This post is inevitable really. You’ll know what I mean instantly if you’re Goan. Impossible to live here and ignore the Fish!
Fish is to Goans what air is to us other lesser mortals (I’m including myself here, coz I’m Goan only by birth…in all other ways, I’m anything but! Much to my family’s distress and my infinite relief ;-))! For the uninitiated (read lesser mortals), Goans LIVE for fish! I’m pretty sure they would kill for it if the need arose and most would die without it! A life without fish is no life at all for a Goan, you understand! [Alcohol is another substance that arouses similar passion! Ahem! I must confess to being Goan in this way ;-)] You’re laughing??! Don’t. Fish is no laughing matter here people. Fish is serious business. One glance at the fat, prosperous fisherwomen (Strangely, very few men actually sell fish. They’re the ones who go out and catch it!), with their arms weighted in gold bangles and their ear lobes stretched to tearing-point from the heaviness of their solid gold earrings, will tell you that there is serious money to be made here.
Everyone eats fish in Goa. It cuts across caste, class and religious barriers and every Goan worth his salt swears by that staple food combination that has sustained us, evidently since Vedic times – the humble ‘fish-curry& rice’. Even today, many Goans are reluctant to leave their home State for distant shores, for fear of dying from ‘fish-deprivation’ and resultant starvation 😉 I’m NOT kidding!! As I said, fish cuts across caste barriers in Goa. So although Brahmins elsewhere in India are traditionally vegetarians (for the most part), the Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs for short) of Goa are an exception to this ancient rule. But like everything else in Hinduism, exceptions require justification and explanation, so everyone involved can feel good about breaking rules while escaping ‘sinner’ status and so assured of their place in Heaven!
This is a story about how us Goan GSBs, defied tradition, became fish-eaters and in doing so became one of a rare breed – the meat-eating Brahmin communities of India. Here it is, in the words of my uncle, who has interesting opinions (as you’ll see!), and who shares my fascination and interest in Hindu Mythology 🙂 I’ve kept my editing to a bare minimum.
The Pomfret Story
Once upon a time there lived a tribe of people whose job was to study and learn stuff about the universe. This was the tribe of Brahmins. Many of them stayed and studied on the banks of the river Saraswati (a mythical river, named after the Goddess of Knowledge, which forms the sacred trinity of holy Hindu rivers along with the Ganga & the Yamuna). There is no physical evidence that such a river ever existed and naturally none is needed for the faithful 😉 This sub-tribe of Brahmins was called ‘Saraswat Brahmins’ or SBs.
Over time, there was famine and the fertile riverbanks became barren, whether from natural causes like floods and over-farming or due to some God’s anger, it’s hard to tell. So far the Brahmins had remained true vegetarians, shunning all foods that could run, fly and swim. As times became harder however, they realized they would have to migrate or break their ancient rule of vegetarianism to stay alive. They were intelligent, learned scholars, who probably loved where they lived and so according to my uncle used their considerable knowledge of genetic engineering (he’s an engineer himself), to solve their problem in the unique fashion described below!
Step I – Catch plenty of fish from the river. The fish were evidently unaffected by the famine and were rather large.
Step II – Cut said fish into 3 parts: Head, Body, Tail. (see attached diagram)
Step III – Eat the body while exclaiming “Ooooooooh!! I’m saved! & Whoa! That tastes awesome :)” (my contribution). A change in name seemed indicated with the change in diet and they were now called GSBs or ‘fish-eating’ Brahmins. (Name-changing is an ancient hobby with us Indians and we follow it faithfully to this day, changing names of roads, towns and cities at the drop of a hat or rather the whim of a politician!)
Step IV – Connect the remaining parts together, the head to the tail to create a body-less fish, with afore-mentioned engineering skills or perhaps they were just skilled in the black arts (I favor the latter!).
Step V – Breathe life into the newly created fish and release it back into the river (This is why I favor the black magic theory!), hence escaping the ‘sin’ of committing murder, replenishing food stores & enabling self to retain the Brahmin title and status (possibly the only thing more important than the delicious taste of that fish :P), all in one brilliant master-stroke of genius (Did I mention they were really smart?)! I include a second illustration of the new species of fish thus created all those millennia ago and enjoyed with relish to this day – the Pomfret!
Step VI – (I made this up but it’s not too far from the truth :P) Bask in glory of having escaped starvation, Hell and creating a new species, by vowing never to eat another vegetable for as long as they live!! (Don’t scoff! Thoroughbred Goans like hubby, do not consider vegetables an essential part of their diet! Any mention draws looks of incredulous consternation!)
Moral of the Story – If you’re an intelligent Brahmin, you’ll eat fish 😉 (That’s the Goan interpretation, don’t sue me! I just tell it like it is :P)
The intelligent Brahmins however could stave off famine for only so long. Eventually the river itself dried up (not hard to do when you’re a myth in the first place!) and they had to migrate. They traveled to Kashmir in the north (where they became the Kashmiri Pundits), to Bengal in the east, and to Goa in the west, thus establishing the three major meat-eating Brahmin communities in India!
And that people, is the end of this story 🙂 Fascinating huh?
So as you can see we Goans have a special relationship with our fish. We love them, revere them and are eternally grateful for their sacrifice in keeping us alive 😉 They are therefore we are!
Enough said 😉 Happy Monday People 🙂