By Tirthankar Mitra
A fish curry is a meal while macherjhol is a emotion that will find widespread support in West Bengal. Its residents who swear by the taste of hilsa would in all likelihood be foxed by Gujarat’s choice of Ghol as the state fish.
Black spotted croaker or ghol is considered to be a fisherman’s lottery for its rarity. For it is an expensive fish. Consumption of this variety is not widely heard of. But it has a huge market in China and other countries.
Even as Trinamool Congress state government of West Bengal organises global business summit and never stops to mention that Bengal means business, away from the air conditioned venue of the business conclaves, trade and commerce is not a popular topic of discussion among the people. Expert opinions would be offered about food or films and though the topics of business are not quite no-no even among the coffee house crowd, it would rather be skirted.
Talks would rather centre around Karimeen fish from Kerala, Goa and Odisha. One would wax eloquent about a sight of Karimeen bathed in a marinade of turmeric, salt and red chilly together with black pepper powder, fennel powder, ginger-garlic paste and lemon juice.
Turning down a dish of Karimeen is a test beyond temptation especially when roasted till it is crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth delicious when one digs deeper. Nearer home magur or walking catfish, though demands mellower treatment, flavoured into a light broth with slivers of green plantain.
No discussion of the lovers of fish dishes is complete without hilsa. It can be dressed up in golden mustard paste or fried in smoking hot oil. Ghol, by comparison, is of a status of Johnny come lately. It can lend itself quietly to cutlets and grills. But then it’s announcement as state fish of Gujarat is most unlikely to stir up an impassioned discussion among the residents of the state. For most of them are not fish lovers.
In fact, the Gujaratis have an affinity for vegetarian food. How did then the Ghol meet the cut? Strange as it may sound, it is for the business acumen of the people of Gujarat. After all, it is known as fishermen’s lottery for its elusiveness. It is a delicacy in Europe and Middle East. It is air-bladder is much covered for its medicinal property in Asian countries especially in China.
It makes Ghol a “floating business proposition” in a state where men have been known to make millions from much lesser opportunities. The prosperity of Gujarat though not at all richly endowed with natural resources stand testimony to it.
It is too good a business opportunity to pass up. The point may be underscored by the fact a kilogram of Ghol’s air-bladder can fetch a sum surpassing Rs 20,000 in the export market. This was an ace up the backers of Ghol’s status as a state fish. It made Ghol edge out ribbon fish, pomfret and Bombay duck. Found mostly along the coast of Gujarat and Maharashtra, Ghol is a coveted catch among fishermen. Now it’s new status as state fish will ensure conservation.
After all, being a prize catch poses a threat to the not too populous Ghol. If collective memory can be refreshed, knee jerk conservation efforts were discernible in West Bengal and Bangladesh to conserve hilsa.
Fishing bans and price regulations were imposed. Hopefully Ghol won’t be need such efforts owing to the infrequency in netting it; after all, it is known as fisherman’s lottery. (IPA Service)