By: Kamal Baruah
It’s a spectacular feat for India’s Moon mission “Chandrayaan-3”, when a spacecraft entered the lunar orbit and its ‘Vikram’ lander safely touched down while “Pragyan” rover is moving around on Moon’s surface in pursuit of lunar secrets at the South Pole. There’re space mysteries around the Moon for ages. Maybe someday people will explore water and a lunar colony is arguably the next logical step for mankind. The skills of ISRO have now signified India’s capabilities in space exploration and who knows what amazing things we might discover up there.
But for commoners, “Chanda mama door ke” (Moon is faraway). It’s an object of admiration for unattainable desire. When the sky is dark at night, it lightens by the celestial objects like stars, planets, and the Moon. Centuries before any lunar mission, people viewed the Moon differently. They looked at the waxing crescent with wonder and fascinated by the ancient echoes. We always see the near side of the moon that always faces earth, while the far side is never visible from earth due to the Moon’s synchronous rotation. The near side has large volcanic deposits while the far side has more craters and highlands. The reason for this asymmetry is still a mystery.
Human have long obsession with the Moon and it influenced civilizations and religions too. Cultures have been tracking the lunar cycle for tens of thousands of years. While the Sun is the foundation of the current Gregorian calendar, the lunar cycle remains an integral part of religions and cultures across the Earth. When the moon is at its brightest in the early night, the intense of the moonlight is soothing with grandma’s bag of fairy tales. We gazed in awe that adorns the night sky.
But the Moon isn’t as beautiful as it appears to be. There’re dark spots. It’s big, rocky playground in outer space. But there is no mystery anymore when American Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first humans ever to walk on the moon. That was one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind. India also makes it the fourth country in the world to send a spacecraft there and the first country to explore near the Moon’s South Pole. Now it’s a big deal as ‘Vikram’ could do sudden hop before it set into sleep mode in frigid temperature because it sees two weeks of continuous daylight followed by two weeks of continuous darkness. The successful maneuver is expected to open up new possibilities for future lunar sample returns and human mission. Scientists believe the Moon’s craters that are permanently in shadow may hold frozen water.
However, our domestic help Rabha da doesn’t get impressed with those modern astronomy and space exploration about our mysterious neighbour in the sky. What else is there to do for him? The newly sunken paddy field during the monsoon rain has delighted him. The tribal folks belonging to the Rabha, Bodo, Garo, Hajong and Koch-Rajbongshi community of Goalpara district usually practice community fishing. They have by tradition been associated with farming and a knack for fishing. Sufficient moonlight enables nighttime fishing. Fish hunters move at night in ankle deep water with a type of indigenous night lamps made from bamboo, locally known as jor-kat. They experience a connection between Moon phase and its fishing success.
The rain forms a vast water sheet. He waded slowly like a snowy Egret on shallow water with faggot (sticks as fuel for fire) in order to stalk his prey for pinning a fish. The fish are much more active than usual on Purnima (full moon day) thereby catching easier. Some believe that the Moon cycles only affect saltwater fish. However, he wasn’t surprised, if the moon still affects freshwater fish also. What we all saw his khaloi (keeping fish) always filled with puthi, goroi, kawoi, kholihona, and tengera. It was the waning gibbous Moon where its lighted side appears to shrink. He noticed that the Moon rises later and later each night. So it was almost dark moonless night. The hunters were at all-night fishing but to no avail.
Finally he gave a second thought of catching Cuchia (mud eel). It hides under mud during daylight and at night come out for scavenging in search of food. The fishing method by wounding gears included Jongor/kosh/soli (spears), knives and sickle get effective with the abundance of sluggish Cuchia. The spears are specially made for piercing the Cuchia in open water while Jathi is a single prong spear used under soft mud.
Cuchia makes a hole with 3-4 openings for proper aeration and easy escape from enemy. He noticed 3-4 holes in closer distances plugged with aquatic weeds by keeping one hole open. The fisher patiently waited without any movement near the hole with a wounding gear in hand. Toxin released from the plant material compels the fish hiding under the mud to come out. The fish is then caught by wounding under light. He then quickly filled up his khaloi with a pair of Cuchia from swamps.
Who can forget those happy moments while we have “Goroi masor pura-pitika” (burned-mashed goroi fish) in the evening? It created a rustic atmosphere around the wood burning fireplace. We liked the smoky scent either. Many people don’t take Cuchia as food. It believed to have medicinal value. No muss, no fuss. Our Rabha da makes it possible that at least Cuchia is on the menu on any moon phase night when there is no fish in water. Fishing is an ancient practice. People love to spend their free time fishing with the thrill of reeling in a fish at the water. To catch more fish, Rabha da’s mastery of fishing on any shades of the Moon phase night is quite unique.