I am a firm believer that you make your own luck

I am one of the few living beings who have the ability to see four primary colours. That is why I am called a tetrachromat.

Do not assume that what you do is normal and everything else is abnormal

Most of you would recognise our guest. Most of you probably enjoy her company. Some of you may also have her for company. Few of you may even have a unspoken communication channel with her. But none of you would have had an outspoken discussion with her. In this edition of the interview, you get the chance, and we the privilege to understand the Goldfish’ perspective. This interview is a classic example that demonstrates that there is always more to know – even if the subject is quite common. So, go ahead and read what the Goldfish had to tell in this interview with Ramkumar.

Ramkumar (RK): Welcome Ms Goldfish. Thanks for agreeing to speak to me.

Ms Goldfish (MG): I should be welocming you. You are the one who took the trouble to come to my freshwater abode.

RK: Thanks. Before we start with the set of questions that I have come with, I would like to know what freshwater is. I assumed that it is the clean water that we drink.

MG: That is a not a very uncommon misunderstanding. While freshwater can be potable, that is not its sole definition. Generally, fresh water is the naturally occurring water on the Earth’s surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, ponds, rivers and lakes. Fresh water generally has lower salt content.

RK: So, sea and river water are salty while fresh water is not.

MG: You are right. In fact, fresh water is also sometimes referred to as sweet water against salt water for the water in seas and oceans.

RK: That gets my doubt out of the way. Let me get back to the list of questions that I have. First, can you tell our readers something about yourself in terms of your background?

MG: I belong to the family Cyprinidae of order Cypriniformes. You may be interested to know that my ancestors were one of the earliest domesticated fish. In fact, even today, I am one of the most common aquarium fish.

RK: Can you tell us something about ancestors? Were you always so colorful and fun loving?

MG: My earliest ancestor was the Carassius auratus which is a carp fish. We were not very colorful in those days. We were native to East Asia.  We were domesticated for the first time in China.

RK: How long ago was that?

MG: It should have been around a thousand years ago.

RK: That is a very long time indeed. I can’t believe that your ancestry goes back by more than a  thousand years. Can you tell us about your extended family?

MG: One of my favourite topics. If you talk of gold fish, there are many different varieties. In fact, there are over 300 breeds recognised in China alone.

RK: Three hundred? When I think gold fish, I can see a beautiful orangish yellow fish with white flowing fins. Can you tell us about some of the varieties?

MG: The one you are referring to is known as the common gold fish. A good example is your truly. I will tell you about a few others. The telescope gold fish has a protruding pair of eyes. The black telescope gold fish is similar to the telescopic fish except for the colour. The comet-tailed goldfish, one of my favourite cousins, is very popular in the United States. She looks very similar to me except that she is slimmer and has a long deeply forked tail. The pearlscale has a more spherical body. The pompoms have bundles of loose fleshy outgrowths between their nostrils. And many more..

RK: Your family get together should be real fun indeed!

MG: Indeed it is.

RK: Can you tell us something about how you were originally domesticated? I heard from reliable sources that the story is very interesting.

MG: You seem to have some good sources. Very good for a journalist. Gold fishes were reared as fish food in China for thousands of years. These were generally grey or silver in colour. Some of these species would produce mutations in other colours. During the Tang dynasty it became a practice to raise carps in ornamental ponds. A natural genetic mutation gave birth to a fish that was golden in colour. Obviously it looked much more beautiful and people began to rear the golden variety rather than the silver one. This was around the year 900. By the advent of the Song dynasty in 960, the domestication of goldfish was firmly established. The empress forbid people outside the imperial family to rear the goldfishes.  During the Ming dynasty between 1368 and 1644, goldfishes were raised indoors. During this time, they were also introduced outside China in Japan and Portugal and slowly to the rest of Europe.

RK: Why did the empress ban the commoners from rearing goldfish?

MG: She did not ban all goldfish – only the yellow ones. That was because yellow symbolised the colour of gold and the imperial colour.

