By Keshav Vivek
The average Hyderabadi has much to look forward to when it comes to entertainment. Be it trips to the bazaars, eating out, watching films or just relaxing in one of the city’s many parks. Then one has the option of indulging in what the old-timers loved to do, kite-flying and pigeon-racing. But not many know that the city has quite a crowd of fish keeping enthusiasts, with many a tale to tell! At the heart of all these stories is a lane sitting cheek-by-jowl to the Secunderabad Railway Station– the Regimental Bazar Road, a veritable Mecca for Hyderabad’s fish-keepers. Walking in one sees sweet shops, bookstores, hotels, fast food joints and even a coaching institute. It’s only when one crosses the dark green dargah of Khwajah Peeran that the first of the twenty aquaria shops spring into being.
They wear a deserted look on weekdays. But come Saturday and activity picks up. Customers of all ages start appearing as the evening draws close. From middle-aged, burkha-clad housewives to bright-eyed school kids, garrulous college-goers and old doctors and chartered accountants; they all troop in one after the other. The atmosphere is infectious. Brightly lit tanks vie with one another to grab attention. People shove and push to get a closer look. Fingers tap the glass, pointing out the most colorful and elaborate specimens. Questions follow inquisitive glances, trying to figure out how much a particular fish costs, what stones are best for a large aquarium or the kind of aquatic plant that would go well with a given species.
The shops in Secunderabad have been around for more than three decades. They supply not only fishes but a whole range of products. Glass cubes, goldfish bowls, gigantic tanks, the latest acrylic models, pet food and supplements, aquatic plants, substrates, logs and plastic toys-in short, everything! Fish require a lot of care. Again, there are a number of items available- oxygenators, thermostats, water purifiers, pumps and chlorine removers. Most of these are a one-time investment but place quite a burden on the pocket. Avid aquarists still buy them. The shops also sell beautifully crafted decorative pieces that can turn drab-looking aquaria into aesthetic delights– replicas of sunken ships, windmills and castles, as well as human figurines.
Ask enthusiasts about their very first tank and they will tell you that putting it all together was not too different from piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. One has to mix and match, combining different objects and elements carefully; making sure that not only is it a sight to behold but also a suitable refuge. Quite often, one will see large tanks in a corner, brightly lit, with striking green vegetation and iridescent fish, inviting the buyer. But ask the shopkeeper and they will politely turn down all requests. These are their ‘masterpieces’, planted aquaria that have been cultivated with great care and affection, over the years! And the labour of love is not for sale.
For the Initiates
Novices should go in for goldfish, the all-time favourite, with their myriad colors, body types and fin shapes. They are a safe bet for those who do not have the time and money required by the rarer, more demanding varieties. Fish are brought in from Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, the ports of entry for exotic species, bred artificially or captured from the wild. One can choose from hundreds of species and thousands of varieties. Platys, guppies, mollies, gouramis, danios, barbs, cichlids, tetras, loaches or catfish! If you are the type who likes to show off, go for the large ones- Redtail Catfish from Brazil, Chinese High Fin Banded Sharks or Spotted Gars from the US. Name it and they have it. As Mr. Murali Krishnan of Rohini Aquapets points out, the aquarium business is less about profits and more about passion. A statement that sums it up for those who swear by their love for the fishy wonders of Regimental Bazar!