who then began to swim in tight circles about 20 feet below the boat. It took another 20 minutes to coax the fish up and finally net him into the boat.
A 22lb queenfish (Leatherback), the largest, I’m told to betaken in these waters. (The fish was weighed at the camp about half hour later, and Dad, in typical fisherman fashion, insisted that the true weight was 25-26 pounds to compensate for dehydration!) Dad’s name was up on the board of honor at the bungalow which, incidentally, he supervised personally: Dr. J Leon D’Souza, ex Minister of Health, ex MLC, ex MP ex Mayor of Bombay!
A week later Dad fell seriously ill. Unable to speak, on ventilatory support, his
mind remained amazingly clear. Whenever he had a visitor, he would impatiently gesture to us to show them the picture of him with the fish and he’d smile happily as they oohed and aahed at the photo!
His illness lasted two weeks. Throughout that period his determination to recover was unshakable. Not for a moment did he doubt the possibility of making his next fishing trip in September. It was only on the last day, the 27th of April 2007, that he quietly told me to stop all the injections, and remove the oxygen. I still get a chill up my spine on recollecting his last words to me. Looking me straight in the eye and using typical shikari jargon: “Son”, he whispered, “I’m off to base camp, you join me whenever you are ready.”
An hour later he breathed his last.