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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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