The Black Panther

It is the monsoon time of year and stiff sharp winds shoot through the Grass Hills, eastern offshoot of the Highwavy mountain chain in the Western Ghats. Like arrows they pierce the waist-high grass, bending the silky tassels and making neat furrows like carefully parted hair. Bending and straightening as the wind dies down or suddenly surges forth, the gyrating grass brings life into the rock promontories which keep quiet watch on the dungeon of mist and fog hovering over the froth of a stormy river.

The boy takes his fishing rod and walks down to the stream which skirts his cabin. It is a simple bamboo rod: he has an iconoclast’s distaste for the fibreglass ones which are widely advertised. Reaching the rushing white water, he hides behind a tall grass clump and with a gentle flick, casts upstream into the epicentre of the current. The swift billows of water take the line just past the big boulder where the fish like to crouch with stealthy patience. Flicking their tails to keep their balance in the swirling water, they wait for a grasshopper dislodged from the bank, or crabs drifting by. The boy, huddled over his knees, feels a tug at the bait. A fat rainbow trout hesitates, then darts forward and is hooked; Stephen will not be able to land it where he is because of the boulders and overhanging vines so he steps into the shallows. He pulls in the line, hands working like pistons: and jumps on the fish which is flopping about on the grass. He dislodges the hook and jabs his thumb down the trout’s throat — avoiding the sharp teeth — and jerks the head up. He hears the crack of the vertebrae, Krrk. The fish shivers once and is dead.

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Vaasanthi | Translated by Sukanya Venkataraman
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