In winter when the thick fog formed over the river, it looked like the water beneath were steaming with freezing cold. There was no sign of life in the early hours. Yet, through the grey-white billows and almost halving the river in two, the fisherman’s boat would appear, rowing quietly against the drift. Very few fishermen dared the bad weather, and the old fisherman was one of them. To catch fish in summer wasn’t any easier. In the boat and in the river there was no shade or cover to keep the sun away. Years of exposure had permanently sunburned his face, also rendering him a tenacious look. As the glittering surface dimmed the vision, the golden hours to catch the fish were in early mornings and late evenings. During the day, the old fishermen often tied his boat to one of the trees on the bank and dozed off while his boat gently rocked over the water. Later, in the evening, he would wake up, prepare his net and check the line.
He was perhaps fourteen when the fisherman’s father had gifted him a boat. For the young fisherman then, it was the best gift he had ever received. The boat, his own boat, had given him wings to fly – paddle over the pickle-green waters. His sense of freedom came forth as he could row his boat up and down the river, cover miles and explore all those places he had only heard about. The feeling was no different than that of the man who for the first time rides a horse and starts believing that he can go anywhere, even run from himself. And the small journeys he made while he was still young weren’t without some adventure. When he grew up he realized the importance of the boat and his father’s discretion to help his only son make a living. Though tough it was, he embraced the life of the fisherman and had no regrets. Because he liked to catch fish and sell them, he was never out of business. Over the years he had come to know a lot about the fish; the best breeding spots in the river, time of the year when they would spawn, their schools and favorite food.
When his own son reached fourteen, he had grown indifferent to his father’s occupation. The young son despised the community and always insisted that his father should quit the fishing business. But his father, the old fisherman, never complained or tried to coax his son into following his footsteps. The old man tried his best to help fulfill his son’s wishes. He was happy when he bought a scooter for him, for his son rode carrying a similar sense of freedom and excitement as that of his father when he was gifted the boat.
The fisherman’s wife was no whiner, but when their son’s never ceasing demand got on her nerves, she tried to persuade her husband on quitting the trade. But the old fisherman wouldn’t give up.
“It is in our religion. Rivers and seas are the gifts from the God and in them He has provided us with food, with the fish. Do you want me to refuse these gifts, refuse what religion offers us?”
“But you know how people treat us, treat the community. Our son can read and write. He can do something that we couldn’t.”
“People… What do people know about fishing and what we do! There are great seas out there, and ships the size of buildings and the fish larger than any boat you have seen. People have been in the fishing business for hundreds of years. Fish is the best food in the world. When potato growers are not disgraced by their occupation, why should fishermen be? There are rich fishermen in the world, fishermen who can buy this entire town and throw it away.”
It was hard for the fisherman, hard to give up on that which carried a certain meaning in his own life. He couldn’t agree to the thought that all he had done in his life was trivial and of no use.
It made the father and the son drift in two different directions. Eventually the son moved away, bought a shop and settled according to his own wishes. The fisherman turned cold and started to age quickly. One day when the fisherman was ill he called his son and asked him if he could fulfill his last wish.
Weeks later the old fisherman died and he was carried to his grave in a new coffin, a coffin that was made from his boat. That was his last wish. If the fisherman were alive in that coffin, he would have certainly felt sailing in the water with a gentle push here and a gentle push there, on his last journey in the boat he so much loved.