Song of the boatman

This is a song I heard while crossing fluid chasms of a desultory life. The boatman was about fifty and that estimate kept fluctuating as I watched him control the basket shaped raft. When a little water trickled through the curved sides, he smiled at me and said, “The river likes you.” I smiled before replying, “Just this much of liking is sufficient, brother. Just this much”, and I plugged the hole with my thumb. He inquired into my whereabouts and was amazed that so much money was made sitting at the desk.
“You mean, you don’t move or pull anything?”
“No.”
“Must be an uncomfortable place to sit in, perhaps?”
“Fairly cosy, I could say.”
“What has the world come to, when a man is paid to sit in one place?”
“We help people solve their problems.”
Someone interrupted our conversation to ask whether there were eddies in the river which in turn cheered another person to ask about crocodiles. The boatman pointed to a distant greyish blue to our left and said, “There you will find eddies. No one who has ventured there has ever come back alive. Every full moon night, the ladies of the village come there to pray to the river goddess, begging her to protect their marriage and seeking the blessings of married women who were drowned there to grant them the good fortune of dying before their husbands. Ever since a slew of taverns opened in this side of the river, I think the women have changed their minds.”
Everyone laughed while I smiled at the wink he shot at me.
Where shall we travel to, today?“How many years have you been manning this boat?”
“Who keeps track of years on this river? I have seen five droughts and sixteen floods. Hence, for five summers people didn’t need my boat and for sixteen monsoons, they were transported everywhere even without my boat.”
People enjoyed his jokes and he kept talking, before he abruptly turned towards me.
“If you can solve people’s problems by sitting at your desk, why don’t they do it themselves?”
“Because the way to solve them is known only to a few of us?”
“Are you spinning tales like I do?”, he whispered and winked again.
When we had reached the middle of the river and the tossing had subsided significantly, I replaced my thumb on the hole with my middle finger. He started slapping his oar on the water in a rhythmic fashion and began to hum. What followed was his crackling voice softened by the slushing lisp of the river.

Come listen to the song
That I sing
About a world broken across rivers.
Come listen to the song
Which alone
Connects a world broken across hearts.

While everyone seeks rest
On the lap of their lover,
My boat tosses in its watery sleep.
While you seek to bridge
The shores
She promises you a journey far.

Come listen to the song
That I sing
About a world broken across rivers.
Come listen to the song
Which alone
Connects a world broken across hearts.

When worry seizes you, a bottle may help
Or better still
A bottle while you stand waist deep in this river.
But I have known days of great such sorrow
When with a bottle
I watched the river recede till I could not drown.

Come listen to the song
That I sing
About a world broken across rivers.
Come listen to the song
Which alone
Connects a world broken across hearts.

Listen to the heartbeat of the young man
Who holds to his breast
The moment he will meet her on that bank.
Listen to the heartbeat of the young man
Who in that breast
Allows hope and fear of an unknown morn.

Come listen to the song
That I sing
About a world broken across rivers.
Come listen to the song
Which alone
Connects a world broken across hearts.

So many people have crossed this river
And who will recall
That this song is what made distances small.
Such is this song that the river taught me
It will fill your life
With the truth about shores and what lies betwixt.

Come listen to the song
That I sing
About a world broken across rivers.
Come listen to the song
Which alone
Connects a world broken across hearts.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the boatman

  1. Hi Eroteme.. Loved your story. I work in clinical research and sometimes its a challenge to try and explain what exactly I do!!!A poem from Robert Louis Stevenson from school days for you.. yours reminded me of this one!! Its called ‘Where Go the boats’Dark brown is the river,Golden is the sand.It flows along for ever,With trees on either hand.Green leaves a-floating,Castles of the foam,Boats of mine a-boating-Where will all come home?On goes the river,And out past the mill,Away down the valley,Away down the hill.Away down the river,A hundred miles or more,Other little childrenShall bring my boats ashore

  2. Dear Eroteme,Rivers and the tales they have to tell…I once had a similar experience crossing over the mighty Hoogly in West Bengal.. The gentle waves caressing your hand and the <>noukochalok<>(Boatman, in Bangla) humming that soulful song.. Reminds me of <> O Majhi re… apna kinara..<>Isn’t the beauty of a river simply overwhelming? It can drown you or it can transfer you safely to the shore.. And yet the gentle touch of the waves, reaching out to you, to keep in its memory a part of you, who once travelled across it..Lovely post.

  3. Dear M,Glad you liked the post. Thanks a tonne for sharing the poem. Aren’t they beautiful? The poems from the days of school? So simple, so beautiful… so eternal. 🙂Dear M,Glad you liked it. O Majhi Re is a beautiful song. You capture the beauty of a river very well… 🙂

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