The gentle breeze over the Hooghly carried whiffs of various fishes to Gouromohan, who lazed around in the unkempt backyard of the sprawling Bagchi Bhawan on the riverbank.
The cook’s arrival tingled his feline senses, and he got up. There was no love lost between the fastidious Gouromohan and the woman who applied mustard oil to her already-smelly hair. But the tantalising aroma of katla fish overcame the cat’s pride, and he was ready to call it a truce with Padma just for that day.
Getting up, he meowed loud enough to startle a pair of mynahs perched on the mango tree. He then trotted to the kitchen and paused on the threshold. Padma had laid out two katla fish on a steel plate. Gouromohan knew she would shoo him away if she spotted him in her vicinity. The Mother Dairy full-cream milk inside his stomach turned to insipid whey, and he sought to cleanse his palate with food fit for a king.
Padma’s mobile buzzed. A smile lit up her face as she clicked something on the screen. Gouromohan nearly had a heart attack as ‘O Tumpa Sona Duto Hampi Dena’ echoed in the hallway. He knew he had to act fast before Mrs. Bagchi came downstairs and threw Padma, Tumpa and Sona out of the house.
While the cook practised her Mithun Chakraborty moves, Gouromohan scurried inside and jumped onto the counter. He grabbed a large fish, and before Padma could catch her breath after a couple of pelvic thrusts, he dashed out of the kitchen.
In his haste, he didn’t notice the pitiful look of the fish left behind. It was as if its dead eyes were searching for someone special. Not that Gouromohan cared for piscine feelings, dead or otherwise.
Feeling smug after his victory over Padma, Gouromohan began to groom himself on the terrace. By now, Mrs. Bagchi would have thrown a fit over the missing katla. Who cares about her histrionics anyway? He looked at the array of potted plants dotting the eastern side of the terrace. Convinced that the Bagchis wouldn’t spot the fish bones behind the impressive lineup of hibiscus and roses, he turned his attention to his spotless white fur.
His ears perked up at a gurgling sound. A strong fishy smell overpowered him. Arching his back, he turned around. What the fish?!
A woman wobbled before him. The curvy upper half of her body tapered down to form a huge tail resembling the fin of a fish.
“So you’re the culprit!” she hissed, as her bloodshot eyes bore into Gouromohan’s green ones.
His fur on edge like the actors in those Havel’s Switch commercials, he scooted down. The fish woman (or whoever she was) followed suit. Gouromohan hurried and took refuge inside the guest room on the first floor. Thoughts of his sumptuous breakfast vanished from his mind, as he lay huddled under the four-poster bed.
“You can’t escape from me.”
Cursing to himself, Gouromohan climbed onto the dressing table. What else could he do when she was blocking his exit?
“You just ate my husband,” the mysterious woman accused Gouromohan.
By this time, the cat had jumped atop the almirah.
Feeling emboldened, he asked her, “Who are you? And how dare you disturb my siesta?”
The woman sneered. “I’m Matsyakanya. Someone smelling of rancid mustard oil caught my husband and me. We would have escaped easily, but our ears almost burst at the horrendous sound of some Tumpa or Pumpa. And before we could gather our wits and take to our heels (I mean fins), you came and separated us.”
Taking advantage of her impassioned speech, Gouromohan clambered down and dashed to the balcony. Damn it! What am I doing?
Matsyakanya joined him in a second, swishing her tail furiously.
Gouromohan decided to bide his time. “What nonsense? Are you a fish or a human? And what husband are you talking about?”
“That’s my husband.”
“The name sounds familiar to me.”
“In English, they call him Aquaman.”
A bulb lit up inside Gouromohan’s mind. Just a few weeks back, the entire family had ogled at Jason Momoa when he emerged from the blue waters. But the cat had absolutely no interest in knowing whether the husband he had eaten was a desi or a phirangi. He sprinted towards the door and made his way to Mrs. Bagchi’s bedroom, assuming Matsyakanya wouldn’t dare to enter a human being’s room. Moreover, his mistress (May God bless her with a long life) would object to the presence of a fishy creature (despite relishing the katlas and the hilsas) in her chamber and drive it out.
But fortune deserted Gouromohan that day. Mrs. Bagchi could be heard tutoring Padma downstairs on Bengali culture and ‘decent’ songs.
Matsyakanya took her own sweet time and entered the bedroom. “Do you really think you can escape from my clutches?”
Gouromohan had no other option but to swallow his pride. “Listen, madame.”
Matsyakanya raised her eyebrows. “Madame?”
“Ok, didi. I’m sorry for what I did. Had I known about, erm, Aquaman, I would have let him go. You see, I’m a huge fan of his.”
Matsyakanya flipped her way to Gouromohan, who was by then on the brink of giving up and waiting to cross over to the rainbow bridge.
“Gouromohan! You thief! You dare to steal!”
Now when did she arrive? But who cares!
Mrs. Bagchi’s tirades sounded like purrs to Gouromohan’s ears, and he rubbed his furry body against her ankles. He complained to her about the unwanted visitor, but Matsyakanya had vanished. There was not even a trace of her smell in the room.
It must have been a figment of my imagination. Gouromohan felt like an idiot and sauntered out of her room. Quiet, you maniac! I took my share of the breakfast. Now chill!
No sooner had he curled himself to sleep on the terrace than Matsyakanya reappeared. Muttering a curse, Gouromohan invoked Usain Bolt and scuttled towards the exit. The fish-woman’s laughter trailed him.
“Nobody can help you.”
I must be the first cat in history to commit suicide. Smirking at the irony, Gouromohan jumped from the terrace.
An agonising two seconds later, Gouromohan landed on his paws. Damn, these stupid nine lives!
Suddenly, the melodious voice of Hemanta Kumar wafted into the backyard. Sending a silent Thank You to his nemesis, Gouromohan sped towards Padma and hid under the folds of her stinky saree. I’ll worship the ground you walk on, lady, but please, save me from the clutches of this Matsyakanya.
“Gouromohan! You bad cat!”
Yes, I’m a bad cat. But don’t leave me alone.
“You stole a fish!”
Yes, And I apologize. In fact, I’m going on a vegetarian diet from now onwards.
“You know, didi scolded me.”
Hang me, but don’t desert me. [It doesn’t make sense, but what the heck].
“No lunch for you today. Punishment.”
Fine with me.
Shaking her head, Padma went inside the kitchen. “By the way, I must be growing old. Whatever happened to the second fish? I swear Gouro took just one.”
She’s here. Right in this house. But you can’t see Mrs. Jason Momoa. Trust me, Padma aunty.
Gouromohan cringed at aunty. Oh, the things I’ve to do to stay afloat. Sitting like a loaf of bread, he began to lick his fur, while Padma went about her chores in the kitchen. Matsyakanya stood outside a window, occasionally peeping inside and grinning at him.
What’s happening to me? Why can’t I breathe? Gouromohan rolled on the floor once, let out a loud meow, choked on his hairball, and became still. Matsyakanya’s face lit up, and she left Bagchi Bhawan, unaware that Gouromohan’s apparition now followed her.
“Hahahaha! I’ve got the upper hand now, you foolish fish!”