Fishing lines: A hard act to swallow

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The Independent Online
Asthma is a terribly debilitating illness. Its sufferers resort to all sorts of drugs, homoeopathic remedies and country cures in an effort to rid themselves of that awful wheezing. Inevitably, such an affliction attracts its fair share of charlatans, and the asthma quackery industry is probably worth more than the salaries of all the water industry chairmen put together. Yet Britain's three million asthmatics could probably sort out the problem for just 24p and three small fish.

As a non-asthma sufferer, I am unable to pass judgement on the effectiveness of a cure being offered by an Indian family. Personally, I think the treatment may actually be worse than the illness. But if you are of a strong disposition, read on.

First, you need a live murrul, a small snake-like fish that is found widely from India to south China. Stuff it with appropriate herbs - and swallow.

Those who have taken the fish say it helps to clear the oesophagus as it wriggles its way down to the stomach, where the herbs start to do their work. The poor little fish is said to survive for about 15 minutes, clearing accumulated phlegm as it slithers and hops on its one-way ticket to extinction. The murrul doesn't just sort out asthma, but a host of other respiratory problems too.

Now you may think that the whole thing sounds rather fishy. But 300,000 Indians would beg to differ. They converged on the "surgery" in Hyderabad earlier this month, where 250 members of the Bathini family dispensed the unusual medicine. Indian Railways ran special trains, while Indian Airlines laid on an "asthma special" from New Delhi.

The cure, if that is the right word, has stood the test of time. It has been going since 1845, when a philanthropic farmer called Bathini Veeranna Goud was supposedly given the secret by a passing saint. He was asked to treat all who came to him free of charge, but inflation has caught up with murrul medicine, and the going rate now is about 8p. Complete treatment is said to take three annual infusions.

It's been quite a week for phlegm. Its activities have even attracted publicity from the angling weeklies. The whole thing started when an angler caught a carp after baiting with a strawberry. Nothing very odd in that. Carp like sweet flavours, and similar fruits such as cherries, blackcurrants and elderberries are established baits. But with Wimbledon close by, the strawberry thing attracted national attention. It sparked a flood of unusual bait claims, from silver paper to bacon sandwiches, from cinnamon-flavoured chewing gum to Roquefort.

But none matches the demented achievement of Eric Reed from Leeds (take a bow, Eric), who boasted of catching big roach on - a bogey.

I pass no judgement on this, but merely record the details as set out in Angling Times. According to Eric, who seems quite proud of the fact that he picks his nose, he was fishing at the local Clapton Ponds and found sport a little slow. But let Eric tell the tale in his own words. "When you get bored, your mind tends to wander. I was picking my nose and..." Well, you've guessed the rest. He rolled out a tasty looking lump, put it on his hook and awaited developments. To his surprise, the pond's roach population found his nasal offerings quite yummy.

It's too disgusting to go into the ramifications. But the whole thing got me thinking. What if the dubious practice spread, and the Indian murrul catchers started using wads of snot for bait? I mean, just how badly would you want to get rid of your asthma?

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