Monday 16 November 2015

A Fish Named Puch-Puch

"He was one heck of a fish"... my brother texted endearingly of his goldfish of almost fifteen years!
...beyond his expectations he grew so big and lived so long. He was Guinness Book material. Like a pet dog he would always seek his attention and gave him unconditional love and took his share of love. He was the sole survivor of the dozen tiny goldfishes he bought for his pond in his backyard. (For warmth and survival my brother transferred the school from the garden pond outside to the aquarium tank inside as temperatures dropped and winter set in). He was singular amongst his brethren where he was always first for his food. He seemed a little more frisky and spunkier than the rest weaving its way in and out of the artificial weeds, always up to tricks. It was fun watching their eddying swim in circular motion.

The enthusiastic fellow survived the lot! He was life to the family room… A social creature who wanted companionship with humans. He may have wondered as to why was he in a tank and not with all of us outside? No you just could not ignore him and if you did, he made such a noise by leaping up and banging himself against the plastic hood of the tank. As if asking to be let out of it!
He would follow my brother everywhere…if he moved to the left side of the room he’d swim to the left side …right- he’d swim to the right and would make a “Puch- Puch” sound as if to beckon him. Yes that was the onomatopic name he was christened with. That was the sound he made by sucking-in air  at the corner of the aquarium to acknowledge his presence and cajoling to come and fondle him. He had figured that ‘sound’ caught the attention of humans and since he lacked the vocal-chords he had found his unique trade-mark solution to communicate! He seemed gratified when my brother stroked his scaly back or just lightly tapped the aquarium glass a few times. Mostly he kept a companionable silence when my brother was painstakingly and meticulously preparing for his business presentations. But then he would get impatient and start fidgeting attracting his attention in all sorts of ways successful in distracting him so much that my bro had to cover the aquarium with paper or cloth to discourage this bad behaviour!

He regaled in enthralling the audience if any. He’d do all sorts of sorties to keep them glued to him. He was hugely popular with visitors. Word of mouth spread that my brother has a pet fish, hence some came particularly to see him. He basked in their attention. He seemed to lord it all. Lord of all he surveyed! How he loved to show off . He seemed to acknowledge their ecstatic babble of oohs…aahs… baby talk et all! He’d swim fast, slow and kiss each of the fingers or face pressed against his tank…with the unmistakable sound of his puch-puch ...his way of saying Howdy! The unanimous view of one and all was that indeed it was a singular fish …a visual delight that held them spellbound for hours. He was flooded with endearing expletes o he’s so adorable, awesome, handsome, clever… All the while it seemed he understood each of them and played to the gallery as if displaying his swimming prowess twirling and swirling Dolphin like , and hands down he beat them in their merriment and tricks ! Declared my sister who would baby talk him. And if my brother came along to witness the fun he never got tired of waxing eloquent his great qualities. Puch-Puch had taught him a tremendous amount of fish behavior. Listening to him I sometimes felt he could be a a Sigmund Freud for Fish Psychology! It was amusing and enjoyable listening to his fish insight!

I saw a photo, in his ever-changing electronic photo-frame in the living room, of Puch Puch and a burly cat sitting on his aquarium kissing …O that …and my brother embarked on an Enid Blyton like description of Puch Puch,s behaviour with the cat that a friend of his had given him to baby-sit for a month.. Puch Puch though curious did not much like the intruder as perhaps he did not like the idea of sharing my brother with this creature. He owned my brother . As the fascinated cat would enter his territory he’d get agitated and bang against the glass, made such a noise frightening my brother lest he injure himself. The undaunted undeterred unrelenting cat would sit on the top of the aquarium trying to figure out from where to insert it’s paw inside the tank and shake hands with the aghast Puch Puch. Puch Puch on his part seemed ready to jump out and give a blow on his face, for all that love it showered on him! The expression was of aggression as if in a boxing ring ready for a bout! It was hugely entertaining to see them both interact with each other, the way they did.

During the winter ice-storm of 2013 a good portion of Toronto lost power to fallen-trees and blown-up transformers. In the area where my brother lived, power was lost in the middle of this brutal winter ice-storm for a week and the house temperature fell to minus four degrees Celsius. Puch -Puch braved the below freezing temperature. My brother along with Dad and Mum shifted to a friend's place whose area was not affected by the power-cut. He had to leave Puch -Puch behind he just couldn’t think of a way to take him along. The following day he made an hour long trip to see if Puch-Puch was fine. He heated water on the barbeque grill outside  and put boiling water in his tank to get the freezing water in the tank to a bearable temperature.  And returned leaving him in dark dreaded cold night once again. Everyday he’d try to make him comfortable and he seemed to appreciate his love and care and rewarded him by staying alive! He stood by him in his adversity and acknowledged his efforts. His assurances that “tough time will not last but a tough fish would”! (made sense to the tough Puch-Puch I guess ). My brother was so proud of him. Anyone mentioned the great power-cut, ice- storm, about the fantastic landscape clothed in pristine white, the twigs, flowers, leaves encased in ice and my brother would latch on with his pet’s tale of forbearance.

