Autumn Angling

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With harvest over and the Lidder reporting low discharge, hundreds of youth report to the river and take tons of fish home, for most of the winter, reports Umar Khurshid

Away from home, sitting on the serene banks of the Lidder, Mudasir Ahmad, 24, picked an unusual topic with his associates: the daily income of the labourers extracting boulders from the rivulet and additional money from fishing in between. A resident of Aang village in Islamabad,  Mudasir is a cable operator, who spares time for working as daily-wage labourer too.

Once autumn sets in, the youngsters in this belt get into extraction and fishing. Mudasir and his elder brother Javid Ahmed, 28, mostly work on the riverbed, the main source of construction material in the area. “We earn Rs 500 to Rs 1000, daily but the incomes vary,” Mudasir said. “There are days when there is no work in extraction so sometimes fishing helps.”

For various people living between Khanabal and Pahalgam, extraction and fishing is a working season from mid-November to early March.As soon as the water level goes down, hundreds of people work on the riverbed daily. Fishing usually peaks in early January, when the water level touches an all-time low in a year.

People with some experience actually pick the fish from the shallow waters with least efforts. Those wishing to make it big go in groups and scan larger tracks, usually places that are slightly deeper. They divert the shallow waters from the fairly wide riverbed to other side and pass it through narrow channels at the tail of which they fix the thoup, a peculiar long-nosed wicker basket.

What has changed in the entire process in as many years is that some people hire JCBs for temporary diversion of waters from one side to the other side. Sometimes, they end up spending more on getting help to feed their hobby. But more people do it manually and in groups, which make the entire process economic and participatory.

“It takes almost seven to eight hours to catch five kilograms of fish and the fishlings,” Javid said. “We usually start at 4 pm and go home with the catch at around 10 pm.”

In urban cultures, fishing is either a full-time profession or just a hobby. This has evolved the systems and the processes to suit the two. Unlike Srinagar, the Kashmir periphery has fast flowing torrents and not placid lakes like Dal or a calm river in slow motion.

For Kashmir villages, fishing is a seasonal hobby that fetches a few good meals free. So people go in groups – in certain cases women too, and spend the day fishing, talking and joking. There are more people watching them working on the riverbed rather than participating in the actual sport.

During the harsh winter, it is a tradition in a few villages that live on the banks of Lidder to fix the fish traps early evening in the narrow river channels and then wait till late night and take the catch home.

Nisar Ahmed, 40, from Akura, is a daily labourer working in Lidder. Two years back, he had gone fishing and ended up working on the riverbed for construction material. He says he will never forget the day when he and his friend Zahoor netted 10 kgs in a few hours. “I do not know why but a lot of people often come to Lidder,” Nasir said.

In comparison to the past, people say fish population in Lidder has gone down considerably. Earlier a fisherman could catch up to 10 kg of fish in a single day. “These days if a person catches even five kg in a day, we call him the master of the river,” says Nisar. Is mass fishing the reason?“None of us does fishing for business but we like it because it is an old tradition.”

Fishing or no fishing, the river is the main source of income to hundreds of people. It is one of the main sources of sand, silt and boulders.

Mansoor Ahmed, 35, from Aang, works on the riverbed and earns Rs 800 daily as a boulder extractor.“It is plain hard work but one has to keep the hearth going,” Mansoor said. “Usually I take home a kilogram of fish daily and that is the incentive of working in a river.”

The Lidder has traditionally helped the residents make the best of the resource. Hundreds of families literally live on this river only. Earlier it was fish, now it is some fish and more construction material.

FaziBegum is 60 years old and remembers her winter fishing days as the youth. “We used to take big bowls to store the catch and I have never returned with less than a trukh of fish,” she said. “Earlier, most people would go but now only young men go fish catching.”

There are professional fishermen too.Mohammad Kabir, 45, a resident of Matipora, is head of fishermen, who daily nets20 kgs of fish. “We all are dependent on fishing because it is our primary profession,” Kabir said. “This river gives us fish, we sell it and educate our children and feed them. It is God’s grace.”

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