Mumbai: For this Grant Road resident, breeding fish is more than a hobby
A former chemistry teacher from Grant Road who has become the first Indian to breed discus fish, on what it means to care for these tiny aquatic creatures
On March 24, when the nation-wide lockdown was imposed to halt the spread of the Coronavirus, Vispi Mistry had an overriding concern: how would he get hold of the tetra bits, brine shrimp and bloodworms to feed his fish? "I have walked kilometres to source it," he tells us. "I'm just happy that all my fish survived the hardships."
Mistry, 68, is India's first discus fish breeder. His spacious home in Grant Road (East) doubles up as a mini-aquarium, where he and his wife Sumi tend to an impressive variety of angels, goldfish and discus. In fact, on the day of the interview, Mistry has a pair of Flowerhorns arriving from Thailand. The ornamental aquarium fish are popular for their vivid colours and the distinctive shape, which earns them the title. Thai culture, he says, has a longstanding love affair with the hump-headed hybrid fish, known the world over as Siamese fighters. They are an aggressive bunch, but Mistry is no stranger to temperamental breeds.
Vispi Mistry has been breeding a variety of fish at his Grant Road residence since 1983
A Chemistry teacher by profession, his interest in fishkeeping began as a hobby in the early 1980s, when his wife insisted on keeping a fish tank. "We got drawn into this fascinating world. At the time, a juvenile angel would cost us one rupee. Even today, a marble angel will cost you Rs 1, but there has been a sea change in living standards. It was lucrative then," he remembers. The hobby steadily grew into a passion. Later, he took a break from his teaching job to get into fishkeeping full time. Meanwhile, he gathered knowledge about various fish species, how to grow and sustain them and what's permissible to be bred by Indian law.
In 1992, he visited Singapore, where he stumbled upon discus fish and "it was love at first sight". But discus have a reputation of being notoriously difficult to breed. "A friend got us a few pairs and they grew big, but never procreated. At the time, nobody was breeding this fish, so there was very little knowledge." Then, totally by accident, he discovered that when two discus fish pair up, the others ought to be removed from the aquarium, in order to give the mating pair some privacy.
A Flowerhorn fish that Mistry imported from Thailand. Thai culture, he says, has a longstanding love affair with the hump-headed hybrid fish, known the world over as Siamese fighters. Pics/Atul Kamble
"I would often go and peek into the tank to see if they [the fish] are doing okay, and such intrusion does not go well with them," he laughs. Mistry says discus fish are a somewhat sensitive breed to keep in the home aquarium, therefore, it is always advisable to understand their behaviour patterns, the optimum pH levels and water temperature.
For him, one of their most fascinating features are their parenting skills. The young, he says, feed on the mucus that their parents secrete over their bodies until they are big enough to forage. One of the first to observe baby discus feeding from their parents was Gene Woldsheimer, an aquarist-photographer from California. "For several weeks, the fry continues receiving nourishment from the parents by clinging on to the body of the parent. Gradually they become independent."
In 2000, Mistry won the Best of the Country award in Germany at a discus breeding competition. He's the only Indian to have received this.
Over the years, he has sold aquarium fish across India, which he says happened organically, through word of mouth. He's happy that the level of interest in fishkeeping has grown phenomenally. Today, he continues the trade alongside private tuitions to Std 11 and 12 students to keep himself busy. "We are one of the few who provide after-sales service, because for us this is more than a business. We see the fish as our pets. Some of our discus fish have lived for 12 years."
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