From the earliest renditions of the Ramayana, boatmen have occupied a special place in the traditional moral universe of India. Murals depicting the legendary story of the boatman, Kevat, ferrying Prince Ram and his pious wife Sita across the Ganga can be seen all over Banaras, while historical, literary and travel narratives are replete with accounts of encounters with boatmen. The following excerpt from Pankaj Mishra's (1999, 26) acclaimed novel The Romantics is a particularly good example of literary fascination with boatmen: Miss West had her own favorite boatman: his name was Ramchand and he came running up the steps as soon as she and I appeared on the ghats that evening. He was a strikingly handsome man with beautifully sculpted muscles on his lean, chocolate-brown body, most of which was bare, his only item of clothing being a dhoti, which he wore like a G-string, tightly wound around his hips and buttocks. He held his palms together before Miss West; he bowed his head; he looked eager to serve. As the subject of Miss West's orientalist gaze, Ramchand is at once exotic, erotic and subservient. Such indulgence, however, is quickly dispelled in the following paragraph: She brought an un-Indian naturalness to her exchange with the boatman, and watching her I felt a trifle awkward. Although I spoke the same language as Ramchand and lived in the same country, the scope for conversation between us was limited. Countless inhibitions of caste and class stood in our way; the only common vocabulary between us was of the service he offered.
|Title of host publication||An Anthology of Writings on the Ganga: Goddess and River in History, Culture and Society|
|Editors||Assa Doron, Richard Barz & Barbara Nelson|
|Place of Publication||New Delhi India|
|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Publication status||Published - 2015|