Farmers and fisher-folk going door to door, selling their produce or catch, was a common sight when I was a child. Direct marketing has had a comeback in recent times, with cooperatives of farmers bringing trucks of produce into cities directly to apartment buildings. On the beach destination of Neil Island in the Andaman archipelago, I saw a fisher man going door to door with an enormous fish (photo above). I don’t now what fish that is: the size of a large surmai, but neither surmai (a.k.a. king fish, or seer) nor tuna.
There were surprises in the fish market as well. As we passed the scrupulously clean fish market on an auto, a fisherman called out to the driver. He’d saved a large fish head for him. The auto driver bought it, and my aunt asked him how it is cooked at home. It turned out that they both had the same dish in mind: fish head cooked with lauki (bottle gourd). Meanwhile I’d had a look at what was on sale. Among the usually silvery pile of fish were others coloured a strange stippled brown. I asked for the names, but none of them rang a bell. The larger, lippy, fish was probably the tasty silver jack which I’d eaten grilled a couple of nights before. This is not the thing that Google recognizes as silver jack. Many of the fish were just called jungli-this or jungli-that (meaning wild). The fishermen were Bengali settlers, and they had just named the unfamiliar fish according to which of the familiar fish of the Bengal coast they reminded them of.
The fish market was in the centre of the island, and I passed it several times a day. The next time I looked in the catch was from the reefs around the island. The colourful schools of fish we’d seen darting among the corals were edible! Of course they would be; it was my assumption that they were just aquarium fish for display. The yellow fish with blue stripes had been pointed out as banana fish: clearly another made up name, since Japanese Manga was not very common on the island. I’d seen the red fish with blue and brown dots, but hadn’t bothered to ask what it was called. Clearly, a fish market in a coral island is much more colourful than a fish market in Mumbai.