Fishy business

[ Tongam Rina ]

Abhijit (name changed) is a fishmonger in Itanagar. He is an Assamese-speaking Bihari from Assam who makes a living in Itanagar.
Abhijit procures his fishes from neighbouring Harmutty in Assam each morning on wholesale rates, and sells them in the markets in Itanagar after adding upto Rs 80 to the original price per kg of fish, depending on the species.
When I enquire about it, he offers me the tried and tested explanation as to why the prices of the fishes per kilo go up to almost twice the wholesale rates by the time they reach Arunachal.
“Transportation charges,” he says.
“Charging twice the buying price is looting,” I protest.
“It’s cheaper than fishes laced with formalin,” he retorts, in Assamese. “If you eat this fish, you won’t have to worry about your health, unlike in the case of the ones that come from south India.”
“The fishes come all the way from south India?” I ask.
“Yes, that’s why they need chemicals to keep the fishes fresh, as it takes them upto 15 days to reach Arunachal.”
Now, that’s scary. Imagine a fish which appears fresh even after 15 days without being in water! The thought is as scary as considering freezing one’s face in order to look young.
Abhijit tells me that most of the fishes are transported to Arunachal from the southern parts of India.
“Nobody likes fresh fishes. They like good-looking fishes,” he says.
For me, fishes are fishes, a source of protein for the poor, more affordable than meat. But it seems that one has to choose between good-looking, frozen fishes and the fresh ones from the ponds of Assam. The fishes from Arunachal, unless you fish yourself, are expensive at the rate of Rs 400 and upwards per kg. Not an unthinkable price for some, but for most of us, that’s the price of more than a day’s hard labour. Certainly unaffordable.
Fishes are stinky, but they are also a good source of protein. But why are they so expensive? Formalin-laced fishes are expensive because they have to stay young and fresh; but they are not edible. The ones from Assam’s ponds are edible but highly expensive. The fishes from the fresh waters of Arunachal are beyond the reach of most Arunachalees because they are so expensive that, unless you are a fisherwoman, you simply can’t afford them. Pricey and proud Arunachalee fishes!
Given the circumstances, we will very likely soon go back to eating formalin fishes again.