ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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​The Boatman of Varanasi Does Not Miss Ganga in Doha


He dives fifteen feet deep into the Ganga

to hunt a boat-shaped fish.

Inside the water, he tells, you can see nothing:

one hunts through their hands, not eyes.

The fish subterfuge inside fortresses of reeds but

he finds them anyway:

he knows the river as well as they do,

perhaps, even better.

He surfaces, exhaling a millennium

of dust and crushed souls and battered bones.

When he dives again, he surfaces this time

holding a fish: almost dead but still,

some life in it yet.

By the time it reaches land,

it will be fit only for a charcoal pyre.

Dead fish usually do not have funerals

but this one will.

In his desert room,

he misses neither the river nor the fish:

he has the sea now, boundless, unshackled,

listening to no one but the moon.

On sweltering Friday mornings,

he walks along the naked beach,

odour of invisible rotting fish

embroidering the air.

He has not eaten fish once

since arriving here:

he finds home in rice atlases instead.

If the hot sand burns his feet,

he does not feel it.

He has walked across

continents of coals

to reach this salt clinic.

He knows

he will be fine here.


Note: My husband and I visited Varanasi for the first time earlier this year, having been wanting to go there for long. On our first night, after witnessing the Ganga Aarti from the boat, the boatman then took us for a ride along the ghats, telling the story of Kashi, Ganga, and then, finally about himself. It was then he said he would be going to Doha to work there in a few months, adding that it would be his sixth work trip to the Gulf. I asked him, didn’t he miss the Ganga there? He paused and then shook his head, saying that he preferred it there. I wonder if he was able to go to Doha, after all.

Priyanka Sacheti is a Bengaluru-based independent writer and poet. She grew up in the Sultanate of Oman and was educated at the universities of Warwick and Oxford. She has been published in many publications such as the Guardian, Michigan Quarterly Review, and First Post, with a special focus on art, gender, diaspora, and identity. She can be reached @priyankasacheti on Twitter.


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Updated On : 13th Sep, 2021


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