Mission Delhi – Hrishikesh Shende, Gurgaon
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Every night around ten, after his daughter Kimaya has been tucked into bed, and while his wife, Sumran, is watching TV in the guest room, he walks up to his living room. He shuts off all the lamps, turns on the light inside the aquarium, sits on the sofa beside it and stares at the fish for twenty minutes.
This is a routine that Hrishikesh Shende, 40, built up during the lockdown caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “It relaxes me,” he says. He is chatting this evening from his 14th floor apartment in Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region. “Watching the fish swim and glide inside the tank tunes me out of the world, takes away the stress, slows down the time.”
A senior executive in a multinational, Mr Shende’s professional schedule continues to be hectic even though he is working from home these days. But the pandemic has effectively planted him more firmly into the minutiae of his apartment. He doesn’t have to travel abroad anymore, for all sorts of meetings, as he used to a tad too frequently. And while he got the aquarium four years ago, he had never experienced it as intimately as during these novel home-bound days. “I’m also banding really well with my daughter, as we together look after the tank. She’s the one who feeds the fish.”
But the post-dinner appointment with the fish is his alone. Mr Shende goes almost lyrical as he describes watching the fish go about through the glowing water, in the darkness of his drawing room. “They move very gracefully, their gills fluttering as they go forward and backward, up and down..”
The aquarium is large—four feet wide, 14 inches high, 12 inches deep, needing 55 gallons of water, half of which is replenished every week. Currently, it has six discus, two rummynose tetras and four bolivian rams—species with a natural habitat in the Amazon basin in South America, Mr Shende points out. In fact, the tank has been fitted with greenery and plants that mimic the said basin.
A native of Mumbai, the fish watcher knows the best seafood restaurants in that city but “I only love fish, I don’t eat them.” He’s a vegetarian. He shows the fish through the phone screen that connects him to The Delhi Walla. The little beauties are purposefully bobbing about like fluctuating lamps, now visible, now not. Mr Shende insists that he has no favorite. “I like all of them.” He does get upset when one of the fish starts bullying others, creating sudden sparks of disharmony in the group.
That happens rarely though, and almost never during his 10 pm aquarium-time. Mr Shende is then transported to another world “which seems to have nothing to do with our world… it’s amazing to discover that other forms of life are thriving about regardless of how we are feeling—happy or sad.”
Later that night, Mr Shende WhatsApps a picture of him sitting by his fish at 10 pm. But this time he isn’t exactly alone with them. His wife took the snap.
[This is the 335th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
His 14th floor fish
1. (Photo by Sumran Shende)