RK: Very interesting. I have also heard that you are a symbol of good luck. Is that true?

MG: Well, I am a firm believer that you make your own luck. In the early 17th century, gold fishes became very popular as a good luck charm but then the practice died as quickly. Finally, if you have worked hard enough, then lady luck will smile, otherwise not.

RK: I have heard that you have special vision. What makes your eyesight different from other animals and birds?

MG: Before I answer that question, let me ask you something. How many primary colours can you see?

RK: I can see all three primary colours – red, blue and green.

MG: The ‘all’ was an unnecessary qualification. You can see three primary colours. I can see four.

RK: Impossible. What is the fourth?

MG: Ultraviolet. I am one of the few living beings who have the ability to see four primary colours. That is why I am called a tetrachromat.

RK: As usual these interviews help me to remain grounded. Today, I get the realisation that there are creatures that have a much more colourful sight than humans. Which other animals have this special ability?

MG: It is special for you since you do not have the ability. For me, it is normal. That is the normal principle for you humans. You always assume you are normal and everything else is abnormal. The zebrafish, the zebra finch and the reindeer are all tetrachromat.

RK: So, when I am face to face with a reindeer, it can actually get a better look at me than vice versa. So, what else do you want to surprise us with today?

MG: Let me think. Did you know that I have a strong associative learning capability?

RK: What! What do you mean?

MG: Do you not know what associative learning is or do you want to know how I exhibit associative learning?

RK: (sheepishly) actually both.

MG: Nice to see some modesty and the ability to accept that you do not know. Associate learning is the process to learn an association between two stimuli or a behaviour and a stimulus. Have you ever owned a goldfish?

RK: I did when I was in school.

MG: Did you ever notice that when you came close to the aquarium the gold fish came to the surface or towards you?

RK: I did.. what are you trying to say? That my goldfish knew me?

MG: Yes, we are able to identify and differentiate between people. In fact, some of my relatives have been trained to respond to different coloured lights.

RK: I can’t believe what I am hearing. My goldfish actually recognised me! Amazing. What is or has been your biggest challenge?

MG: Generally, we are very friendly and don’t get into any arguments or fights. Except when competing for food. And sometimes it could prove to be a disaster. The quicker fishes get all the food and the slowest ones go hungry. So, sometimes going to bed without food is the biggest challenge. It is more so, knowing that the next morning you are not going to get faster to be the early bird.

RK: But would the owner not take care of it. For example, once the quicker fishes have had their share, he or she can feed you.

MG: Unfortunately that can never happen.

RK: Why?

MG: I did not want to talk about it but it may be better to get it out in the open. Thousands of goldfish may survive because of what I am going to tell. Well, the fact of the matter is that we are opportunistic feeders. It means that if we see food, we eat. We have an unlimited appetite in a sense. The drawback is that our intestines get blocked and it can so happen that a goldfish dies from overeating.

RK: That is shocking.

MG: It is, but that is the truth. When the owner of the goldfish gives food and finds us eating it, she feels that we are hungry and keeps providing more food not knowing that it is dangerous for us.

RK: Hopefully, the pet owners among the readers will take note of it and ensure that they do not overfeed their goldfish.

MG: Thanks for trying to pass the message across. Well appreciated. I will nominate you for a ‘Order of the Friends of Goldfish’ title once I am back.

RK: Thank you. I have heard that some countries have banned you. Is it true?

MG: No, they have not banned me. What they have banned is the practice of ill treating me. For example, using fish bowls as a house for a goldfish is criminal. We need a lot more oxygen compared to other fishes. Keeping us in small containers leads to disease, stunting and eventually death. Many countries have banned usage of such containers for transporting or rearing gold fish.

RK: Well that brings me to the end of the interview. What would be your message to our readers?

MG: Hmmm.. take care of your health. Do not binge on food. As you humans say ‘health is wealth’. Eat healthy, exercise well and have a happy and long life.

RK:Very relevant advice indeed. Thanks Miss Goldfish for sparing time for us. Please continue to enjoy your life.

MG: Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.