I was trying to negotiate a treacherous paddy field plot, separating earth bunds, on the bank of Charol Beel in Rajshahi’s Rohunpur upazila. I realised the lean sun was brightening up the eastern bank of a village pond in the area.
At first, I saw a little shadow moved out of a low clump of Mat Grass plant, which soon disappeared. With my monocular vision (I lost my left vision in 2004 due to wrong treatment by my doctors in Dubai, Dhaka, Chennai and my own negligence) I was failing to spot the shadow properly. As I focused my 500mm tele-lens on it I could not believe my eye!
It was like an Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild HD nature film unfolding right in front of me where a Mechhobiral, or a Fishing Cat, was slowly appearing with her kittens, getting inside the pond and playing in the water a few minutes before disappearing silently.
The mild early winter sun was tilting towards the horizon as I walked on with my guide and companion Anik behind me. We reached an isolated clump of houses sitting on the bank of a large pond known as Mansurer Chhoto Pukur. The pond is as big as 2-hectares and was possibly formed out of dying segments of the nearby Charol Beel.
The pond is bordered with thick shrubby vegetation with some reeds, strangling fig and tall grasses, and pure formation of Motmoti or Lippia Alba — a water loving shrubby plant widely distributed in the country, in spite of the fact that it’s considered an exotic, alien and invasive species from the Americas. Almost all three sides of the steep banks of the pond have some vegetation when the west has the clumps of huts belonging to the fisherfolks-cum-farmers.
It looked as if the owners of the pond have cleared heaps of reeds and water hyacinth, and dumped those along the edges, and started growing fish in the recent past. This attracted fish-eating birds like the cormorants, herons and kingfishers that first drew my attention towards the pond.
As I see the mother cat through my lens, she was very hesitant to come out of the Motmoti thicket but her urge to warm up in dying sun finally won and she brought herself out in the open. She spent a few moments and then went back into hiding. At that time, I noticed something jumped on her back. I presumed it was one of her kittens. The vista became motionless and silent for a moment. As I kept focusing my lens on the spot, I saw not one but two kittens trying to slip out of their hidings.
Almost the size of a tabby cat, one kitten looked very bold as he or she slowly and very silently walked towards the pond. It didn’t stop there. It kept walking and then swimming, almost 2 metres from the bank into the shallow waters. The worried mother came to the shoreline and was hesitant to get inside the water as the sun would soon be going down. But her kitten’s determined swimming forced her to go.
As a second kitten approached to join the first, the confused mother looked rather helpless and nervous as her two kittens kept swimming and jumping over her. They walked to the shore only when they became tired. Once they were back on the shore, they disappeared back into the bush.
I was sure they were all bound to come out in the sun and dry their bodies as it was close to sundown. They did but, possibly sensing my presence from the clicking of the camera, but just for a few minutes.
I never encountered such a scene unfolding in front of my very eyes. Nat Geo film makers take days, if not months, to come across such events. I saw almost a full episode of a fishing cat in a matter of an hour or so. It was an experience I will never forget.