The waters of the river Dee are grey, reflecting the overcast skies. The wind whips down the banks, through the mud and the green grass. It is a world still emerging from winter, bracingly cold.
I follow the ghillie, the fisherman guide, into the water. My lower body, chest down, is encased in waders, waterproof overalls, my feet settled into boots that are slightly too large. The icy current is strong and thigh-high, and we carefully sidestep our way until we reach a shallow bed of rocks in the middle of the river. “We’ll start here,” the ghillie says, with a pronounced Scottish accent. “So you’ve never fly-fished before?”
No, I say. I haven’t.
The first step to becoming a fly fisherman is to master the casting of the sixty-foot weighted line. The fishing line is swung through a series of arcs and laid gently across the surface of the water.
The ghillie shows me what to do. In his hands, the long rod is graceful and precise, the line moving in balletic arcs, zipping through the water, looping behind his shoulder and travelling out over the water so lightly, it lands just where and how he wants it to. It looks easy, gentle, graceful, fun.
In my hands, it becomes laboured, heavy, tangled.
For the first hour, I hear the word, “no” every single time. The ghillie has transformed from a sweet-tempered man chatting about the beauties of nature to a stern, autocratic tyrant. He takes me through the steps again and again. I think I am getting it. I know I am. But the line doesn’t listen. It doesn’t travel through the air. It falls where it likes, impudently. It tangles up and mocks me.
“I don’t get it.” I finally say. “What am I doing wrong? Is it this angle? Or that?”
He looks at me quizzically. “Your movements are fine,” he says. “But who are you fighting? And where is the race?”
What? I say. What?
Breathe, he says.
The sun is breaking through the clouds and dancing off the water. On the banks, an otter scurries out of sight. The trees are rich with bird-call. I have noticed none of this, so engrossed in what I am doing, so determined to succeed at my task, I have forgotten the world.
In one instant, the ghillie has gone from fishing guide to guru. Yoda to my Luke Skywalker. It is an odd place to receive a spiritual lesson.
“You have to slow down,” he says. “And don’t punch out the line like that. Your muscles must really be hurting.”
He imitates me: working the fishing rod like a nunchaku in a street fight. “Now do the same movement, but flow with it, nice and easy.”
His advice is counter-intuitive: to succeed, move slower, use less brute strength, don’t fight your way through it.
It is an old lesson from a young man in fishing gear: You can’t force and wrestle with certain things. They have to unfurl at their own pace, and then they will stretch out, much farther than you can ever imagine.
The next session, before I step into the river, I concentrate on my breath. I say a prayer to the water and kiss my fingers to the sky. And with my breath, the movements come sweet and true. The ghillie watches as I arc the line through and it flies out and settles, gently, in a clean straight line across the water. He smiles. “Good,” he says. “Now you’re ready to fish.”
Lavanya Sankaran is the author of The Red Carpet, a collection of short stories set in Bangalore, India. The book spent two years at the top of the best-seller lists, making Lavanya Hachette’s largest-selling Indian author. It is currently sold in fifteen countries. Lavanya has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the Wall Street Journal, the Times of India and Outlook among other publications in America, India, Italy and France. She studied political science and philosophy at Bryn Mawr College and lives in Bangalore. Her first novel, “The Hope Factory” will be published by Random House in America and Hachette in Britain and India.