Sunday, March 6, 2011

Boating in Kanpur

It is early morning and we find ourselves in the middle of the Ganga. We haven't had breakfast yet and our stomachs churn with every inch we gain rowing upstream.
Tiwariji, whose oil-slick of a hairdo violates my nostrils, sits two inches away from me. He has been sure to take a sip of the holy water before getting on.
We pass temple after temple along the ghats. Turn up the volume on your amplified bhajans. I don't think the gods can hear you yet
The stench gets worse.
"Chaliyega wahaan?" the boatman asks.
"Le chaliye, na."

With every slap of the oar, we are splashed by the Ganga; a putrid mess of untreated sewage. Organic waste, decomposed human & animal remains, chromium, arsenic and the always-in-ample-supply human excreta.
There is a man on the banks angling for fish. And now we can hear sounds of a waterfall...

Kanpur is taking a massive dump in the river Ganga and we have front row tickets to the show. The crows in the box seats are having a field day. The smell of human waste is unbearable and it's all one can do to not gag.
"Yehaan pehle bahut saara soos rahta thha..." says our boatman. 'Soos' or the Gangetic River Dolphin.
"Aur paas chalein?"
"Nahi, theek hai."

We're making bad jokes now:
Holy crap. We're in deep shit. We're up shit creek with shitty paddles.
Ganga hamaari maata hai/ Mooth humaari khaata hai.
The boat turns and the boatman stops rowing. The current will carry us back to Parmat Ghat. It will then courier the toxic sludge downstream to Allahabad and beyond.
"Don't ever drink anything but bottled mineral water in Kanpur," someone says from the back.
Tiwariji points to the floodplains on the other bank. They're growing watermelons there. Reminder to self: Don't ever eat the watermelons in Kanpur."
Try not to go to the bathroom in Kanpur. Try not to die here either.

At Bangla Ghat, we breathe in the heavy air of our colonial past. The British drainage system in Kanpur was visionary, yes, but we've taken it from strength to strength, getting creative in adding newer effluents to this poisonous legacy.
Oh look, a decaying calf floats by. Baby cow, not human.

Time to head back.
Tiwariji disembarks first. He bends down, scoops up the river water, takes a sip and pours the remaining liquid over his head.
We drive back to the hotel in silence. Breakfast is waiting.


  1. Terrible. I'm sure nothing, no photos, no words, can quite wash away that horrible experience. Or in fact, make any sense of this at all.

  2. Yes. We all know it's happening from newspapers & articles etc. But for all of ones senses to be assaulted by it REALLY drives home the enormity of the problem.

  3. Brilliant post. The "le Chaliye, na" bit was sexy I must say.

  4. Hahaha! That's the typical Hindi of Uttar Pradesh. :) Thanks for dropping by and for plugging it on Twitter.

  5. No dolphins probably due to lack of small fish (food). No small fish, then what is the guy with the angle looking for? Mysterious yet sad. Surely we will learn from all of this, but that would be too late.

  6. Eggjackly. It was quite an ironic sight (also, if any of the fish did make it to his line, would you *really* want to consume it?!?)

  7. This post was brilliant & puketastic!

    Thank you for reminding me why I never put my clothes into a backpack and tour this country to "find myself".

    Also, were you location scouting for Danny Boyle's next movie?

  8. :D I was researching a film for the WWF. (...people have called my work puketastic before but not in a good, thanks!)

  9. Sad. Have a look at a photo I clicked a couple of years back:-

  10. Wow! That's a stunning photograph Sohrab...really. And yes, it only reinforces the enormous tragedy of Indian river systems.

  11. You didn't find any dead-bodies? I went on a Ganga-clean up campaign-cum-joke once where they fished out 40+ bodies from the river in Kanpur.

    But it is difficult to die in Kanpur(the village on the other side of the river in Jajmau, lives despite getting its fair share of Arsenic) unless you are trying to cross the Rawatpur main road.

  12. Saw half a dead body. But no, nowhere close to 40 dead bodies. You're a lucky man.