My brother took us downtown Toronto to see the Ripley's aquarium. The thought of bringing along Puch Puch crossed my mind several times as I saw an exotic collection of thousands of fishes in enormous tanks. Puch puch would sure have been delighted to see a riot of colorful fishes and he would have stood proudly on his own with his beautiful yellow, orange mix of gold color! There was a huge unit where the entire water of the  aquarium was monitored for temp, salinity, freshness, purity, an aqua guard sort of , to give a feel to the fishes that they were indeed in their natural habitat. Yes a clean sparkling aquarium is such a chore! And my brother did it to perfection…not without so many hindrances in his endeavour. Puch Puch would go wild! He would jump over his hand, slide past him , do all sorts of intricate gliding steps, happily dancing , frisky full of frolic swooshing swirling between his arm, rubbing his scaly body …and soon the changing the water and washing the tank changed into a pleasurable activity. When he slid into the bucketful of water, whale like his tail whipping back and forth revving up the water in the pail …spilling water all over him, seemingly enjoying his swearing under his breath! Believe me he looked kind of fresh after a refreshing bath!

He was especially gluttonous when it came to grapes. Initially my father, for easy digestion, would peel a grape and feed him. It was his gourmet dish and a treat. It was like a bone to a dog. Arjun-like he’d pay full attention to the grape held in the fingers of the person who was going to drop it in his tank. His beady eyes, hungry eyes, patiently, impatiently glaring at fingers to release it pronto, and as the grape was dropped suddenly there was whirl in the water he’d hop it immediately, lunging at it as if squabbling with the grape , gobble it, spit it out , lunge at it then savored the savory delight. This continued for fifteen years everyday. You’ve guessed it the most important fruit at home was “Grapes” Their stock replenished well in time with my Mother’s gentle reminder on time about, “about time to get grapes for Fishy-Fishy that’s what Mom called him lovingly. Feeding him a grape became a high point .The one who was selected to do the honors felt beholden. Often the person would be accompanied to enjoy the visual delight of his antics with the grape. And if visitors were expected then the grape episode would be especially reserved for them, along with the elaborate menu.

My brother thought on his behalf that transferring him into a bigger aquarium/tank would be like an excursion for him. He sure would be ecstatic moving into a new one because for the past ten years he was the sole occupant of the tank , all the time growing his gold stretching across the expanse of the tank …in a swim and a half he’d be around the tank . Discontented with his plight he spent days exploring the pet shops to find a good one, mentally working out the math with the amount and the size of the tank. A lawyer niece, an animal lover, gifted a new larger abode for Puch-Puch. No Puch-Puch was neither discontent, nor was he looking for excursion or change or surprise. When in all excitement my brother slid him in the new, better bigger, snazzier tank and waited for Puch-Puch to match his excitement, all he got was a rebuff. He just went and stood still in a corner as if sulking for his old tank, or that he felt cheated that he had not taken his permission, or was not consulted …well it was certain he did not like the surprise. He refused to swim. He seemed to come into some forbidden territory, as if he were trespassing . It took a lot of cajoling, walking up and down the length of the tank, guiding him with his hand in the deep waters persuading him to take the plunge which it did eventually and then it was sheer bliss. He catapulted, enjoying the vast expanse, stretching his full length, crackling all his muscles making a mental note to grow longer in length and fatter in breadth. He would spin around wonderfully , as if in Lake Ontario, his navigational skills improved drastically. There was a dance like grace in his swimming movements. He was back to his exuberant self. No! no one could take his mood for granted. He had that element of self-respect. Rather loads of it!

Of late my brother commented that Puch-Puch lacked his usual spunk was rather lackadaisical. He had slowed down considerably. No banging on the glass for attention. He’d glare quizzically with dull eyes. All that one could hear was a hypnotic swimming sound of his very slow motion. Towards the end he’d just be resting on the gravel at the base of the tank. He did not want to move. The reaction to his grape-treat was to watch it drown down in that three and a half feet aquarium. That told him all . Yes! there was something terribly amiss with Puch-Puch. Sure enough he started gasping for breath, his gills opening and closing like some automated flower petals. He seemed spent and tired and carried on like this for a while. He breathed his last in my brothers hands in the water. Slowly he floated and lodged himself to his customary top corner of the aquarium as if beckoning to come down to his palour and play with him. He was like nature in the room-a nature a reward in itself. There to be appreciated, to be understood ,to be lived and loved. He gave all a whale of a time and had one too!

Along with my son, on Face-Time I joined in the final rites. My brother had dug a foot-long grave in his backyard, which he had to extend, when he measured Puch-Puch. He was a straight sixteen and a half inches from the tip of his pouting mouth to the tip of his tail, on the deck where he lay inert his golden scales glistening that sunny afternoon. My Mom wrapped him in a beautiful fabric. We all bid him a final farewell with a prayer ‘Ardas’ rendered by my father…for a good heavenly abode, or a great rebirth or the mysterious whatever!

He was given a burial under the Juniper and the Maple, near the garden shed in the backyard.

He was like nature in the room- nature a reward in itself…there to be appreciated, to be understood, to be loved. He gave all a whale of a time and had one too I’m sure!

He sure was one heck of a fish… named Puch-Puch!