Oblivious to the surrounding serpentine traffic, anglers on Powai lake patiently bait game, and peace of mind.As Ali H Husaini, ace angler, paddles his boat down Powai lake you expect the boat to melt in the lead and mercury poisoned waters or a crocodile to jump up and drag him into its oxygen-depleted-depths.
After all, all you hear about this suburban water body are horror stories. But the feeling that comes over you as you drift offshore is something else.You can see the perennially car-infested roads of Powai along its banks, and can even hear a honk or two if you try real hard, but a few strokes of his rowboat into the lake and you’ve slipped into a dream. If Inception was made on this lake’s waters, this would be the first stage.
You can hear birds calling out to each other, spot five species with just a cursory glance, including a kingfisher, and the silence hits you like a day into Vipassana.
“This is my second home,” says Ali, and then quickly adds, “My first home if my wife isn’t reading this,” and laughs. A contractor who owns a gas distribution network around the country, Ali works in a high-stress work environment, which doesn’t have a concept of work days and weekly offs. “I come here when I have time, but I make it a point to come here as often as I can,” he says. There are about 50 active anglers at Powai fishing club and many of them are high-profile members who lead stressful lives like Ali. Powai lake for them is a yoga centre and angling it’s meditation course. “The feeling is spiritual,” says Ali. “It is a game of patience. You have to wait and wait, and when you feel the first bite, suddenly you go from doing nothing to a massive adrenaline rush. The feeling is indescribable. You forget work, you forget stress – you enter a different world.”
Rajat Mukherjee, who directed the movie Road, is a regular at the club. Unlike Ali who used to go on fishing trips around the country with his father since he was kid, Rajat got into angling just a couple of years ago. Rajat says, “We went for a trip to Himachal and my wife packed my fishing rod which I bought from the States but never opened. I didn’t catch anything and my friends caught five each. It was so frustrating. The next day I was doubly charged. I dipped the fishing rod and thought it got stuck in a rock. Next thing I know I was fighting a two-and-a-half kg catfish! Everybody was blown away, it was competition size. People think anglers hook fish, actually, it’s the fish that hook us in.” The meditative space he enters during fishing baits his creativity. “You set up the rod and wait, and suddenly you get all these great ideas. Also, there are so many different techniques in angling, I feel like I’m a small boy learning a new sport,” he gushes.
Powai has become a focal point for big-game fishers in the city. They take fishing trips together, get bragging rights every time they bag a big one, and this is obvious when you visit Indianangler.com. The forum has been built for anglers in the country, and the discussions are buzzing with boyish enthusiasm.
“There is a healthy competition between all of us,” states Ali. They travel across the country to search for bigger and different game. Two of the club’s members, Javed Ansari, owner of Kwality group and Santosh Kumar, owner of a chemical pharma company, have gone for a trip to Bangalore where they are looking to catch different fish. Some own their own boats, which cost above Rs 5 lakh and take them along.
It’s not that Powai doesn’t offer the best, it’s just that people need a change in scenery. Powai has the highest density of Indian carp in the country, a game fish that is a rage across Europe. This freshwater creature is known to elude even the most experienced angler and ranks high on the difficulty meter. The International Game Fish Association World Record for the biggest Catla caught is 15.17 kg and Ansari’s 14-year-old son netted a 17 kg carp recently at Powai after a 40-minute long fight.
Angling at Powai has its detractors too. Abbey Fizardo, who is in South Goa for a fishing trip, feels that angling in Powai is just too difficult. “I’m a musician and travel around the world doing corporate shows. I am basically a lazy person and fishing fits in perfectly with my personality. But to fish at Powai, you need to be lazier than me,” laughs the self-professed salty (anglers who prefer catching saltwater fish). He says that he knows people at Powai who ground bait (throw bait in the water so that fish come to a certain spot) for a couple of weeks before they start fishing.
Now, fishing at the end of the day is a game sport and sounds very cruel, but the Powai fishing club redeems itself a little bit by releasing most of the fishes that take the bait, after taking a photograph, of course. Ali talks of carps that have been caught and released over 60 times in Europe. Rajat says, “Angling is a divine experience. You feel really close to nature, and realize what we will miss out on if the lake disappears.”
The club also helps in keeping the ecosystem in check. They take out plastic bags from the lake, but other than that, the angling itself helps keep the lake clean of carnivorous fish. Kids from surrounding complexes buy exotic fish and when they are too big for their tanks, they release them into the lake. Some of them are carnivorous and can ruin the lake’s ecosystem. The anglers help in getting rid of such introduced species.
Then there are the crocodiles. The club has never had an untoward incident with them, and that is one of the reasons why membership is so select. Ali says, “We want people who are serious. Not people who might litter or mess with a crocodile just for fun.” He’s had his tete-a-tete with a croc. He says, “The closest I’ve come to is within four feet from a 14-foot crocodile. I just stared at it, and stayed still. They don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.”
For these environmentally conscious anglers, it is more than just a sport, it also gets their families closer. Ali confesses, “It can get quite romantic on the lake.” This we hope his wife reads.