Kids wait for the train to pass so they can collect coins thrown by the passengers into the river
Photos & Projects

Anecdotes from the Analogue World Ep. 1 – By Nandakumar

August 24, 2022

In my course of travel over the past two decades, I’ve had my fair share of instances where I’ve made a complete fool of myself or been completely blown away by the people I’ve met. This is the first of four parts where I share some of these stories. I’ll speak a bit about the  people and situations I encountered that might just bring a smile to your face. Two of these pieces would be about how I made a complete fool of myself and two would be about some amazing humans I met in my travels.

Today we head to the mid western part of India in a place called Mortakka where the holy river of Narmada is crossed by a huge 800m bridge. This little town lies in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India. I first visited this town in 2016 while documenting the vanishing smaller gauge trains of the Indian railway.

The train passes the bridge over the river Narmada

The train passes the bridge over the river Narmada. A symbiotic interaction exists between the people on the banks, the passengers and the waters of the holy river!

This was also one of the last few images I shot on colour film for this project. The reasons for which are given in this piece I wrote earlier.

Upon subsequent visits I shot a few too many photos of the train passing the bridge. But on two trips, I weaned myself off shooting the trains. I focused on another story this river had to say. I kinda regret it doing it half heartedly because I was constantly reminding myself to not waste film on non related subjects. The fear of running out of film for the project was real. This ended up producing an incomplete story but one still worthy of being talked about in my opinion.

An interesting interaction occurs between the waters of the holy river, the train, and the people who live on the banks of the river. A rather symbiotic interaction if you will.

The passengers in the train offer their prayers as the train plies over the bridge. They throw a few coins and flowers into the river.

I can’t be sure if the passengers’ wishes get answered. But the wishes of some living by the banks of the river do get answered rather quickly as the drizzle of coins land into the water. The kids would go into the water and pick these coins and buy sweets on the weekend.  They’ve become pretty adept swimmers learning a host of other skills too in the process.

The kids on the banks of the Narmada River manage to have a weekend filled with sweets bought from prayer money thrown in to the river.

And this is their modus operandi.

The 430pm train arrives at the bridge over the river Narmada. The kids wait for the wish seekers to offer their prayers and answer their own wishes in the process.

The dad of one of the kids drives the boat to the location after the train has passed. Then the kids jump into the water.

Dressed in nothing but briefs I wondered how the kids held on to coins while staying buoyant in the water. The question didn’t linger for long before one of them took out a magnet full of coins and grinned for the camera.

A simple magnet ensures coins can be extracted from the river with minimum effort

Simple but very effective use of technology. The next question that popped on my mind was “What happens when the magnet can’t hold anymore coins?” This I managed to ask them and one of them told me that it happens quite often. When the magnets run out of “holding power”, they stuff the coins in their mouths.

I was skeptical about that being an effective solution. But when I saw the kid put in almost 20 coins in his mouth, all skepticism was washed away in an instant.

But when the magnet can’t hold on to anymore coins, they are deposited in the safe vault that is the kids’ mouths!

Thats how many coins the kid stuffed into his mouth!

The train service over the bridge will end any time from now. It will be replaced by a bigger bridge for a bigger train. I have no idea if the practice of flipping coins in to the river will continue. Regardless, I am happy to have caught a few frames of this mutually beneficial relationship between a river, a train and the people who use both.

You can follow me on Instagram at: grumpy_oldman_

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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    August 24, 2022 at 10:22 am

    A great story and photos Nandakumar. On a couple of crossings I’ve seen kids diving for coins where the ferry leaves Java for Bali, Indonesia. Seemed to be a tradition for passengers to toss coins into the sea. They also stuff the coins into their mouths. I’ve got photos of them on film somewhere but not as good as yours.

    • Reply
      Nandakumar N
      August 24, 2022 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks Graham for reading through it.. I feel I’ve not done justice to the kids because the priority has always been the trains for me so I’d always think twice before shooting the kids with the remainder of the frames left on the film cameras… I’m kinda regretting it now.. 🙂

  • Reply
    Don Goodman-Wilson
    August 25, 2022 at 8:45 am

    This is the kind of story train nerds like me love—the social roles that trains play in people’s lives are often surprisingly more interesting than the machines themselves (which is a high bar!), but so much harder to uncover. Thank you for sharing these photos and their beautiful story.

    • Reply
      Nandakumar N
      August 25, 2022 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks Don. Yes I too love how people interact with trains so more than the rolling stock I actually try to introduce human elements (thought the railways re human made) into the scene to provide context. This photo series was a half hearted attempt because of the fear of running out of film.. 🙂 Thanks for reading through!

  • Reply
    Steve Curzon
    August 25, 2022 at 10:43 am

    Great article, interesting and nicely photographed. 👍

  • Reply
    Markus Hainz
    August 25, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Great Story! And that colour photo of the man watching the train is National Geographic worthy in my opinion. Looking forward to the next installation.
    Cheers.

  • Reply
    David Wignall
    August 26, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Nice! A great little reportage on Indian life.
    Some of my own favourite shots were taken in India in 2001. I hope to return one day.

  • Reply
    Jeong Kim
    August 28, 2022 at 2:09 am

    Nandakumar, can you give us the technical information on your images? Camera, films, etc.? Beautiful images and story. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Nandakumar N
      August 28, 2022 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Jeong Kim,

      Now that’s a bit tricky.. They’ve been shot over a three year period. The first colour photo was probably shot on the Nikon Fm with a Voightlander 20mm lens on Fuji C200 film.

      The cover photo of the two kids looking at the camera with the train over the bridge in the background was on an Mamiya RB67 with a 50mm lens. The film back had notorious light leaks but fortunately that image came out unscathed.

      The other photos of the boys were with a Pentax 67II with a 105/2.4 lens I think.

      The photo of the hands holding the coins were most likely on a Nikon Fm2 with a 50mm..

      Its been a while and I don’t remember.. I have to see my negative scans to confirm this but the info above should be more or less correct.

  • Reply
    Jeong Kim
    August 30, 2022 at 1:02 am

    Your equipment is as adventurous as your images. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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