Bombay Duck Tales


Myths and Legends

  • The origin of the term “Bombay Duck” is uncertain. Some authors advance the theory that, during the British Raj, the fish was often transported by rail after drying. The story goes that the train compartments of the “Bombay Dak”, (in English – the “Bombay Mail”), would smell of the fish, consequently leading the British to euphemistically refer to the peculiar smell as the “Bombay Dak”, which was then corrupted to “Bombay Duck”.
  • According to local Bengali stories, the term Bombay Duck was first coined by Robert Clive, of The Battle of Plassey fame and who engineered British rule in India, after tasting a piece during his conquest of Bengal. It is told that he referenced the pungent smell of the fish to that of the news papers and mail which would come in to the cantonments from Bombay.
  • Another version of the story is that the British (being such a sensitive lot as we all know) were embarrassed at the Indian name for this dish, ‘Bummalo‘, because it reminded them of their rudey bits. So they called it Bombay Duck … Bummalo … Bombay Duck … Okay close enough…
  • Explaining why the Bombil has such a unique body structure – the story takes the humble fish to mythical levels. Lord Rama was building his famous bridge to reach Lanka and teach the demon king Ravana a lesson or two in biblical commandments (thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife), helped in his efforts by Lord Hanuman’s monkey army. He requested the fish in the sea to give way, lest the stones that were being hurled into the sea by the monkeys would hurt them. All obeyed the Lord’s command, except the Bombil. Enraged by this confutation, Rama took him by the tail, twisted him in anger and threw him to the west. That’s how the battered fish landed in the Arabian Sea, with his bones broken by Rama’s rather unkind act – and that’s how he flourishes even now!

India Boating, February ’08


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